Serving the interests of our client, Resourceful Communities of the Conservation Fund, our project investigates ways to better connect low-resource producers and low-income consumers of fresh produce in 31 low-income counties in NE North Carolina. To better characterize barriers rural producers and consumers face to produce and access healthy food, we conducted three separate analyses. A general linear model statistical analysis based on the USDA Food Environment Atlas data was used to identify significant demographic and socioeconomic variables that affect food access at the macro-level. For a qualitative analysis, surveys and interviews were used to define barriers producers and consumers face on the intra-county scale. Using Geographic Information Systems, a spatial analysis was developed to understand spatial patterns of food deserts and access barriers. The qualitative and spatial analyses were focused on two low-income counties: Beaufort County and Washington County, NC Community stakeholders, local food producers, consumers, and grocery retailers were interviewed. The statistical analysis focused both on 31 target North Carolina counties and on the entire Eastern Coastal plain.
Two general linear models revealed that persistent poverty counties and counties experiencing population loss were more likely to experience little or no access to grocery stores. Race was also a factor, particularly within North Carolina where minorities are more vulnerable to food insecurity. Both Washington and Beaufort Counties exhibit a high level of economic and demographic stratification. Two-thirds of consumers from the survey had problems stretching their food budget, and identified a weekly food box at low or no-cost as the best intervention. Retail grocery stores already can and do buy local food. However, retailers buy locally according to the season and price. Major barriers to connecting low-resource producers and low-income consumers were identified as the decrease in the number of small farms, increasing bureaucracy, high cost of entry, and historical divisions between ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Using the geographic and socio-economic barriers, the spatial analysis identified three food deserts, in SE Beaufort County, NE Beaufort County, and SW Washington County and the main drivers for each. (author abstract)