Strengthening local food economies can be viewed as an important part of a holistic approach to community development. Local food can be a positive contributor to social capital, public health, environmental preservation, and overall quality of life. It also can be an important component of local economic development. In thinking about the development of robust local food economies, a lot of attention is given to the poles of local food supply chains: namely, local farmers and farms on one end, and outlets for distribution on the other, such as farmer’s markets, co-ops, and CSA operations. But for many local farmers, too little attention is given to the intermediary steps in the supply-chain. The intermediary steps together constitute a critical infrastructure for local farmers that can make a huge difference in making a local food operation viable or not.
In 2013, the North Carolina Growing Together project, working with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service’s Local Foods Flagship Program, created a mapped inventory of businesses that contribute to these intermediary steps in the local food supply chain. The product is called the North Carolina Local Food Infrastructure Inventory. This is a great resource for anyone interested in local food in North Carolina, especially local food producers and those organizations (e.g. local governments, CDCs, economic development agencies) that seek to support them.
The inventory is set up as a customizable map (you can zoom in and out and filter for categories such as “meat processing” or “cold storage”). The data is also downloadable. And while the data for the inventory was originally compiled in 2013, the team that created it has made this resource dynamic, so new information can easily be added using a simple web form.
Given the audience of this blog, I think one of the ways this tool could be used for community development is for interested parties to examine their county and/or region and look for gaps. Gaps in the production chain may well be a barrier to success for local food producers. Helping fill those gaps may be a logical place to invest in terms of building the local food infrastructure. Of course this tool is also a very practical benefit to producers that may not be aware of resources nearby that may be leveraged to help get product to market.
In the last several years, the number of resources available aimed at supporting the local food movement in North Carolina has exploded. The NC Growing Together project was one of the those capacity building efforts that continues to add value. The Community Food Strategies team is another important resource. The Local Food Council of North Carolina is an important place where statewide and local organizations come together to consider how might continue to develop local food systems across the state. The Local Food Infrastructure Inventory is a great example of how much progress has been made.