A Funding Mechanism to Spark the Local Food Economy
About this Resource
Cabarrus County, located just north of Charlotte, North Carolina, has grown and developed rapidly. Given the encroaching development into rural agricultural areas, rising age of farmers, and increased production costs, the county’s leaders knew they needed a proactive strategy to preserve the remaining farmland and agriculture heritage. In 2007, county leaders hosted forums to gather community input on how to preserve these rural communities. As a result of these conversations, the county negotiated a land use plan in coordination with the City of Concord and committed itself to supporting the economic viability of the rural communities outside of the city.
Recognizing the need to support both the demand and supply of local agriculture products, the county leaders and residents agreed on four goals:
- Establish a food policy council
- Conduct a county food system assessment
- Start an incubator farm
- Open a slaughter facility in conjunction with an existing meat processing plant
Thus, the impetus to create the Cabarrus County Farm & Food Council was created, which was established in 2010. The broad community engagement, local government support, clear goals, and data from the Cabarrus County Food System Assessment all accelerated the establishment and impact of this food council. From the onset, they had connections with their local government, the ear of the community, and also a unique asset of a funding mechanism to implement local food system projects.
Supporting the local agriculture economy was a priority of the County Board of Commissioners and resonated with the local community. One of the town hall meetings in 2007 was focused on the present-use value (PUV) property tax exclusion program, a program that values property according to its current use instead of the market rate. This program reduces the tax burden for farmers in rapidly developing communities. However, when this property is no longer used for agricultural purposes or is sold into development, the deferred taxes from the current year and previous three years are due to the county and often go into the county’s general operating budget.
Cabarrus County New Idea
Cabarrus County had a new idea for how this tax income could be used for the county. In 2009, John Day, the County Manager in Cabarrus County, proposed that this money go directly into a trust fund and be used specifically to support the remaining farmland and farmers in the county. The Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to establish the Agricultural Development and Farm Preservation Trust Fund to support the local food economy and the purchase of conservation easements using the deferred tax dollars from the PUV program. As of January, 2017 the fund had raised $1,542,931. These funds have been used to support the following:
- Purchase conservation easements
- Support the Elma C. Lomax incubator farm
- Hire a food policy council coordinator
- Fund the construction of a kill floor at Cruse Meats Harvest Facility
- Create a locally grown brand, Cabarrus Grown
Traditional financing for food and farming entrepreneurs, conservation, and community food system projects is limited. Funds for these types of projects are badly needed at the local level. Many statewide and local organizations are working to improve their regional food systems through new and innovative policy and market-based solutions. Cabarrus County created one of these innovative policy solutions through this unique funding mechanism that will directly help to grow NC’s farm and food economy.
The Cabarrus County Farm & Food Council (CCFFC) was emboldened by this particular county resolution because it created a funding mechanism for local food projects. The Council saw real, tangible support for their work and knew their projects were more likely to be successful because of this recurring funding opportunity.
“Many of the individuals, businesses and other organizations working towards positive change within our food system are busy doing the everyday work and must rely on local food councils to do the important and time consuming work of researching, building and lobbying for policy changes,” says former CCFFC Coordinator and Lomax Incubator Farm Manager, Aaron Newton.
That’s why Community Food Strategies created these resources to help you and your food council learn more about this opportunity and talk with your legislators about supporting this idea. We created a Policy Brief with background information to share with your legislators. We also created an Advocacy Tool to provide advice on talking points and creating a similar resolution in your county. Newton suggests that councils include the conventional agriculture community in the conversation, as well as creating a recurring spend down mechanism or process whereby the Council and/or other local agriculture committee or organization can recommend to their County Commissioners ways to appropriately spend the money.
Community Food Strategies is offering direct coaching and assistance to a limited number of food policy councils who are working on strategic advocacy, such as designating Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Funds. If your food council is interested in this support, contact Community Food Strategies team member, Jared Cates at email@example.com.