10 Percent Campaign encourages purchase of local foods

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 17, 2012

By Kathy Chaffin
Support for a statewide campaign encouraging consumers to spend 10 percent of their existing food dollars with local food producers, related business and communities is quickly approaching $15 million.
And that reflects only the 4,693 people and 566 businesses currently committed to being part of the campaign. They share their total food budgets and the percentage spent on local foods through an online tracking system, according to Teisha Wymore, state coordinator of the 10 Percent Campaign.
“If you look at that small amount of people, it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to if everyone in North Carolina participated,” Wymore said. “You can imagine how much impact that would have.”
The North Carolina 10 Percent Campaign was started in July 2010 by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) through its “Farm to Fork” initiative and action guide. Partnering with CEFS on the campaign are the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and Golden LEAF Foundation.
The 10 Percent Campaign began as an effort to educate and encourage consumers to buy locally grown food. “It’s very much a conversation that is individual and very meaningful in different ways to different people,” Wymore said.
If 10 percent of the estimated $35 billion North Carolinians spend on food each year went to local growers, that would generate $3.5 billion for them while helping to boost the state’s economy. Buying local foods would also cut down on the miles required to transport food, thus reducing harmful fuel emissions and improving communities’ air quality.
Buying locally grown food could also help reduce North Carolina’s obesity rate by infusing fresh fruits and vegetables into residents’ diets. The state has the 12th highest adult obesity rate in the nation, and more than a third of its 10-to-17 year olds are overweight or obese. 
Expanding the local foods market could also lead to new farm, food and manufacturing businesses, and ultimately, more jobs. 
Tes Thraves, coordinator of youth and community-based food systems and co-coordinator of the N.C. Food Corps at N.C. State University, said businesses may participate in the campaign not only by buying locally grown foods but by encouraging their employees to follow their example. They can also do promotions or outreach programs in their communities, she said.
Wymore and Thraves promote the 10 Percent Campaign by speaking to groups of consumers and business owners across the state about the benefits of participating. “We’re very excited about the success of the campaign,” Wymore said.
Campaign workers and partners had expected a positive response from the public, she said, “because it’s a ‘no brainer’ for a lot of people who are already visiting farmers’ markets or have an idea of what’s being grown here in North Carolina.
“We’re just overwhelmed by the response from businesses and organizations,” Wymore said. 
As part of her job as the 10 Percent Campaign manager, Wymore helps to connect buyers – which range from individuals to businesses to large organizations such as universities or hospitals—with local farmers who sell their produce. Each county office of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service has a local food coordinator who works with consumers and farmers on the campaign.
“The Cooperative Extension Service plays a huge role in reaching those audiences in the communities,” she said.
While the 10 Percent Campaign is a priority for cooperative extension offices throughout the state, Darrell Blackwelder, director of the Rowan office and local food coordinator for the county, said his staff have been trying to encourage people to buy locally grown food for years. “And we’re still promoting it,” he said. “It’s a movement that is gaining in momentum.
“What we hope to do is try to get more retail vendors and government entities and maybe schools to buy as much locally as they can.”
One way the Rowan Cooperative Extension Office promotes buying locally grown foods is through its support of local farmers’ markets. There are three markets in the county through which farmers can sell their produce, Blackwelder said, the largest one in downtown Salisbury and smaller ones in China Grove and East Spencer. 
The Salisbury farmers market has grown from 14 vendors five years ago to 49 – including some artisans – today.  Growers throughout the county also sell their produce from farm-based markets.
Cabarrus County Cooperative Extension Agent David Goforth said the service set up a booth at the county fair when the campaign was first announced to give people an opportunity to sign up for the online tracking. “We’ve had some pretty high numbers as far as people adopting it,” he said.
Goforth said Cabarrus County officials also signed up for the campaign, pledging to use 10 percent of locally grown foods at any events where the county serves food. Depending on the event, he said the percentage of locally grown food has been much higher.
Wymore said campaign staff also work with farm cooperatives which sell their produce under local labels such as “Piedmont Grown,” “Pilot Mountain Pride” and “Feast Down East” to get more people to buy locally grown food.
The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, for example, which coordinates the Feast Down East label, has partnered with the 10 Percent Campaign from the very beginning. The university has also helped promote public awareness of the campaign and the benefits of eating locally grown food by hosting events on campus such as local food events for students and faculty and conferences targeted toward restaurants and other businesses.
Wymore said government organizations such as the Triad Council of Governments – which represents 16 municipalities – is also partnering with the 10 Percent Campaign along with individual municipalities. 
“We have just seen huge, huge interest in getting in implemented in various ways,” she said. “Anyone who has an interest in working with the local food economy or is interested in keeping sustainable agriculture and farming as a part of North Carolina’s heritage, we’d love to talk with them.”
For more information on the N.C. 10 Percent Campaign, log onto nc10percent.com, call the N.C. Cooperative Extension office in your county and ask for the local food coordinator or call state Campaign Coordinator Teisha Wymore at 919-515-0244.