Category Archives: Policy

Land, Labor, and Capital

Land, Labor, and Capital

Generally, in Economics, there are things called factors of production. Typically this is land, labor, and capital. Additionally, there is human and social capital. How do you get these factors working together for a more unified agricultural front in Polk County?

Land – Agricultural production requires land. From a patch in your backyard to a 500 acre industrial operation in Iowa, plants and animals need space to mature.

Persons per Square Mile

Polk: 86.3

Henderson: 286.1

Rutherford: 120.2

McDowell: 102.1

Buncombe: 362.9

Polk County administers a farmland preservation program to keep active farmland in production. However, I’m sure there is untapped land throughout the county. Polk County enjoys the lowest population per square mile of any adjacent county. We are a rural county. How do we make land productive, making the most of existing resources to benefit local food?

Labor – But who will work the land, making it beautiful, bountiful, and becoming of Polk? For this, we need labor. People working the land, investing sweat equity into the production, are who turn dirt into dinner.

Young farmers throughout the country are casting about for opportunities to farm, learning the trade, and will eventually need to settle. Matching unused land with skilled, eager new and beginning farmers will become a critical need.

For example, Polk County is home to many seasonal residents and horse farms. Horses and well-managed horse farms require a lot of attention. I had a conversation with one resident who hopes to eventually have a live-in farmer to farm a pasture, taking care of the property and horses all the while. This type of mutually-beneficial transaction could be a great boon to our area and contribute to a base of new farmers in our community.

The influx of young farmers could have a tremendous impact on the image of Polk. A dedicated, passionate set of young farmers could transform the image of the community. Recently, in Columbus, there opened a pottery studio. Imagine if the bohemian contingent increased, etc

Capital – Farmers need equipment… tractors, forks, spreaders, etc. There is a certain amount of available capital in the farming community. My roommate tends a garden at our house, and he occasionally borrows our neighbor’s truck.

Our neighbor was talking about selling the truck that my roommate uses for the garden, and when he does, my roommate noted that he wouldn’t be able to use it.

I heard a story on NPR about crowd-souring solutions to small government projects. Namely, in Boston, where fire hydrants become covered with snow, a Code for America fellow developed an app where people could adopt a fire-hydrant to dig out in the snow. Read more

It got me thinking, what if we could create a collaborative community where farmers could list spare capital they have available to share. It could be a map, database or other method of communicating the physical capital available in a community.

For a small farmer/gardener, it seems like there are select tools with flexible use schedules that could be shared with others. I researched this further.

In the county, Soil and Water has a shared-use drill and Cooperative Extension had a sprayer for control of a certain invasive. In the case of the sprayer, the tragedy of the commons occurred. A user didn’t add oil, and that was the end of it. The drill, however, is managed by a local hardware company. Much like a Rug Doctor rental, there is more accountability.

Such a program would require a web app of some sort as well as, I think, a manager. Someone would have to coordinate the distribution of available assets so that X farmer doesn’t get Y piece of equipment, because he plans ahead, icing Z farmer out of the program. But it would be cool.

Collaboration among farmers, fostering a sharing economy and increasing the number of young participants in farming would be, I think, an overall boon to the community and a progressive step to strengthening our local food system.

Relocalizing food for Resiliency (pt. 1)

This month we were fortunate enough to have a presentation by Chuck Marsh at our monthly Friends of Agriculture Breakfast.  Chuck is the founder of Useful Plants Nursery and is the senior partner in Living Systems Design, a permaculture and restorative land design consultancy.  Chuck is currently working with Groundswell International to develop local initiatives to address rural childhood poverty and malnutrition through permaculture based garden projects.

At the breakfast we discussed how to rebuild community resiliency and nutrition through local food projects.  Because we covered so much, this blog will be broken into three separate posts.  First, we will cover food security issues on a global, statewide, and regional scale.  Next we will discuss key ingredients needed to develop a regionally “resilient” food system.  We will conclude with a discussion on how our county can begin to address food insecurity and build a resilient local food network.

Chuck began by stating there is a…

“critical need for local and regional food system design strategies to address the challenges we face from a fragile, risky, even dangerous corporatized modern food system”

A resilient food system is one that has the “ability to thrive and respond effectively to change.”  Our diet today consists of foods that travel on average 1500 miles, often being picked 7 days before even arriving at the store.  If shipments are hindered, our grocery stores only hold enough food to support a community for 3 days!  That itself is quite alarming, but doesn’t even touch on the issues we now face with health and access.

Food Insecure:

“lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food”

Globally, food security faces many challenges.  For one, there is global competition for fuel, a resource that is unpredictable in its cost and availability for the future.  Additionally there is declining soil quality and productivity, increasing food and transportation costs, climate instability, reduced food diversity (increasing food vulnerability), and declining nutrient content of available foods.  Food grown in depleted soils and shipped long distances loses many of the valuable vitamins and minerals our bodies need.

Nationally, North Carolina was rated the 1st in local food insecurity in the USA, sourcing less than 5% of our food products locally.   One in four kids face hunger issues in NC, and one in three children are obese.  With our state’s strong agricultural heritage there is no reason for our communities to be malnourished or hungry.

On a regional level, food insecurity in Western North Carolina has some alarming statistics.

Based upon the 2011 Gallup Survey on Food Insecurity in 100 US Metropolitan areas, the Asheville Metropolitan Area  was the 7th worst in the nation in 2010.  In 2011 this area was rated the 3rd worst!  One in five people in Western North Carolina are food insecure (that’s approximately 106,000 people).  Poverty rates are soaring in Western NC, with the largest increase occurring in Polk County with a 73% increase from 2007-2012.  In 2010 44.9% of students in Polk County were eligible for free lunch.  Obesity rates in our county are also rather high, with 14.5% of children and 23% of adults being overweight (source: USDA).  In a county with a population around 20,000, nearly 3,000 receive Federal Food and Nutrition Services (DSS 2012-2013 annual report).  SNAP Redemptions for 2012 amounted to $88,659.95!  Yet even with federal assistance, 14.2% of Polk County residents are food insecure (source: Feed America),  Thermal Belt Outreach served 9,145 Polk County residents in 2013 alone!  Clearly there is a gap in food access and affordability.  Educating residents on how to grow even a small portion of their food at home while simultaneously scaling up local farm production and variety could begin to fill these gaps.

Other countries have addressed these issues, for example: Geneva, Switzerland; Angola; and the Ukraine.  Our own country used to be very food secure, with home food production intensifying during times of crisis; for example, Victory Gardens during World War II.  Is it because many do not realize the fragility of our food supply?  Or are we as a society, losing touch with our food and agricultural heritage.  We could not live without farms, and it is time for citizens to step up and make the changes they want to see, rather than being dependent on a broken food system.  Chuck’s presentation showed that addressing food security will require re-skilling, education, and community champions, but it is feasible.  Research shows that working in gardens can decrease depression, help with ADHD and Alzheimer’s patients, increase overall health, and lead to social bonding, neighborhood improvement, and increased volunteerism.  Creating a  strong regional food system would not only help to alleviate hunger in our region, but it could give us our identity back, empower citizens, and build community.

Feeding Nine Billion – Animated Video

The first video in this series is about 12 minutes long and is enjoyable to watch and learn a few things about food security and our future. Local foods play an important part in this role, check out all the videos below at: