Can eating local address obesity, the environment, and economic viability?
Topic Areas: Sustainable Agriculture, Health Disparities

Project Objectives

The goal of this project is to study the public health impact of moving toward  local, sustainable agriculture in North Carolina. This projected was awarded through the UNC Department of Nutrition (see Funding section below) and utilizes resources through the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and coordinates with other work being conducted at the center in the sustainable agriculture arena.

Project Description

Transitioning from Tobacco: The New Agriculture of North Carolina

Using an innovative array of approaches including case studies, documentary photography, and quantitative data analysis, researchers are exploring the agricultural transition in North Carolina as tobacco becomes less economically important and farms across the country grow larger and more industrialized. The research team will address environmental benefits of smaller scale sustainable farming practices; determine nutrition and health-related benefits; and conduct an economic analysis of opportunities and barriers for developing integrated local and sustainable food systems. Data, accessible in easy to use formats, will be used to help identify market opportunities for farmers and to conduct a policy analysis related to local food systems and sustainable agriculture.

Three Essential Pieces

  • The Health ComponentAmong the most pressing public health problems in the U.S. today is obesity among both adults and children. High-calorie, nutrient deficient food has become a dietary staple of families who have lost the connection with local, seasonal foods. Also of major concern are apparent health disparities between socio-economic groups, and those affected by the loss of livelihood among farmers in transition.
  • The Environmental ComponentOur current food system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels— fertilizers, pesticides, and gasoline—for large-scale production as well as long-distance transport.
  • The Economic ComponentThe price of transporting food over long distances and the inflationary result of high energy costs affects the family checkbook. Loss of farmland and livelihood has sounded an alarm among small to mid-scale farmers transitioning away from growing tobacco. Rural communities where these farmers live face manufacturing layoffs and plant closures—another blow to the local economy.

This unprecedented effort will bridge academia, local farming communities and North Carolina state agencies, and contribute to a broader understanding of food systems, with national and international relevance.


Numerous UNC system and NC schools, departments and centers, NCSU’s Center for Environmental Farming Systems, Renaissance Computing Institute, Center for Sustainable Community Design, NC Department of Public Health, Office of Economic & Business Development, NC A&T Faculty, the Documentary Studies Department at Duke, Orange County Economic Development and others.


Funding Source: This project is supported by a Gillings Innovation Laboratory award from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health to the UNC Department of Nutrition. The award is funded though a generous gift to the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health from Dennis and Joan Gillings.

Current Status: Disseminated

Dates of funding: Noember 2008 – November 2010

Key Contacts

Principal Investigator
 Alice Ammerman, DrPH, RD
Director, Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, CB#7426
Professor, Department of Nutrition, CB#7461
Schools of Public Health and Medicine
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Project Director: Robin Crowder

Key Contact: Robin Crowder,, 919/843-8885


Gillings project blog:
Carolina Public Health Solutions:
UNC Gillings School of Gloal Public Health Project Description:
Gillings Gift News:
Project coverage on NY Times blog: