Local Food As Medicine (LocalFAM) is a food access program operated by Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA) that is based on the idea that access to healthy, nutritious food is a form of healthcare. Our philosophy is that healthy food is a right, not a privilege reserved only for those who can afford it. Since 2020, BRWIA has been able to connect folks in the High Country to free, healthy, locally produced food by partnering with neighboring non-profit organizations. This program helps support a thriving local food system while connecting our food insecure neighbors with high quality, healthy food. LocalFAM began when Carolina Farm Stewardship Association approached BRWIA in April 2020 about providing a pandemic-related emergency food box program for industry workers laid off because of the pandemic. The FarmsSHARE project was a success, and food hubs across North Carolina were recognized by funders, specifically healthcare systems and food banks, as a reliable aggregator of healthy, local foods.
BRWIA then began to work with other funders and partners to develop similar food box projects, naming the overall program, LocalFAM. Between May 2020-December 2021, BRWIA distributed more than 3,700 boxes, weighing over 24,000 lbs, with 6 community partners. This has had a direct economic impact of over $96,500 for High Country Food Hub producers.
Funding For Localfam
Funding for this program comes from a variety of sources including Resourceful Communities, Impact Health (a Healthy Opportunities Medicaid Transformation pilot program), FarmsSHARE, UNC Health, Second Harvest Food Bank, and others, in the form of grants, which fluctuate throughout the year and from year-to-year. BRWIA actively works to recruit long-term funding partners, who can work with BRWIA, producers, and community distribution partners to establish this new market channel as a viable model.
Each week, BRWIA makes the purchases for the program using the High Country Food Hub. Products are typically purchased between noon on Thursday when the market opens through the end of the day Friday. A small amount of funding is left over for weekend market excess, that can be spent on Monday morning. Producers who have products that they would like to be purchased for the program need to communicate this as soon as possible, so BRWIA can determine if there is funding available. This is particularly important for producers who wait until the weekend to list their products. BRWIA prefers to purchase items in bulk. Some of our distribution partners ask for products to be packed into boxes to distribute to individuals, whereas others prefer to receive the products all together to be distributed as needed. When purchasing for this program, we seek out producers who list products in quantities of 10 or more. A benefit of this is that producers can save on packaging costs and cut down on the use of disposables.
Please also be in contact if you are interested in discussing packaging, whether it's bulk buying packaging materials or discussing appropriate packaging materials for products.
What we purchase
What we purchase depends on constantly changing product availability, the number of active Food Hub producers, and the prices of products on the Hub. Additionally, BRWIA works with many different partners who distribute the food that we purchase, each who may require us to include specific items in each week’s order, or not allow others based on dietary restrictions, storage capacity, and the needs of the populations they serve. This means that how we purchase products for the program frequently changes monthly, and even weekly. This section explains the decision making process behind what BRWIA purchases and how funding is distributed between producers. BRWIA is under no obligation to purchase products from any producer. Products are ultimately purchased based on the discretion of BRWIA staff based on the needs of the program's recipients.
BRWIA has set a goal to make up between 8%-12% of annual sales for all eligible producers using LocalFAM funding. This is dependant on the following, among many other considerations:
Which products a producer has available
A producer who sells a variety of products year round may have a higher percentage of their sales made up by LocalFAM than a producer who grows only one or two products, particularly if those products are produced by a range of producers.
A producer who lists products in very small quantities may also have fewer purchases than a producer who lists in larger quantities that are more appropriate for the bulk-oriented nature of the project.
Ex. A vegetable producer who sells a variety of products may have more purchases from LocalFAM than a producer who only sells salad mix.
Ex 2. One protein producer lists 2 dozen eggs, while another lists 10 dozen. The producer listing 10 dozen eggs is more likely to have their product purchased for LocalFAM.
Producers are encouraged to set fair prices that meet their production costs and revenue goals. LocalFAM funding is limited, and BRWIA cannot purchase prohibitively expensive products regularly, in the interest of having enough funding to last the length of the project, as well as having enough product to meet partners' distribution rates/goals.
Ex. A producer who sells eggs for $10/dozen may not have as many regular purchases as a producer who sells eggs for $6/dozen.
How long a producer is active on the Hub
Ex. A grower who only produces blueberries has a much shorter season than someone who produces potatoes, and will likely have a smaller percentage of their sales made up of LocalFAM purchases.
Appropriate products based on the needs of LocalFAM recipients
Certain distribution partners may want specific products included in their boxes, and want to exclude specific products in the interest of providing products that are appropriate for or desired by their clientele.
Nutritional and health guidelines from funders or community partners may also influence which products can and cannot be purchased.
Ex. Polish sausages may not be culturally appropriate or desired for recipients who are Mexican immigrants. Potatoes would not be appropriate for recipients who do not have access to somewhere to cook.
Ex 2. A distribution partner wants to avoid allergens, and does not want to distribute tomatoes to their clients. BRWIA would not purchase any tomatoes for this specific partner.
Ex 3. A Food Bank needs BRWIA to prioritize high-calorie foods because their clients are experiencing acute hunger. BRWIA would purchase products like potatoes, proteins, or bread, rather than products like salad mix or microgreens.
Distribution partner storage capacity
Certain organizations that we work with to distribute the products may not have refrigeration or freezer space available.
Ex. A Food Bank BRWIA works with has refrigeration, but no freezer space, and has asked us to ONLY send them items that can be refrigerated or stored dry. We would not be able to purchase frozen products with funding allocated to this partner.
How To Participate
All producers with eligible products listed on the Food Hub are automatically considered for the program. Producers are strongly encouraged to stay in communication with BRWIA about their product availability and their needs, particularly if they have a product surplus. “High Country Food Hub” will be listed as the customer name on producer pick lists if products have been purchased for LocalFAM. Please separate these items from the rest of your customer orders, and clearly label the container they are in with “LocalFAM”. This ensures that your products are sorted correctly during intake. Drop these products off on Tuesday, from 8am-5pm, during regular Food Hub drop off hours.
What happens to your products after brwia RECEIVES them?
BRWIA works with a host of different nonprofit distribution partners to make sure that the products purchased through LocalFAM are getting into the hands of folks who need them most. Once BRWIA receives the products each week, they are packaged according to each distribution partners’ needs. Sometimes this means creating individual, multi-farm “CSA” boxes, which BRWIA packs using the help of volunteers and staff members each week. These boxes are then loaded into the BRWIA delivery van, and dropped off at our partner’s facilities. Other times, BRWIA is able to provide the product in bulk, in which case products are packaged together in large bags or boxes, and either delivered, or they are picked up from the High Country Food Hub by partner organizations. In other cases, BRWIA may deliver to the homes of individuals in need who are selected by partner organizations.
What other work goes into making Localfam possible?
Months of planning, coordination, and teamwork goes into finding organizations to partner with and successfully meeting the needs of the populations they serve. BRWIA works hard to conduct surveys of recipients on the kinds of products they need, create recipes and coordinate weekly ingredients to make the products easier for recipients to utilize, and work with producers to incorporate these products into their production plans. Additionally, BRWIA is constantly seeking out new funding sources to grow this program and establish it as a reliable market channel for local producers.
“[LocalFAM] fits our model for how we harvest, how we pack things. It fits our model for why we care about people getting food that wouldn’t have access otherwise.” - Kara Dodson, Full Moon Farm
“[LocalFAM] has enhanced my experience [of farming]… The intentions of the LocalFAM food box is actually miraculous to me.” - Matt Cooper, Lively Up Farm
“The fact that most of the people who live around my farm can’t eat or access… food that’s grown in it is something I think about a lot. It’s something that irritates me.” - Dave Walker, Daffodil Spring Farm “I enjoy working with Hunger and Health and Hospitality House and BRWIA so much, because I’d rather the food go to people who can’t afford it.” - Kara Dodson, Full Moon Farm
What are Recipients Saying About LocalFAM?
Second Harvest Recipients:
“This is so easy to do! I love the greens.”
“My kids are eating better than they ever have.”
“I have never had produce this good of quality.”
“What we got from [LocalFAM] is the best of the best, so our families got an opportunity to get the same thing they would if you were buying it out of the grocery store, maybe even a little fresher.” - John Triplett, Wilkes Ministry of Hope