When the local economy is threatened, what do you do?
While some may turn to outside forces for help, others turn to the people at the heart of the matter: the community. That’s exactly what residents of Asheville, N.C. did by bringing to fruition a homegrown solution through the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP).
With the changes in the tobacco industry and the trend towards larger agricultural farms, North Carolina communities realized that something needed to be done to preserve their farmers, which are constrained in size because of the mountainous landscape. That answer came in the form of a group of volunteers led by Charlie Jackson.
The group began by taking it to the streets, publicizing local farms and products through door-to-door campaigns, newspaper articles and radio announcements. It also printed a Local Food Guide as well as a weekly “Fresh at the Farmer’s Market” report, according to the Sustainable Cities Collective.
In 2002, the nonprofit ASAP was born.
Since then, it has expanded its efforts by starting the “Appalachian Grown” program, which offers certification to local farms, restaurants, distributers and grocers. Acceptance into this elite group entitles members to technical assistance, marketing support, training and a network of other local food providers.
Preserving an economy requires all generations, which is why ASAP is going into schools to educate youths through its “Growing Minds Farm to School” program. Working with schools, ASAP organizes school gardens, local food cooking classes, farm field trips and local food service in the cafeteria, as well as training teachers and dietitians.
The purpose of the program is to make local food a commodity which everyone can enjoy, which is why a large percentage of students receive free or reduced lunch.
For Jackson, though, the movement is about the community, so it leads the project, which has the added benefit minimizing infrastructure issues.
“It’s really important to ASAP that a just food system’s going to include everybody,” Jackson tells Sustainable Cities Collective. “Right now, we’re thinking about this as a movement. Focusing on local is an amazing way to create community dialogue and democracy that we don’t have in our food community right now.”
Through the work of ASAP, the western North Carolina agriculture economy is thriving, and Asheville has become a cultural hub. And for a region that was on the brink of disappearance 15 years ago, it just goes to show what a difference a little home fertilization can make.