The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory

Southeast Youth Food Activist Summit a Success

Sabrina López here again. As I mentioned in an earlier post, UNC-CH hosted the second annual Southeast Youth Food Activist Summit February 5-7th.

Out of the summit came an incredible amount of energy that students and youth will be bringing back to campuses and communities across the Southeast with a new resolve to strengthen and build the Southern Real Food Network.

A new generation of young people recognize that food system reform is necessary–and that access to fresh, healthy food is imperative. Anna Lappé, the Summit’s keynote speaker, explained that in championing food system reform, the opposing side will call us–the Good Food Movement– anti-science, anti-aid, and elitist. The term ‘elitist’ struck me most, perhaps because it is a word that I’m coming to terms with personally as I continue to learn and work in issues related to food and nutrition both at school and at home. When I speak with many of my friends in Carrboro, many mention that local food is more expensive, and that they would purchase more local produce if they had more disposable income to spend on locally sourced food.

As Lappé pointed out at the SYFAS Summit, “what is more elitist than a food system that can only provide fresh healthy food for those that can afford it?” Last fall, The Carrboro Farmers Market teamed up with HPDP and applied for grant funding to implement an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Service so that customers can apply SNAP benefits (former Food Stamps) while shopping for produce and goods. The Carrboro Farmers Market does not currently accept SNAP benefits, but it will soon begin to do so. With all due respect to local supermarkets, I would love to see my friends use their SNAP benefits at the Carrboro Farmers Market in the near future!
More details to come on the Carrboro Farmers’ Market EBT Program.

Documentary Studies Course was inspirational
December 16, 2009, 4:16 pm
Filed under: Education, Politics, Sustainable Agriculture | Tags: ,

Charlie Thompson, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University

Hello Folks — I know Anna usually posts to the blog but I was particularly excited today to read some of the wonderful comments that students provided at the end of the semester about Charlie Thompson’s Documentary Studies Class at Duke University (See October 7 post, “Politics of Food,” by Anna): some of them not only praised Charlie as an inspirational person but Anna as well.  I received permission from one particular student to publish the praise that she wrote about the class.

Hi Dr. Thompson,

I just wanted to thank you once again for your class. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your willingness to meet with me at the beginning of the semester, and also your continued interest in how I was feeling in the class. I appreciate and value being exposed to all of these issues about which I would have remained ignorant had it not been for your class and the guest speakers. Also, the final project that Angela and I did about SEEDS was truly inspiring. Coming into this class, I never would have imagined that I would be so interested in these issues, but it was moving to see these people working against the issues that had been brought up in your class. Working with Angela, as she was previously passionate about sustainability and food justice, taught me a lot as well. Unlike a lot of classes I’ve taken at Duke, yours has given me a new breadth of knowledge and awareness that I can take out of the classroom and apply.

Thank you again, and I hope you have a great holiday.


Lynn ElHarake

p.s. Anna is an amazing TA. She was always available for questions and valuable input throughout the semester 🙂

Those of us working on the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project are so pleased to hear things like Lynn had to say.  According to Anna and Charlie the class had 22 undergraduates from Duke, 1 undergrad from UNC, 1 law school student from Duke, and 5 graduate students from UNC (from schools/departments of public health, journalism and folk lore). Because of this tremendous success we are looking for funding in order to be able to sustain the course over time and, if Charlie’s willing and able, to provide it regularly.  Thank you Charlie!  Thank you Anna.


Geolocator Project
December 11, 2009, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Farmers Market | Tags: , ,

Researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and The Renaissance Computing Institute are developing a tool to help farmers’ markets select ideal site locations in order to reach target consumers.  Community members, farmers, economic development professionals, marketers, food access advocates, nutritionists and economists are all collaborating intensely to make this happen.

Using tools to select ideal site locations is not a new practice for many businesses. Major retail giants such as Walmart and Sears use tools like this, so do fast food restaurant like McDonalds and Burger King. Even convenience stores like BP and 7-eleven pick new location sites with these types of tools. Now farmers markets will have their very own sophisticated market analysis tool to make informed decisions about where to consider situating a new farmers market venture or to relocate an existing market.

The folks at UNC and RENCI have been working for a year on this specific aim of the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project to identify and catalog appropriate data sources to build this tool.  They are integrating consumer socio-economic demographics, traffic patterns, public transportation routes, sites of existing markets, consumer behavior trends, and hopefully (in the longer term) the locations and types of food producers and processing plants throughout North Carolina. All of this data will be integrated with metrics of success and failure of existing comparable farmers markets into a GIS-based mapping software tool.

Determining how to measure the success of a farmers market for the purposes of this tool has been one of the biggest challenges of this project.  For many, success is not simply the financial performance of a market, although for most it is clearly an indicator.  There are more complex reasons for starting a farmers market besides making it a profitable venue for farmers, and these include issues related to food access and reaching disadvantaged communities with fresh fruits and vegetables. For some the ideal is creating a market that is easily accessible to low income people, for others the ideal is to maximize gross sales potential for farmers.  Either way, if local food systems are to be viable, producers and communities will need guidance in how best to situate and design marketing options.  And no matter what the goals are when developing new farmers markets, the geolocator tool will be able to help balance all of these considerations.

The project is at its midpoint, with one year into development to create a prototype.  The hope is that at the completion point of the grant, November 2010, the tool will be at a beta stage for testing.  The next step would be to find funding to expand development of the tool to improve its’ widespread applicability and sophistication.  At that point, the tool will be able to be used by whomever is evaluating where to site a potential farmers market or where to relocate an existing market; farmers market organizations, town councils, city governments, economic development entities and food access professionals. Ultimately this geolocator will serve in a similar capacity as those sophisticated tools used by large corporations – to make an informed decision about site selection and choosing a location with the highest probability of success.

Contributed by Robin Crowder. For more information about this project please contact her at:

Dr. Alice Ammerman on NC NOW Tonight

Principal Investigator of The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project, Dr. Alice Ammerman, will be on NC NOW airing tonight at 7:30 on WUNC. The story is part of a documentary series focused on environmental heroes produced and written by UNC Medical Journalism students. Tonight’s story focuses on local food and profiles Alex and Betsy Hitt, a local couple from Alamance County, who have been growing food using sustainable and organic methods since 1981. Click here to learn more about their farm.