Building a better food system
Find the why– PTRFC Council Member
Welcome to the online home of the Piedmont Triad Regional Food System Assessment.
Everyone deserves good food. Food is how we help each other. It’s how we make the world a better place; it’s how we connect with people we love and how we show our compassion and empathy to everyone around us. Everyone deserves to be able to create food and build communities around it.
We hope our food system assessment helps everyone in the Triad work toward a food system that supports local communities, creates economic opportunities, builds businesses, and gives everyone access to food they love with the people they love. You can find ways to help in your own county in the final section, which includes a county profile and policy toolkit for each of the Triad’s twelve counties: Alamance, Caswell, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Guilford, Montgomery, Randolph, Rockingham, Surry, Stokes, and Yadkin.
There’s a full version of this report and lots more information on how you can get involved in building the Triad’s food system at ptrc.org/triadfoodcouncil. You can also view some of the stories we collected during the assessment at http://carolinacreators.com/triad-food-stories/.
We hope you’ll join us in working towards a stronger, more equitable, more resilient food system – it’s more important than ever.
EQUITY AND JUSTICE
Adapting to the Challenges of COVID-19
Equity is…just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.
While our original goal was to conduct an “outside-in” research approach that centered underserved voices first, the economic scale of the damage from COVID-19 and the disproportionate impact it had both economically and from a public health perspective on communities of color and low-income populations meant that we could no longer center those voices in our research in the way we had originally planned.
We utilized new strategies, online platforms, direct interviews, personal outreach, paper surveys, and dozens of other means to test how to best involve and empower communities that are furthest from justice in the food system. While we didn’t meet our original goals for enabling underserved communities to drive the actions in the assessment, we highlighted recommendations for how to continue to include underrepresented voices in the full report for the council to use in the future – and we’ve included equity findings in every section of this report to make it clear that a sustainable food system must be an equitable food system.
In the limited outreach we did complete during the assessment in 2020, the following viewpoints were shared by several survey, interview, and focus group participants:
- There is a lack of diversity and chronic under-representation in local food by people of color, making the local food system less welcoming and less accessible to these groups.
- A major need is to create effective channels for local produce to move from farm to consumer – which includes needs for marketing, education, and middle infrastructure. Supporting this transition should be equitable lending and access to capital to help underserved entrepreneurs access economic opportunity in food system businesses.
- The regional food system should look at BOTH regional policy, coordination, and decisions, and also at local/grassroots organizing and ways to support these hyper-local movements.
- Urban and rural areas have different needs and assets, as are highlighted in the full report. There are, however, areas of overlapping supply and demand, barriers, and successful policies – and these can be strengthened by relationship building.
- Food – growing, cooking, eating, sharing – can help heal generational trauma among people of color, especially African-Americans and Indigenous people, and barriers to healthy food system participation should be reduced to enable this cultural healing process.
- Access to land must be addressed if inclusion in food production is to be achieved.
Many more people and agencies provided additional feedback through the assessment process, and the full findings can be found at ptrc.org/triadfoodcouncil.
To connect with the food council, your local food system champions, and others, check out PTRFC on Facebook and Instagram!
Know better, do better
We knew that this year the systemic inequities we already knew about worsened on every front – from public health, to access to resources, to food access, to economic opportunity. The communities we had identified as furthest from justice weren’t able to participate in our research the way we intended, but we knew – and could show – that they were now further from justice than they had ever been before. The gaps in the data aren’t really the problem, after all; it’s the collective insistence that more data is necessary before action is taken.
Given the constraints on engagement, although we continued to run our surveying, interviews, and focus groups with as many people as we could gather, we also shifted our project approach to center the existing data from pre-COVID sources and the 2020 post-COVID predictions into an identifiable baseline that could be used by the council moving forward.
This assessment focuses on five research areas:
- Food security and food access, against the background of social determinants of health
- Food production and agriculture, both from an equity perspective and an economic perspective
- Market and economic opportunities and barriers, at both the micro and macro scales across the region
- Supply chains, including regional infrastructure, import and export data, and geographic impacts
- Community and network analysis, for both partners in this work and power structures inherent in the regional infrastructure
Find good people doing good work, and get out of the way
Community Assets & Network Analysis
This section seeks to describe communities’ access to food assets and services, highlighting which communities do or do not have access to services such as grocery stores, farmers’ market, food banks, transportation, and other vital aspects of local food systems. A network analysis allows us to visually and quantitatively measure these systems, demonstrating the level of access to food services within the community and how equitably those assets are distributed, along with identifying future partners for the council to leverage.
We also focus on mapping and identifying the hundreds of partners, agencies, advocates, and individuals who were referred to us as food system experts in their local communities. Because the council is in the early stages of development, there is significant work to be done in future years to build strong local partnerships, especially in counties not currently represented by a local food council, and to continue to convene these stakeholders to generate ideas, offer resources, and promote equity across the region.
Building a strong regional food system takes large-scale planning and investment – but up front, and especially in response to the events of 2020, it is more dependent on finding good people already doing good work in their communities, asking them what they need, providing it, and getting out of the way so they can make it happen.
Many of the thousands of nodes we mapped in this process will be mapped and shared by PTRFC in the coming year, and will also be potential partners for local and area projects. Here, we share PTRFC’s partners lists, representation, and a quick guide to your local food councils.
The economic scale of the damage from COVID-19, and the disproportionate impact it had both economically and from a public health perspective on communities of color and low-income populations, meant that we could no longer center those voices in our research in the way we had originally planned.
We utilized new strategies, online platforms, direct interviews, personal outreach, paper surveys, and dozens of other means to test how to best involve and empower communities that are furthest from justice in the food system.
We’ve highlighted recommendations for how to continue to include underrepresented voices in the full report for the council to use in the future – and we’ve included equity findings in every section of this report to make it clear that a sustainable food system must be an equitable food system.
There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river.
We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Our analysis of food security in the Piedmont Triad region considers whether or not residents have the resources and capability to obtain food at the household level, recognizing that local planning and structural inequities play a significant role in food insecurity across the nation and in this region.
We know that food insecurity and food access are worse in the region – and will likely continue to be so as we move into 2021 with the pandemic still growing. Food banks are seeing more than double the demand from last year as we move into the winter and recent estimates show that nearly 1 in 3 North Carolinians are experiencing food insecurity this year.
Although what you see in these first few charts are county-level food insecurity rates and predictions, we also wanted to dive a little deeper and find out which zip codes were most impacted. To do this, we worked with Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina to create a snapshot of data provided through their intake process to provide more granular food security data than is currently available from national sources. Those charts are also provided here by totals and also by communities of color who self-identified in the Second Harvest Food Bank data – you can hover over and click the maps to see which communities in the Triad are most impacted by food insecurity (hover to see zip codes near you).
Farmland isn’t just for food; it’s culture, heritage, and a place to call home
Food & Farm Production
Farm and food production varies greatly across the 12-county region, more specifically along the rural/urban divide. The Piedmont Triad area is home to conventional and traditional family farms and livestock production.
- There are over one million acres in the Piedmont Triad that are being operated on in a farming capacity with 9,408 farms total (AGCensus, 2017).
- The 12-county Piedmont Triad region sold $1,072,818,000 in agricultural products in 2017. Top products in terms of revenue included Poultry and Eggs, Tobacco, Nursery and Greenhouse, Cattle and Calves and Milk from Cows (AgCensus, 2017).
- Income distribution shows that most of these farms are small, with 8,471 making less than $100K in sales, 156 making between $100K and $250K, and 688 making over $688,000.
- Decreases in farmland have been catastrophic in some counties in the past five-year Agriculture Census period. Farmland development pressures are increased when farm families face economic instability; when lending and farm policy practices are inequitable; and when access to resources and capital is limited to wealthy farmers (who are often older, white, and male).
Although the Triad region is about 51% white and 49% people of color, almost 97% of principal farm operators in the latest Ag Census identified as white, indicating that communities of color are significantly underrepresented among principal farm operators in the region. Similarly, although women make up over 50% of the Triad’s population, only 24.9% are principal farm operators, with the remaining 74.1% of farm ownership belonging to men.
Each county’s agriculture census data was analyzed for demographic indicators such as age, gender, and race – the full tables of that data are in the full report at ptrc.org/triadfoodcouncil. For detailed information by crop type and county, check out NC Cooperative Extension’s great infographics for your county, available here.
EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T SEE IT, FOOD MOVES ALL AROUND YOU
The Piedmont Triad region has a strong supply chain for many industries and is geographically central for distribution in the East Coast and Mid America markets. However, there’s a disparity of access among supply chain industries that significantly disadvantages food-related businesses in the region. The PART study found that only 226 of 45,138 shipping firms in the region were exclusively shipping in the agriculture industry, and only a few cold storage facilities offer agricultural use of their facilities in the region.
“Leakage” is a supply chain term that describes how agricultural goods are being produced and exported compared to the amount being imported. This type of analysis, shown in the below charts, can help PTRFC identify areas for focus in supply chain investments over a longer period of time.
Based on this, we know that 67% of the food consumed in the Triad is imported from outside the region – a significant market share that could impact local producers who could keep food inside the region. There are also a number of opportunities for county-to-county sales, which you can see in the flow maps below describing how much food is grown within a county and exported, or imported into a county. Ten of the twelve counties export more than half of their food production to outside the Piedmont Triad region.
Of 148 cold storage facilities located within the transportation region of the Piedmont Triad, only 6 have accommodations for cold storage of agricultural products and food and beverage. These sites are almost entirely utilized by larger companies shipping intrastate and there is a significant lack of mid-scale producer-sized cold storage, of which we found only three locations (located an average of 1.5 hours from most regional farms).
Regional food systems have often benefited places with higher population densities and median income. With careful investment, however, regional food system development can address linkage, build stronger urban-rural connections, and utilize import substitution and other strategies to further support the infrastructure and market capacity for local food products.
Supply Chain Detailed Overview by County
Click on a county image for a detailed overview.
Piedmont Triad Inter-Regional Food Flow Map
The map shows the food supply chain import/export flow within the PTR Region.
When the 2020 pandemic changes almost everything you thought you knew about food
Market Analysis & Economic Assessment
Agricultural production wasn’t significantly impacted this year by the pandemic, as it struck after most major operations had begun production. However, value-added production, supply chains, and small- and large-scale markets have all been affected by the pandemic and related closures, and industry experts warn that this will have long-term implications for the food industry as a whole. For 2021, projections rely heavily on the widespread availability of a vaccine and the lack of further shutdowns to contain the spread of the virus, but this is far from certain. National estimates are for nearly double the 2019 unemployment rate in spring 2021 across all industries – and this will significantly affect food processing, distribution, storage, and supply chains, as well as the overall market value of local foods.
Altogether, the charts here show that the seven selected industries related to food and food supply chains bring in over $28 billion in annual sales to the region, generated by over 6,400 businesses of all sizes. Guilford and Forsyth are home to almost a third of these businesses (1,947 and 1,236 respectively) while Caswell has the fewest at 76 businesses.
Restaurants, markets, and wholesale businesses account for the majority of total sales across the Piedmont. Businesses in these industries in Forsyth and Guilford counties generated nearly half the total regional sales (almost $16 billion) with remaining counties having smaller percentages (with Caswell again coming in lowest at $55.3 million). Large centers for processing and packing, along with large grocery and food retail chains, account for nearly 60% of the economic impact from these businesses each year – highlighting the need for supporting small and mid-scale farm and food businesses.
Overall, the charts show that most of the economic activity and value is centered around Forsyth and Guilford. Randolph is the strongest in agricultural-associated businesses; in addition to Forsyth and Guilford, Alamance, Davidson, Randolph and Surry counties showed over $1 billion in restaurant sales. There are several counties without cold storage facilities, which are mostly concentrated in Guilford and Alamance.
The overall food supply chain impact has hit restaurants particularly hard, and this is true across the Triad region in both rural and urban markets. Despite gradual reopenings, delivery services, online ordering, and outdoor dining, many restaurants have either already closed or anticipate closing in the next few months – with some estimates of permanent restaurant closures as high as 1 in 3 nationally. North Carolina’s restaurant economy totals more than $21.4 billion, and we know that local independent restaurants recirculate more money from revenue (65%) back into the local economy as compared to chain restaurant counterparts (30%). This could be a significant blow to local food economies across the region, and should be an area of major focus for the council in 2021.
We also found that even before the pandemic there was a significant gap in the Triad’s markets, specifically intermediary markets that help smaller producers scale into larger and wholesale markets. The region’s farmers and producers have access to local farmers markets and on-farm sales opportunities, as well as larger, wholesale opportunities, but very few options exist for farmers at an intermediary scale. Although COVID-19 has increased public interest in purchasing local products and supporting area farms, many of these businesses will need significant assistance to both pivot to different sales platforms and delivery and distribution as well as to navigate the supply chain and marketing challenges the pandemic represents.
For the maps below, hover over the map to see zip-code level data on food and farm businesses in your community.
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS, BUILD A STRONGER FOOD SYSTEM
Based on the data we share here, the assessment recommends several strategies for each research area to increase equity in the food system, improve economic opportunity for food and farm businesses, and leverage resources and networks for food system change.
Although we’ve only included high-level recommendations here, you can view all the recommendations in the final section of the full report at ptrc.org/triadfoodcouncil. The regional food council will be working closely with county partners to create a five-year workplan with strategic goals in each research area. If you’re interested in being involved in setting priorities and co-creating programs and projects, please contact Jennifer Bedrosian, PTRFC Food System Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EQUITY & JUSTICE
- Engage leaders of color in small and grassroots organizations across the Triad in co-creating strategies and programs to address food system changes.
- Serve as a voice to advocate for state and federal policy changes that can have a real impact on equity in local communities, such as federal food funding, Farm Bill changes that support small farms and farmers of color, broadband expansion statewide, and state expansion of programs that address food security and access to resources for small farms
- Prioritize council actions in a manner that ensures equitable support, including reserving loan funds for farmers and food producers of color and rural businesses and prioritizing underserved recipients in shared gifting processes
- Reduce the administrative burden required for underserved communities to be involved in and take ownership of the food system, both through internal programs and through external relationships
IMPLEMENTATION OF FOOD SYSTEM CHANGE STRATEGIES
- Co-create action plan strategies with county and community partners
- Expand PTRFC audience & partnerships, especially with grassroots and community-level groups and advocates and local governments
- Maintain paid apprenticeship programs to support council development & encourage youth participation in the food system
- Implement regular council-to-community listening sessions
- Support resources that provide services to benefit all partners, such as translation services, assistance with online benefits access, and funding for innovative programs
- Integrate food access into transportation planning at the regional and local level through PTRC’s management of regional transportation processes
- Integrate food system needs into regional and local economic development strategies, such as through recruitment of grocery and food retail and capital programs for food & farm businesses
- Advocate for school district food programs that are flexible and innovative (especially post-COVID-19 approaches) and work with school districts to implement regionally
- Build small grant programs that support food access at a micro level, such as community gardens, microgardens, fresh produce distribution, and other strategies to increase healthy food access
FOOD & FARM PRODUCTION AND ECONOMIC IMPACT
- Partner with Cooperative Extension & Small Business Centers to leverage resources for small businesses navigating the pandemic and associated economic impacts – for example, by helping businesses pivot to online sales, supporting central delivery and storage for online sales, or funding farmers’ markets to serve as technical assistance providers
- Map and support microfarms with the assistance of community partners
- Raise awareness with local economic development agencies of the need for and economic impact of supporting food & farm businesses
- Work with existing lenders to expand access to capital for entrepreneurs of color, and to build PTRC’s own lending policies in a way that supports underserved entrepreneurs
- Encourage adoption of Food Access Plans and updated Land / Unified Development Ordinances at county and municipal levels, using both Greensboro and Forsyth as examples of local policies that support food system development
- Promote adoption of the NC 10% Campaign and NC Farm to School programs and aim for 100% participation in both programs in all counties by the end of 2021
- Leverage Opportunity Zones for development of food & farm infrastructure and supply chains
- Work directly with county governments & form a supply chain subcommittee to identify inter-county supply chain connections, using the food flow maps included here as a base, and serve as the connecting agency for counties interested in working together to increase both import/export relationships and shared infrastructure development
This county profile has been created as part of the Piedmont Triad Regional Food System Assessment, conducted in 2020 by the Piedmont Triad Regional Food Council, an initiative of the Piedmont Triad Regional Council of Governments.
The profiles are intended to provide a snapshot of results in a number of research areas, including food security, supply chains, food and farm production, and economic development. These toolkits also include information about recommended strategies at the regional level to help guide the co-creation of county priorities as the council develops its workplan.