CEFS EmPOWERing Mountain Food Systems expanding impact in WNC

Press release from Center for Environmental Farming Systems:

The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) is thrilled to announce the continuation of its groundbreaking project, EmPOWERing Mountain Food Systems (EMFS), with a generous grant of $1.1M from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) as well as additional matching support from Dogwood Health Trust, WNC Bridge Foundation, NC State Cooperative Extension, and other regional community partners, for a total of $2 million.

Since 2019, EMFS has brought together producers, food businesses, schools, and regional partners to increase business opportunities for food and farm businesses in a seven-county region of Western North Carolina, including the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The first phase of EMFS was a resounding success, exceeding expectations even amid challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The project significantly reduced supply chain constraints, supported farmers in scaling up and diversifying their products, and fostered efficient and localized supply chains. This new ARC grant, led by Dr. Michelle Schroeder-Moreno, CEFS Director at NC State, will propel the project into its next phase, expanding the local food economy in Western North Carolina by focusing on entrepreneurship, business development, job creation, workforce development, and growing community leadership for lasting change. EMFS will be able to double the number of counties served, with a targeted focus on food hubs, commercial kitchens, and supply chain development, bringing resources into one of the most rural, resource-limited areas of North Carolina. The project will expand into an additional 14-county “foodshed” region across five Regional Councils of Governments, including the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and plans to serve 1,165 businesses, 3,212 participants, and 50 students across 13 communities.

Led by CEFS in collaboration with NC State Cooperative Extension, ten Small Business Centers, all regional Councils of Government, and others, the project will benefit from the diverse expertise and long-standing relationships established during the initial phase. Laura Lauffer has been hired as CEFS’ Western NC Food Systems Program Director. She will lead EMFS projects in the region while adding new collaborations to expand the depth of research and service delivery to a larger regional footprint. “We are excited to continue our work in Western North Carolina, building on the successes of the first phase of EmPOWERing Mountain Food Systems. This expansion will enable us to further strengthen the local food economy, address supply chain challenges, and support the resilience of our farmers and food businesses,” said Schroeder-Moreno.

The project team plans to conduct a region-wide assessment of food system infrastructure, including cold storage, processing, commercial kitchens, commissaries, and loading and storage facilities; offer business counseling, grants, and loans to food hubs, farms, and food businesses for growth, infrastructure needs, and marketing support; establish regional and state-level partnerships to enhance farmland access among farmers; and strengthen farming networks through training, shared equipment use, and other collaboration.

For more information about the EmPOWERing Mountain Food Systems project, please visit cefs.ncsu.edu/emfs-empowering-mountain-food-systems.

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