By Robert Turner
Finding local farms, food and your next weekend adventure is as easy as opening your phone with the new Visit NC Farms app. This mobile experience is free and available for download from the Apple or Android store, or at VisitNCFarmsToday.com.
Why do I like this app so much? Here’s why. While watching the Olympics one recent Saturday morning, I decided to make a Dagwood sandwich, which, aside from the enormity of the thing, included ingredients that traveled a combined distance farther than from here to Tokyo.
This Olympic-sized, record-breaking sandwich was a national accomplishment, the result a real team effort from farms across the US. I was proud of this gigantic sandwich as I sat down again to watch the games. Go USA!
Because we’ve divided up the country and concentrated production of certain food products into distinct regions, I thought about where all the ingredients for my sandwich probably came from.
The western, drier half of the Midwest (states like Kansas and Nebraska) is known as the Wheat Belt for its higher rate of wheat production which requires less rain. Wheat grown in other regions—like Alberta, Canada—can travel 1,000 miles to a processing center in Kansas where it is mixed with the Kansas wheat, and then shipped to North Carolina after a short stop at a flour mill in Minnesota, a bread factory in Pennsylvania and a warehouse in Ohio. And that’s just the first layer in my Dagwood sandwich.
The eastern, wetter half of the Midwest (states like Illinois and Iowa) is the major corn- and soybean-producing region known as the Corn Belt. About 40 percent of the corn crop goes into our gas tanks in the form of ethanol, and most of the rest goes to feed cows in confined animal feed operations (CAFOs) in other states like Oklahoma. The Corn Belt is the food source, the input, for our massive meat production facilities, the CAFOs. So, the roast beef on my sandwich actually started in a cornfield in Illinois before it was shipped to a CAFO in Kansas to feed the cow. So far, I’ve built a sandwich around the Midwest.
The Central Valley of California produces most of our fruits, vegetables and nuts and, so, is known as the Salad Bowl. More than half of the vegetables grown in the US come from the Central Valley. The organic lettuce and tomato that I added to my sandwich came from California where the severe drought there has become a wake-up call. There is no question that the stability of our food supply will decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events disrupt the food chain.
The American south has historically been a large producer of cotton, peanuts, tobacco and rice. The eastern portion of NC does produce a lot of pork, but we’re also importing a lot of meat from South America now, so no telling how many miles were added by the bacon on my sandwich. The miles were adding up. Then I added a cup of coffee, and the food miles went out the window.
The satisfaction of my giant, Team-USA sandwich was dampened by the miles I associated with it, and I found myself wishing that I had made a sandwich with ingredients from a little closer to home. The new app from Buncombe County Soil and Water makes that a lot easier.
Developed by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the app is your one-stop shop to find farms, fisheries, local food and drink, farm stays, local events and more in Buncombe County.
The Visit NC Farms app offers more than just a connection to local farms and farmers markets; it aims to increase agriculture viability by providing a platform for businesses that have not traditionally been considered a part of the landscape. The app’s Shop Local and Local Food & Drink features connect consumers with our local agriculture community by spotlighting businesses using local products on their menus and in stores. Users of the app can also stay abreast of local events hosted by agribusinesses in the community by searching through the Special Events tab and by keeping an eye out for weekly push notifications. Chefs and local restaurant owners can utilize the app to find a wide variety of local farms, growers, producers and suppliers in this region.
The Visit NC Farms app will help residents and tourists discover hidden treasures and become more involved and invested in Buncombe’s agricultural heritage. Once you’ve explored Buncombe County, the app makes it easy to connect with agribusinesses in more than 57 counties (and counting) across NC.
People now understand the importance of reducing food miles and supporting local farms and producers, and this terrific new app helps us all do that better together. It’s another great tool for building food sovereignty, food security and community resilience.
Robert Turner is the director of the Creekside Farm Education Center and the author of Carrots Don’t Grow on Trees: Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities. To learn more, visit EatYourView.com.