Vacationer Supported Agriculture Receives Opal Mann Green Engagement and Scholarship Award

— Written By
The NC State VSA team

The NC State VSA team includes (from top left) Becky Bowen, Dr. Duarte Morais, Dr. KangJae Lee, Hannah Dankbar, Britt Davis, and Dr. Susan Jakes (not pictured).

The Office of Outreach and Engagement at NC State University named the Vacationer Supported Agriculture team as the 2021 Opal Mann Green Award recipient. The Opal Mann Green Engagement and Scholarship Award recognizes leadership and commitment to the values of democracy in the classroom, the community, and home; inclusion; and community-engaged and -valued action.

Photo of vacationers picking up their produce bag (pre-Covid).

Photo of vacationers picking up their produce bag (pre-COVID-19).

Vacationer Supported Agriculture (VSA) is a project of NC State University’s P1tLab and NC State Extension Community & Rural Development (CRD) facilitating win-win synergies between tourism and agriculture partners. VSA consists of coordinating the direct sale of farm products to vacationers; working with: a) Extension to form and mentor groups of farmers and community partners in the aggregation and delivery of produce bags; b) vacation realty companies and tourism development authorities to promote VSA bags among vacationers; and c) internet retail companies to sell the bags and disburse payments to farmers. VSA was piloted in 2018 and has been growing during the last two years, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, generating more than $126k of farmer revenue in 8 coastal North Carolina destinations. 

Reality VSA post for 2021 season.

Realty VSA post for 2021 season.

In 2021, the program’s 4th year, VSA is engaging with approximately 80 farmers and aggregators from 12 tier 1 and 2 counties who supply product to most coastal North Carolina destinations in partnership with 20 vacation rental companies and 6 tourism development authorities. The VSA team developed a mini-grant program to subsidize farmers’ purchase of coolers and refrigerated storage through a grant from the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. 

VSA is a collaborative effort among diverse and complementary units of NC State University. It is led by NC State Extension CRD (Becky Bowen, Hannah Dankbar, and Dr. Susan Jakes) and P1tLab (Dr. Duarte Morais, Dr. KangJae “Jerry” Lee, Dr. Gene Brothers, and graduate student Britt Davis). Still, within the NC State ecosystem, the project involves county Extension offices, the co-curricular Social Innovation Fellows program, and the Rural Works! extracurricular program from Academic and Student Affairs. VSA is an example of how research, extension, and teaching can be integrated to produce evidence-based innovations, generate equitable prosperity and facilitate high-impact learning experiences.

Every aspect of the VSA project is imbued with a deep respect for the knowledge, contribution, and goals of community partners. VSA relies on social capital developed over time among county Extension offices, farmers, and other local organizations. The aggregators, including Men and Women United for Youth and Families and Carteret Local Food Network, as well as several individual farms, rely on long-term trust with neighboring farmers to ensure access to high quality produce for the bags – a process that is particularly important during periods of crisis like the onset of the pandemic, or a late summer hurricane like last year. In addition, the VSA team regularly monitors participants’ training needs and enlists Extension agents and experienced participants in the sharing of knowledge with others in regular project meetings.

The Vacationer Supported Agriculture online market is open now, and vacationers to Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Oak Island, Baldhead Island, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, Surf City, N. Topsail, Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach, Ocracoke, and the Northern Outer Banks can order produce bags, eggs, and shrimp by visiting People-First Provisions. For more information, contact Becky Bowen at blbowen@ncsu.edu.