The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project has kicked off 2016 with expanded outreach, not the least of which is a renovated version of its Local Food Guide. First released in print and online in 2002, it now features a new domain name and improved search and navigation functions, along with an interface optimized for smartphones and tablets.
“It has a new look, and it’s more user-friendly. It’s just a better site,” says Scott Bunn, ASAP’s development director.
Visitors to appalachiangrown.org will be able to view listings of local restaurants and tailgate markets — searching for specific businesses based on a number of criteria — and find out from which farms local restaurants buy products. Using the site on a mobile device, they can navigate directly to those places based on their current location.
“It is the primary way to connect with local food,” Bunn says.
ASAP is more than just a local food guide, though. The organization’s mission is to help local farms thrive by linking farmers to markets and supporters, as well as to build healthy communities through connections to local food.
For its annual Business of Farming Conference, ASAP collaborates with such groups as UNC Asheville, Carolina Farm Credit and WNC AgriVentures to offer valuable resources and training to area farmers, Bunn says. “It’s a great way for farmers to learn about the nitty-gritty of the industry.”
The one-day conference, now in its 13th year, includes workshops, networking opportunities and a meet-and-greet with a variety of big-name wholesalers and buyers, including Ingles, Farm Burger, Sierra Nevada and Whole Foods.
“It’s like speed dating for farmers,” jokes Bunn. “It really helps get them used to talking to buyers. Some have never done that before.”
ASAP’s other annual conference, Farm to School, is aimed at school staff, parents and community members, and provides training and resources to implement successful farm-to-school programs. This year, the conference will move from its traditional Asheville setting to Greenville, S.C., and is expected to draw a larger, regional audience. “It’s going to be a much bigger one,” Bunn says, “a regional farm-to-school conference bringing in people from across the Southeast.”
ASAP is the lead agency for the Southeast region of the national farm-to-school network, Bunn explains. Conference organizers are anticipating participants from eight different states.
In 2016, Bunn says the organization also plans to continue nurturing its Growing Minds Farm to School program, an initiative that has reached more than 100 Western North Carolina schools. The program promotes school gardens, local-food taste tests, cooking classes and the introduction of local food on the cafeteria serving line. “We do that by training teachers and giving them the resources they need, like curriculum, seeds and a newsletter so that they can incorporate it into their own classes,” he says.
Finally, 2016 will see the return of ASAP’s fall Farm Tour (canceled last year due to the avian flu threat), but dates have not yet been publicly announced.
“It will feature all your old favorite farms,” Bunn says, “along with plenty of new ones.”