EmPOWERed Mountain Food Systems: EMFS Achievements & Next Steps
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EmPOWERing Mountain Food Systems (EMFS) is a four-year project focused on bringing expanded opportunities and capacity to food and farm businesses across the southwestern region of North Carolina. EMFS works specifically in the seven counties of Western North Carolina: Jackson, Macon, Haywood, Swain, Cherokee, Clay, and Graham. Its home base is the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Cooperative Extension Office in Cherokee through a partnership between the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Cooperative Extension.
The program, funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission and significant matching dollars from NCSU Cooperative Extension and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, brings together producers, food businesses, schools, and regional partners to increase business opportunities that support the expansion of the food supply chain. Diverse program elements focus on leveraging regional collaboration to enhance the local food economy, including infrastructure development, marketing, business assistance, land matching, training, and other resources to support food and farm entrepreneurs.
EMFS’ Key Partnerships & Projects
EMFS has a successful partnership with Western Carolina University and their faculty, staff and students. They take deep dives into small farm business ideas such as new product development and marketing platforms by uniting students, faculty advisors, and farmers to explore food systems opportunities and supply chain innovations. EMFS also collaborates with community colleges in the region including Tri-County Community College’s Culinary Program. Culinary instructor, Tierra Ciotta, and her students recently hosted a Farmer Buyer Event at the Murphy Campus. Growers and buyers gathered to share product and buying information while students provided a fantastic buffet of locally sourced hors d’oeuvres.
Another essential partner in this undertaking is the three regional Small Business Centers (SBC). Each SBC works with farmers and food businesses creating realistic project budgets to access small grants through the project. Counselors meet with the client to assess the grant request and determine the best use of funding (up to $3,000) to create a financial return on the farm or food business in six to twelve months. This aspect of the project has been very successful in helping businesses launch their own projects and create new or expanded income streams. Find your county’s SBC through the Small Business Center Network.
The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (EBCI) is also an EMFS partner with several ongoing initiatives. First, EMFS works with three Cherokee farmers to increase sales to institutional partners and to explore a new farmers’ market in the area. The second venture has to do with EBCI food trucks, which are a vibrant part of the food culture. EMFS has supported the acquisition of new equipment, ServSafe training and expanded marketing to the Cherokee Harrah Casino, creating new income streams for women-owned businesses. A food truck conference is scheduled later this year to bring the New Mexico Street Food Institute to the region, supplying one on one counseling as well as group experiences. The Institute works with food trucks to develop recipes and provides guidance on truck design and purchasing practices. The conference is open to all food trucks in the region, culminating in a food truck rodeo.
EMFS is collaborating with larger regional working group, Western NC Food Justice Initiative, to address six specific food system issues in an 18-county region. EMFS is engaged in two of the groups, the Collaborative Agriculture Network and the Regional Food Council. It is year two of this collaborative planning effort that is striving for a just regional food system.
As the EMFS project comes to an end, EMFS staff is working with a new regional food council to continue this work and to assess needed funding and partnerships with a focus on food system opportunities within the seven county region. Community Food Strategies will also be providing guidance in the succession planning process beginning in May.