The Future of Food in Asheville & Buncombe County:
Addressing Poverty, Public Health, Local Commerce, & Sustainability Through Food Security
The World Health Organization defines food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. Food security encompasses issues of poverty, public health, local commerce, and sustainability. Security is central to the well being of the individual and society. The measure of citizens’ quality of life and that of the city they live in can be understood in the context of their access to affordable, healthy, and locally sourced food. Food security must be a community priority if we are to address poverty, public health, local commerce, and sustainability in a holistic way.
Regional Food Security
• Fourteen of Buncombe County’s fifteen ZIP codes contain a food outlet of some sort, yet one out of every six people in Western North Carolina experiences food insecurity.
• There was a 27 percent increase in county residents that receive food assistance, up to 31,011, in 2010.
• In July 2011, 5,522 people in Buncombe County were on WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), up from 5,135 in May 2011.
• 50.1 percent of students within Buncombe County School System were enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program during the 2009-2010 school year, up from 46.7 the previous year.
• The 2010 Buncombe County Community Health Assessment found that only 58 percent of the population has access to healthy foods, higher than the state average, but much lower than the target value of 69.
Causes of Food Insecurity
• Thepresence of “Food Deserts” – areas that do not have a convenient, affordable, healthy food source nearby.
• High prices for healthy food even when it is available.
• Inadequate cooking education and nutrition information.
• Limited public awareness on the necessity and accessibility of affordable, healthy
• The availability of Local, sustainable food to the population.
Problems Associated with Food Insecurity
Having a ready supply of food indicates a family’s economic stability as well as their access to locations that carry affordable healthy food selections. When there is limited access to healthy food or when families cannot afford it, then problems set in. Having little, or even inconsistent, access to healthy food can lead to:
• Impaired mental and physical development in young children (Food insecure children are 90 percent more likely to be in fair or poor health than food-secure children, and will require 30 percent more hospitalizations).
• Family and personal instability, where uncertainty over ‘the next meal’ creates a
roadblock to dealing with other problems.
Improving Food Security
Local food is a simple, convenient, and powerful tool to achieve food security. While prices on imported processed food or fast food may be lower, the food is often of a lower nutritional quality, and the money spent on it seldom stays within the local economy. Local food is reliably healthy and beneficial to the economy, and there is a great opportunity for Asheville to expand even further on our robust local food movement.
In 2007 there were 72,087 acres used as farmland in Buncombe County. There are currently 15 major tailgate and farmers’ markets in Asheville. In addition, 11 large
community gardens are in use in the Asheville area. These gardens produce diverse types of food, from tomatoes to eggs to grapes, which are then used by the community in different forms, such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.
Improving food security infrastructure will expand access while creating a more sustainable region. A 2007 Study around expanding the Western North Carolina food and farm economy found that an additional 200 to 300 million dollars would be spent on locally sourced food within the region, were it available. Local food is clearly at the nexus of addressing poverty, public health, commerce, and sustainability within any community or region.
Food Policy Council
The problems associated with food insecurity are complex, and cannot be solved by one organization or one initiative. In western North Carolina there are dozens of organizations concerned with hunger and food security, and we have the opportunity to bring these groups together in a united, concentrated effort. A food policy council will allow members of the community to make a much larger impact through increased cooperation and collaboration.
A food policy council is a group of concerned people and organizations that determine the best course for an area to improve its food security. Food Policy Councils work across sectors, engaging with government policy and programs, grassroots/non-profit projects, and local businesses and food workers. One successful example is The Cleveland-Cayahoga Food Policy Council, which sponsored a “Regional Food Congress”, promoting better communication between organizations within the food community.
Successful Food Policy Councils have a diverse makeup representing diverse sectors within local food production, distribution, and education – Farmers, community leaders, food banks, faith based groups, health directors, hospitals, community centers, non- profits, and local restaurants to name a few. Equitable representation across the community ensures that the Food Policy Council moves in a consensus direction. These stakeholders are the people with the ideas, resources, and ability to make a difference, and who, given the opportunity, will make a difference.
Goals of the Council
• Improve sustainability within the region.
• Coordinate production and distribution to increase efficiency.
• Expand food education.
• Improve land usage.
• Increase the access to healthier food options.
An Asheville/Buncombe Food Policy Council will allow diverse stakeholders within the community to have representation and a voice while they work together. It will also allow for greater communication among different food agencies, improving cooperation within the food system of the region. With the number of concerned organizations that exist in Western North Carolina, a food policy council can allow these groups to combine their ideas, their drive, and their resources to realize a comprehensive, effective strategy to address food security.