WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA
The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) has published a report, “The End of Tobacco and the Rise of Local Food in Western North Carolina.” Researchers analyzed Census of Agriculture data, which is collected every five years, to track shifts in agriculture from 1997 to 2012. Prior to 1997, tobacco had been the dominant cash crop in 20 Appalachian counties. Growers were incentivized to grow it under a system of federal quotas and price supports, discouraging diversification in an impoverished part of the country. Things changed in 1998 when the Master Settlement Agreement held tobacco companies accountable for tobacco-related medical expenses, and then again in 2004 when the Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act ended all federal subsidies for tobacco growers and opened markets to international competition. Between 1997 and 2012 the number of tobacco farms in the nine studied counties dropped from 2,707 to 74, tobacco acres cultivated dropped from 8,344 to 441, and revenues dropped from $20,900,000 to $892,000. Then, ASAP was formed to connect local people to farms and encourage the cultivation of vegetables, melons, potatoes, and sweet potatoes (VMPS). The organization can take at least partial credit for the doubling of the numbers of farms growing VMPS, the tripling of revenues, and a shift toward local markets not paralleled elsewhere in the state or in the country.