Can you locally source 10 percent of your food spending? | Food Feature | Indy Week
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Can you locally source 10 percent of your food spending? 

Sometimes bragging is good. Turns out, letting others know how much you spend on local food can be not only gratifying but useful as well. Teisha Wymore, who manages The 10% Campaign, would certainly like to hear more about it.

"I hear it all the time: 'I'm already doing it, I already go to the farmers market,'" Wymore says. "But I tell those people, 'Prove that,' because it's a way for us to support our farmers. It's a way to get more funding and to move policy forward."

The 10% Campaign was launched by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) in July, a product of its 2008 Farm to Fork Initiative, which researched the state's various food systems. The campaign encourages individuals and businesses to pledge 10 percent of their spending on locally sourced food. Businesses and organizations can also participate by challenging their employees or members.

Participating is easy.

Just after 6 p.m. on a Sunday, my first message from The 10% Campaign arrives.

"This is your weekly e-mail to update us on your progress," it reads. "Please take a few moments to tell us how you are doing." And so I recall the food I purchased during the previous week. The questions are simple and straightforward: How much of my total weekly spending went into the local food economy; where did I make such purchases; and how much food did I grow myself?

For the first question I enter $30, an amount that instantly moves the figure on the front page of www.nc10percent.com—the total spent locally by those who have made a commitment to the campaign since it began in July—from $2,153,701 to $2,153,731.

So far, the campaign has garnered plenty of support. Since it launched with 31 partnering businesses and organizations, including North Carolina State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University's School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, it has grown to include 177 businesses (57 of which are restaurants) and 1,972 individuals. And the campaign has recorded more than $2.5 million food dollars spent in state. There's still a lot of room for growth, however.

According to CEFS, North Carolinians spent approximately $35 billion on food last year, which means if everyone pledged to the campaign, the potential exists for $3.5 billion to be circulated in the local economy, to support local farmers and food manufacturers, and to aid in the creation of more jobs and opportunities. That goal won't be achieved until some key factors change, though.

While some North Carolina counties are brimming with local food and markets, others have limited access, often due to a lack of infrastructure. But Wymore and others in The 10% Campaign believe that figures gathered now can help fill in those gaps. "We will be able to show businesses and policymakers and others that there really is a demand. It's a demonstration that there is interest," says John O'Sullivan, a director of CEFS who is based at N.C. A&T.

Statistics from the campaign are currently being shared in extension offices throughout the state. "We are partners with N.C. Extension Services, so we have a person in every county that helps with this campaign," Wymore explains. "It's the legs of the whole thing statewide. Hopefully, as we're working with them, we can diffuse the message out to everyone as best we can."

Edwin Jones, an administrator for the state's extension program, explains that although 101 extension agents are involved, the way they use the information is up to them, often depending on their area of expertise. "They may be in agriculture, consumer sciences or 4-H," Jones says. "And we haven't told the counties what to do but asked them to be a part of this, because Wake County is different from Camden County."

In many counties, including those in the Triangle, impressive efforts to support local and sustainable foods are well under way. Organizations such as the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, both based in Pittsboro, have long led the movement, including in arenas outside of the state. It's that kind of work that organizers for The 10% Campaign want to build on, learn from and promote. The campaign's website lists places to purchase local food, as well as organizations that are working in the field to instill change and create resources. The campaign is collaborating with organizations outside of the state, too, by sharing information and ideas.

Key to the campaign's success is its simplicity for participants. As Alex Hitt, who co-owns and -operates Peregrine Farms in Graham and serves on CEFS' board of advisers, describes the campaign: "It's right on the money because it's easy to participate. They prompt you every week to put in what you've spent, and it's really quick." Hitt also believes that the campaign encourages folks who have committed to expand their efforts. "It makes you think about what you're doing," he says, noting that the campaign's website allows participants to see how they have made a difference.

Since I reported my contribution that Sunday, the campaign has continued to make strides. Seventy-four more people and five more businesses have joined the cause, and an additional $347,000 has been spent on locally sourced food. Wymore calls it a "snapshot" of state participation. If that's just the snapshot, I'm very hopeful for the full portrait that is yet to come.

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