The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) has been awarded a five-year, $3.9 million grant to build and evaluate supply chains for local farmers and fishers to supply large-scale markets in North Carolina.

The grant was awarded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

CEFS will work with existing wholesale distributors and with farmers, fishers, processors and emerging food hubs to address the growing demand for local foods by institutional and retail buyers.  

The project seeks to create a statewide and national model of local food supply chains that serve large markets and incorporate values of the local foods movement — sustainability, fair pricing for producers and others in the value chain, and inclusion of medium and small-sized farms.

Lowes Foods and Fort Bragg, as well as US Foods and Foster Caviness that supply food to Fort Bragg, are major project partners and represent the type of large-scale retail and institutional markets the supply chains will serve.

“We are excited to explore ways that local food supply chains can scale-up to significantly increase consumer access to seasonal and nutritious foods produced in the state,” said Nancy Creamer, co-director of CEFS at North Carolina State University.

“Local food systems have the capacity to grow jobs; strengthen the economy; preserve farms, farm land, fishing communities and working waterfronts; and improve health outcomes, as consumer demand for fresh foods continues to increase.”

The project involves research, outreach and academic components and includes a number of partners within North Carolina. One of those partners is “Got to Be NC Agriculture,” the statewide marketing program of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that has worked since 2005 to increase markets by building consumer recognition of local foods.

The project has four objectives, the first of which is to establish baseline data. In addition to establishing a baseline of local food sales into the two target markets (Lowes Foods and Fort Bragg), CEFS, in partnership with the Sustainable Local Foods Advisory Council and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, will conduct a statewide infrastructure survey to identify existing facilities that are available or could be re-purposed to support local food supply chains for dairy, meat, seafood and produce.