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Wednesday, 14 December 2011 21:53

Nationally and here at home, sales of local foods are surging

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Local food sales are predicted to reach $7 billion nationally in 2012, according to a report released last month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Program estimates that Western North Carolina consumers alone purchased $62 million of local food in 2010, a four-fold increase since the Asheville-based nonprofit’s Appalachian Grown certification and branding program began in 2007. A recent consumer survey seems to help explain the increase: understanding that local food benefits local communities.

“We are way ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to supporting local farms,” said Charlie Jackson, ASAP’s executive director.

ASAP did a representative telephone survey of 703 Western North Carolina residents. Of these 703 interviews, 403 respondents were drawn proportionally from Buncombe, Henderson, and Madison counties. An additional sample of 300 respondents was drawn from Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, with 50 interviews completed in each county.

ASAP’s survey found that a majority, 55 percent, of respondents reported spending more than one-tenth of their food budget on locally grown products. More than 80 percent of respondents say they choose local food because the purchases help support local farms and contribute to the local economy.

In addition to farms, businesses benefiting from the increase include grocery stores and eateries in the region’s vibrant and growing independent restaurant scene. Three-quarters of survey respondents, 77 percent, deemed local food a somewhat or very important consideration in choosing a grocery store, and roughly six in 10, 64 percent, viewed it as somewhat or very important when choosing a restaurant. More than 55 percent mentioned Ingles as their grocery store of choice for locally grown food.

How do those surveyed define “local?” Almost 40 percent feel food is local if grown in Western North Carolina. Roughly one-quarter consider food local if it’s grown in their county, and 19 percent define local as within 100 miles of their home.

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