The following was written by Debbie Bost, our friendly neighborhood Cabarrus County Cooperative Extension Director. She had help from County Commissioners and John Day, Cabarrus County Manager. It was adopted by Cabarrus County Commissioners in November of 2007.
I've posted it so people within my community and people in other parts of the country can take a look at this comprehensive approach to rebuilding a healthy local food system. As individual components of the plan get web presence (the incubator farm website is underdevelopment) I'll post links.
One link to share, our incubator farm was recently written up in 'Out Here' magazine. pdf warning: Out Here
Sustainable Community-Cabarrus County
A concept paper
County Commissioners’ Meeting
Imagine what our community could look like if issues are being addressed in an interconnected manner. Together we can demonstrate how innovative strategies can produce communities that are more environmentally sound, economically prosperous, and socially equitable. One component of a sustainable community is an active and viable agricultural system to produce, harvest and market local, natural food to local consumers. Productive farms create open space, generate taxes, and produce important local, healthy food. They are better for the environment through reducing transportation for access to food thereby reducing fuel consumption and increasing air quality. Sustainable agriculture integrates environmental health, economic profitability and social and economic equity, while a Sustainable community is meeting the needs of the present and future without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
We are at an important junction within our community toward a transition to a food system driven by the desire for healthy, safe, high quality food and for connections to the food source/production method of that food. This involves stakeholders across the whole food chain.
Goals for this agricultural component of a Sustainable Community could include: increased business sales, increased individual farmer sales, improved farmer profitability and operational efficiency, increased purchase of community-based foods, increased jobs, leveraged additional funds, increased consumption of fresh produce, etc.
The idea is that local food strengthens agriculture, connects consumers with local producers' products, and allows producers to remain economically viable.
A holistic approach to a sustainable agricultural system includes 5 interrelated concepts:
1-Developing a local Food Council that could focus on the economic and community impact of local and regional food value in order to better make use of, and the case for local, regional and state investments. Identify key elements that create vibrant and sustainable food systems, work with leaders and businesses to support key elements not yet developed, identify and measure key indicators, and implement a process for continuous learning across the county, region, and state. Ideally, the role of the Food Council would be to ‘translate’ the sometimes disconnected areas of community food security into common terms and then transform situations into opportunities to improve a community’s health, economy and environment. It’s a network of partners all working together to put the technical and financial resources together for a better community.
2-Delivering local Community Assessments which include an institutional survey that looks at current and future purchasing patterns of institutions including schools, the hospital, the jail, care centers, restaurants, etc. A household survey will assess the current and potential purchasing patterns of local food products by household consumers. The asset map will outline where local fruits, vegetables, dairy, poultry, and meat products are currently and historically produced. The economic impact of growing these products will be assessed. These together will establish our base-line consumption data in dollars of healthy, locally grown foods.
3-Developing an Incubator Farm because Agriculture is a tough business, and the situation demands that the next generation of farmers know how to produce and market food, as well as manage a viable business. Critical elements for beginning farmers include access to land, capital to start farming, and knowledge to be able to produce something. An Incubator Farm is one way to help beginning farmers establish their businesses. The ‘program’ hosts and trains farmers as they grow food, share equipment, establish their markets, and learn from their mistakes, successes and fellow producers. Once the businesses are viable, they spin off of the incubator farm and find their own land. This program helps farmers build track records, implement business plans, gain a good sense of the market and their own farming skills before they venture off and have their own farm.
We are proposing to create an Incubator Farm at the County’s Atando Road Park property. There are approximately 32 acres available at the site. We would need to build a common storage building, small greenhouse to start plants, small individual storage sheds, purchase some farm equipment, develop the irrigation plan, and develop educational programs for the individuals involved in the Incubator project. Each participant signs a 12 month lease that allows them use of 1-2 acres of land for their individual farm, equipment, greenhouse space, utilities and water. Usually a participant stays with the Incubator Farm from 1-5 years depending upon how their plan develops.
4-Building a Harvesting facility in conjunction with a current meat processing/packaging plant in the Rimer community. Many local producers are asking for the opportunity to direct market the sale of their meat to consumers and the nearest local harvest facility is in North Wilkesboro. This creates additional investment and cost for the producer and makes the idea impossible to implement. We are proposing to build a harvest floor at the site of Cruse Meat Processing on Rimer Road to ensure a place for our local producers to get their meat processed.
5-Developing a Marketing Strategy, including Piedmont Farmer’s Market, will be a key element in making the entire system work. We must reach out and let our community know about the many readily available products. Developing a comprehensive marketing plan will be critical in creating the viability for agricultural producers.