“The Farm-To-Table Movement and Rural Gentrification”

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“It’s the lack of concrete economic benefit for the poor that led Lance Barton, the eastern regional director of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, to tell me that farm-to-table ‘is like the Kardashians: there’s not really anything there, but it sure gets a hell of a lot of press.’ Barton admits, however, that the press farm-to-table garners does has real value, even citing Chef and the Farmer as particularly effective agents for his hunger relief efforts. Knight admitted something similar, saying the biggest impact Chef and the Farmer has was changing ‘the perception the community has of itself.’

But, private businesses—like Chef and the Farmer, Jordan’s real estate company, and Saxapahaw’s farmers—must work within already existing conditions, like generational inequality and land prices in order to create an economically viable business model for themselves. ‘I’m not sure I feel responsible,’ for ensuring the economic impact is shared equally, Knight tells me. Some of the businesses’ effects, both concrete and perceived, function along those lines, leaving out sections of the community already harmed by those conditions.

The successes in Saxapahaw and Kinston are as undeniable as they are laudable, but that does not mean they meet farm-to-table’s more ambitious claims of investing in the entire community. Perhaps there is some model—like the nonprofit Benevolence Farm, near Saxapahaw, which employs women recently released from prison—that provides viability while ensuring more equitable investment. But the lesson of Saxapahaw and Kinston seems to be that farm-to-table, no matter how idealistic, is not yet able to create the community change it promises—not for the entire community, anyway.

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