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Asheville’s Sustainable Local Food Market

March 15, 2010
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By Sherida Buchanan

Crooked Creek Farms in Old Fort. Credit: Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

Asheville, NC prides itself on a thriving farm-to-table scene and flourishing network of family farms. While the city owes that reputation to many active organizations and individuals, one local non-profit laid the groundwork for city’s food future.

The Rise of ASAP

In 1995, Charlie Jackson started what would become the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP). At the time, tobacco was falling out of favor as the tobacco and cigarette industry came under fire. Tobacco was the foundation for many family farms in Western North Carolina, and Charlie feared the worst if tobacco disappeared from community agriculture.

Charlie and his wife, Emily, worked with several community members to form ASAP. The organization’s goal was to assist family farms as they transitioned from tobacco to food crops. Through education and marketing, ASAP developed and advocated strategies that helped family farms prosper, preserved farmland and provided access to healthy, locally grown food.

Making Local Food More than a Catch-Phrase

A Farmers Market in Asheville. Credit: FoodtopianSociety.com

Fast forward 15 years later, and ASAP is still on the scene changing the way the Asheville-area views and approaches local food.

“ASAP has spent a lot of time collecting and communicating information about local food. We get to know locals farmers and share that information, so the community can make accurate and well-informed decisions when they decide to buy local,” says Rose McLarney, who handles Communications & Marketing for ASAP.

One of the ways they raise awareness is through the annual local food guide. The guide serves as the definitive resource to family farms within a 100-miles radius of Asheville. What started out as a Xeroxed piece of paper has grown into a magazine with over 100 pages that’s distributed at local businesses, visitor centers, hotels, restaurants, newsstands, schools and community centers.

The creation of ASAP’s Appalachian Grown Certification has also helped educate local buyers. “The certification is a process that certifies farms as local and family-owned. It helps consumers identify ‘real’ local food in stores and restaurants,” says Rose.

Sharing the Bounty of Local Food with the Entire Community

Student working in a school garden in Asheville. Credit: Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

But the attention on local food doesn’t stop at the market. ASAP works with local schools on the Growing Minds Program. The program helps educate youngsters on the benefits of fresh food by facilitating school gardens, cooking demonstrations and visits to local farms. The final touch is getting fresh food from local farms on the school cafeteria menu.

ASAP has also spent time ensuring that nutritious and healthy food is available to everyone in the community. Last year, they rolled out an EBT Food Stamp program at several local markets that allowed locals to purchase fresh food using their EBT cards.

Learning from ASAP’s Victories

While ASAP has been influential in changing the food scene in and around Asheville, their success is not an isolated event. The group is adamant that any city can become a partner in the movement for local food.

“Success starts with a few basics,” says Rose. “Ensure you have good and accurate information from farmers when promoting local food, and don’t underestimate the benefits of good marketing and publicity.”

She also recommends working with a diversity of markets and farmers. “Reach out to larger conventional farmers and also to the smaller, more niche farmers. And when it comes to identifying distribution outlets, don’t discount any venue. School cafeterias and farmers markets all have a place in the local food scene.”

Her final piece of advice is to recognize the positive message behind local food. “You can appeal to a diversity of people with messages connected to health, heritage, the environment or the economy. And anyone can be a part of the local food movement, whether they’re shopping for a few affordable basics or enjoying fine dining,” says Rose.

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  1. March 15, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    nice blog, thanks for the valuable story…

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