In 2014, our family owned a microfarm in Western NC. We loved the farm life and promoting fresh, local foods at our local farmers' markets. However, in 2017, a series of financial hardships, family emergencies and injuries lead us to give up our lovely home in the mountains. Gone were our livestock, our fresh eggs, and the barter/trade network of friends we had cultivated. For years, K. Futrell wanted to attend NCSU, but she never imagined that she would be attending with her mother. When C. Futrell first stepped foot on NC State University's campus as a student, she knew she had found her home for the next few years. However, our family's difficult times were not behind us. Medical bills, living expenses, and a highly competitive job market made tight finances almost non-existent.
The Feed the Pack: The Food Pantry at NC State was one resource we relied upon. However, we found out very quickly that basic staples lacked the nutrition that we needed. Last year, mom had the opportunity in COM 267 to begin to elaborate on an idea that was floating around in her head. Thus, the NC Farm to Table Initiative was born in the pages of an assignment.
Students of all ages who come from low income families struggle with food insecurity. They are hungry. They persevere in class. When they have no place to live, they persist while they are tired from sleeping in their cars. They raise children. They are single parents. They are married. Many do this without the support of parents. And yet, like the subject of the great North Carolinian poetess, Maya Angelou, they rise. But they can fall, and they do, without the support of programs designed by to support these students’ needs. Now, with the COVID-19 threat looming within our country, and most NC State students off campus and back home, there are a few of us left. International students, those who had extenuating circumstances or were dealing with housing insecurity were granted exceptions to the requisite exodus off campus. In my case, my husband, our daughter, and I did not have another home to which we could return. A passion for local, fresh foods, advocacy, and the promotion of local small & medium farms began to coalesce with a healthy concern for the impending national situation.
Together, mother and daughter wanted to help, but how could we do that? Neither of us had the funds. We both have classes we still need to attend. We had … a ton of excuses, but we could not ignore the nagging feeling that this was the time to take mom’s assignment, and begin to turn it into a practical idea, a real-life project. During our work over the last month, our first project for NC Farm to Table was to connect students, determined to finish the semester, with local artisans, farmers, restaurants, organizations, and businesses who wish to help provide fresh food items to supplement the staples from food pantries. With help from Michael’s English Muffins, The Produce Box, and Hungry Harvest, the project NCSU Farm to Table, connected 20 student households with a week’s worth of fresh English muffins, fruits, and vegetables.
The aim of the NC Farm to Table Initiative is to connect local family owned farms with low-income families through a variety of platforms including digital and social media presences, electronic and physical newsletters, workshops, and pop-up farmer’s markets where families can utilize and maximize their SNAP benefits to purchase healthy, fresh unprocessed foods. NC Farm to Table Initiative will be organized as a 501(c)(3).
The first phase of this project will be to create a blog style website. This site will use the domain ncfarmtotable.com and will feature farmer profiles, family stories highlighting the benefits of dietary changes, and recipes from both the farms & families. This site will be linked to social media for further reach. Additionally, an electronic and print format newsletter will be available for subscription to bridge the link between those with and without internet access. The site will be promoted at local farmer’s markets and farm events. Stories will be investigated and written by volunteers.
The second phase of the project will be to form a mobile farmer’s market which will setup and operate in low-income neighborhoods. The goal will be to provide hours during hours when families are leaving school and work on Fridays and morning to afternoon hours on Saturday. To alleviate SNAP acceptance issues, the market itself will follow a format similar to the WakeMed market. In this format, the market itself is responsible for obtaining payment access for SNAP benefit cards and WIC vouchers. Furthermore, it will be the goal of NC Farm to Table to access funding to double SNAP/WIC funds for consumers. Locations to target for mobile pop-up markets will be located within low-income communities, starting in Wake County, NC and adding counties as funding increases. Ideal sites would be community centers, parks, and schools located near public transportation. It should be noted that not all low-income communities are located within urban areas, and it would be beneficial to explore rural options as well. In the initial phase of the markets, vendors will be recruited to apply for spaces. An application fee of $20 will be required for all for-profit vendors. For-profit vendor spaces will be set at 10-foot x 10-foot space and will be provided one pop-up canopy and one 8-foot table. For-profit vendor single booth fees will be charge at a rate of 7% of the vendor’s daily sales, with a minimum charge of $15 and a maximum of $50. An additional for-profit vendor booth can be purchased at an additional rate of 3.5% of sales, with a minimum charge of $10 and a maximum of $50. Non-profit vendors can apply for a single booth space at a rate of $15 per day. Finally, the eventual goal of the initiative would be to offer health, cooking, and storage (ex. canning & dehydration) workshops at these locations. Preferably, children’s programs focusing on healthy eating habits would be provided at the same time as the adult orientated seminars. Ultimately, the goal is to change the food narrative in low-income families. It will be vital to acquire press coverage for inaugural events.
Farm to table is a terminology that has been embraced by the edible agricultural market to describe a social movement focused on serving locally produced foods in the restaurant industry. The popular movement sprang from the growing desire to understand food production and move away from processed foods laden with hidden carbohydrates, sodium, sugars, and fillers. Still, when walking around any grocery store, it becomes obvious that a significant amount of space is devoted to these foods. Furthermore, these foods are often cheaper to purchase. This can be explained in part by the government subsides for corn & wheat crops. Additionally, these products are considered shelf-stable because of their ability to be stored for months to years. Access to wholesome foods has become a major health issue for Americans, and in recent news grocery store chain, Giant is piloting a program whereby Medicaid recipients can receive a prescription for produce from their medical provider and upon giving the Rx to the pharmacist receive a $20 coupon valid for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables.
Inexpensive, processed foods can also be found inexpensively at fast food restaurants, especially in low-income & urban areas. Dr. Chin Jou explored the relationship by these seemingly strange bedfellows. Her book Supersizing Urban America: How Inner Cities Got Fast Food with Government Help notes that the partnership between America’s leading fast food franchises began during the Nixon administration with the policy of distributing government funds to assist in the creation of black-owned businesses. It was the hope of the Nixon administration that in supporting entrepreneurship in traditionally black communities would help to quell the civil unrest of the late 1960s. However, what followed was an invasion of fast food locations in poorer communities. The meals served by these restaurants bring with them a host of health issues that burden economically struggling families. The USDA suggests that the average American adult consume 2000 calories per day, but a McDonald’s Big Mac alone has 540 calories. Additionally, per McDonald’s nutritional information, the sandwich also contains 28 grams of fat (43% of the daily value based on a 2000 calorie diet) and 46 grams of carbohydrates (15% of the DV). These numbers are nearly tripled when the Big Mac is combined with a large fry and a large Coca-Cola. This popular meal contains 1340 calories, 52 grams of fat (81% of the DV), and an astounding 192 grams of carbohydrates (64% of the DV), Eating these meals on a consistent basis can lead to morbid conditions such as obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Food deserts & swamps add to the lack of access to healthy, fresh foods. Food deserts are defined as “neighborhoods that have limited access to affordable and nutritious food and tend to be composed of low-income consumers.” Within these deserts are areas where “[s]mall-scale, corner stores that often sell unhealthy food” are located within food deserts. It could be argued that fast food restaurants within local food deserts create these swamps as well. People living within these areas must travel to access healthy foods. Within the Raleigh area there are several farmer’s markets, many are located within more affluent areas. Many markets do not accept SNAP or WIC benefits, or they require individual farmers to provide the ability to accept SNAP/WIC benefits. A stand out within Raleigh is the market run by WakeMed. At its main campus off New Bern Avenue is in a traditionally low-income area, and it is accessible by public transportation. Furthermore, when in operation, this market doubles SNAP benefits for consumers.
Finally, after owning and working a microfarm in western North Carolina, I became aware of several issues facing the traditional American family farm. These farms are owned and operated by families, however, as factory farming has increased, these farmers can find their way of life drastically affects. In many cases, once contracted with a large corporation to produce crops or raise meat, farmers lose their independence on which agricultural products to raise as well as the ability to control production practices. This has led to the rise of monoculture farms where, in general, one crop is planted. This creates soil that can be stripped of nutrients. In some cases, farmers are required to use specific forms of fertilizer & pesticides. The seeds required by large corporations are patented and farmers are not allowed to save seeds for the next year’s crops. Farmers can be fined or sued if the corporation becomes aware of deviation from these rules, or if farmers not associated with the corporation are found to be raising company crops. This practice is adhered to worldwide; in April 2019, Pepsico sued four unaffiliated Indian farmers for raising their patented potatoes used by Pepsi’s subsidiary Lays. Pepsico sought $143,000 USD (10 million rupees) in damages from each of the farmers. In early May 2019, it was announced that Pepsi had offered an undisclosed settlement to each of the farmers. Large conglomerates, like Pepsico, use these regulations and contracts to maintain control over their contract farmers. The same issues arise on farms raising animals for meat and dairy production. In North Carolina, Craig Watts signed on with Purdue to raise poultry. By 2014, his disenchantment with Purdue reached and tipping point and Mr. Watts went public with the conditions he was forced to maintain on his farm. Farmers for Purdue and other meat companies are required to follow a model know as centralized area feeding operations (CAFO). Watts was forced to pack large chicken house full regardless of the chicken’s well-being. Being disturbed about the conditions of Purdue’s flock was not the only issue Watts had to contend with, at the height of his tenure with the nationally recognized poultry producer, he was paid only 5 cents per pound of meat. Furthermore, Watts barely owned anything on his own farm; “Perdue owned the chickens, delivered the chicken feed, and told Craig exactly what to do to raise the best flocks. Craig, on the other hand, owned the massive debt, the chicken houses, and the mountains of waste the chickens produced” (FarmAid). Mounting debt and dependency on large food production corporations can force family farms to go under and often leave the farmers declaring bankruptcy while producing possibly inferior products.