Since 2006, PEC’s Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters (Charlottesville, Northern Piedmont, Loudoun) have connected multitudes of families to the fresh, local products grown and raised in the Piedmont through the free marketing opportunities afforded local farmers through our annual Buy Fresh Buy Local guides. To help strengthen those connections even further, PEC staff in 2018 conducted interviews, focus groups and surveys with our Buy Fresh Buy Local partners. These efforts have helped us identify barriers for farmers within the Piedmont’s local food system and develop strategies for strengthening local agriculture around the region.
Along with partners American Farmland Trust and Bean Hollow Grassfed, The Piedmont Environmental Council is working to strengthen the region’s animal protein processing capabilities, in hopes of preventing the kind of challenges that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are engaging regional processing facilities to map existing capacity, identify potential bottlenecks that limit optimization and create strategies to reduce those bottlenecks, in order to attract investment into the local food supply chain. In addition, we’re looking for ways to improve processor access to the skilled and motivated workforce necessary for their successful operation. And, we hope to better understand product certification availability, requirements, and value to the Piedmont’s animal processors.
With a generous $50,000 grant from the Prince Charitable Trusts, we have hired a processing consultant who toured regional facilities in the spring of 2021 looking for ways to increase throughput and efficiency without compromising meat safety and quality, worker conditions or animal welfare. This work is informing the creation of a regional asset map and business plan intended to attract private investment, along with various grants, in our local processors, who are currently operating at 125%-150% capacity. Many local producers are waiting one to two years to get a processing appointment for their livestock; we hope by expanding processing capacity as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, we can improve the profitability and resilience of these producers and strengthen the food system as a whole.
By Matt Coyle, The Piedmont Environmental Council and Jacob Gilley, American Farmland Trust