Food: a source of sustenance and sustainability

By on March 9, 2011

A group of University of North Carolina students spent a semester researching Nags Head’s past to create a snapshot of what could be its future. Their “Capstone” project with the Albemarle Ecological Field Site was titled, “Looking Back to Move Forward Sustainably: Nags Head, North Carolina.” This is the seond of two stories by students who participated.
Jamie Berger is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, currently majoring in environmental studies and studio art and minoring in French. She was born in Cary and still reside there. She has a strong interest in sustainable agriculture and may pursue that as a career after college and graduate school.

By Jamie Berger
As part of UNC Chapel Hill’s Albemarle Ecological Field Site’s Capstone project, my eight fellow students and I each researched one of nine specific resources and wrote recommendations for the town of Nags Head to use in guidance toward a more sustainable future.

I focused on food, which is not only essential for life, but can also be used by Nags Head and other Outer Banks towns to fortify their economies, strengthen their communities and increase their overall resilience. The towns on the Outer Banks are particularly vulnerable to natural hazards and therefore at risk of being cut off from outside food supplies.

Focusing on Nags Head, the town’s location and temperate climate provide vast opportunities to develop a localized, sustainable food network. I would like to touch on one of the specific recommendations the other students and I made in our report: Nags Head should create a town-owned and operated farmers’, fishermen’s, and artisans’ market.

Such a market would not only provide fresh produce meat and fish to customers, but also decrease reliance on outside food sources, and most importantly, increase transparency and accountability within the food system.

Michael Pollan, famous food revolutionary and author of the widely acclaimed book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, said “shake the hand that feeds you.” When people become connected to their food and to those who grow it — through farmers’ and fishermen’s markets or by other mechanisms — they gain a greater appreciation for the food and can be more strongly assured of its safety, quality and sustainability.

Among other benefits, farmers’ markets can provide a central hub for community interaction in towns and stimulate the local economy by keeping residents’ and visitors’ dollars within the area.

A 2002 survey by the Project for Public Spaces of more than 800 farmers’ market customers found that “60% of market shoppers also visited nearby stores on the same day; of those, 60% said that they visited those additional stores only on days that they visit the market.”

In addition, a study by Iowa State University for the Iowa Farmers’ Market Association reported that “farmers markets in the state contributed up to $20 million in sales to the economy and created another $12 million in direct and indirect economic activity.” Many other studies have shown that farmers’ markets have a high multiplier effect on local economies.

For farmers, fishermen and artisans markets to be successful in Nags Head and in other Outer Banks towns, citizens, officials, fishermen and organizations like Outer Banks Catch must continue to push Dare County to drop its ban on open-air seafood markets. This ban, reportedly still in effect due to food safety concerns, is obsolete, unnecessary and stifling to the local economy and commercial fishing industry.

Officials in other counties have determined that federal safety regulations are sufficient to protect consumers from the risk of food-borne illness at open-air seafood markets. The ban precludes an enormous opportunity for one of North Carolina’s most prominent coastal counties to vitalize its local economy and support an industry that has, for many years, provided the very soul of its heritage.

A collaborative effort among town officials, businesses, organizations and citizens to bolster the local food movement on the Outer Banks would have positive impacts on the area’s community, economy and ecosystems and on the health and well-being of its residents and visitors.

From farmers’ and fishermen’s markets to community gardens to simply more backyard gardens, there are numerous ways to decrease reliance on food imported from hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

Doing so will take time, but small steps — such as incorporating pro-local food language into Land Use Plans and increasing citizen awareness and involvement — will be key in jump starting progress toward a more sustainable future for Nags Head and the rest of the Outer Banks.

Also see:
Old sense of place could inspire new bonds »
Generations connect in looking to the future »
The full Capstone report »

Cover photo from the Outer Banks History Center.


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