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Developing a social franchise model to produce and distribute healthy local food products to end hunger and poverty in rural North Carolina

We envision a social franchise that produces and distributes healthy local food products to end hunger and poverty in rural North Carolina.

Photo of Laura Fieselman
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Good Bowls LLC

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Green Rural Redevelopment Organization (Small NGO), Working Landscapes (Small NGO), Living Fit LLC (Small company), UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (Research Institution), Winrock International (Large NGO)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.eatgoodbowls.com

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Triangle and Kerr Tar regions

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Collaborative multi-disciplinary, multi-ethnic team, many of whom have lived, worked and conducted health promotion research or health care delivery for over 30 years. Together with our team, we have a focus on social justice and equity. We are developing, testing, and teaching social entrepreneurship as an approach to sustainable change and larger, longer-term impact with potential for scale. Collaborators live in the Triangle (Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh) as well as in Tier 1 (most economically distressed) and Tier 2 counties, including Warren County and Henderson County in the Kerr Tar region. As the nation’s first public university, the University of North Carolina serves the state and beyond through teaching, research, and public service and “extends knowledge-based services and other resources of the University to the citizens of North Carolina and their institutions to enhance the quality of life for all people in the State.”

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Kerr-Tar region combined with the Triangle blends geographic areas with both the most and least favorable health statistics in the state. These two regions encompass a wide range of socioeconomic statuses. While this area has historically been populated by a high proportion of African Americans, there is now a significant influx of Hispanic and other racial-ethnic groups such as Burmese and Middle Eastern refugees. North Carolina also has the largest Native American population east of the Mississippi, including several small tribes in this region. Because they are not federally recognized, funding for health promotion and other social needs is less available. The significant potential of the southern diet has not been realized, either by consumers or producers. Despite bountiful locally grown produce and livestock operations and a long growing season, much of the food is in our region is contract grown and exported. Small to mid-sized farmers struggle to make a living. Historically, many North Carolina farmers have depended on federal subsidies for tobacco, our most economically viable crop. When these subsidies ended, Carolina farmers were forced to look for new crops and markets. This, combined with a long history of discrimination against black farmers in terms of agricultural loans, has created a crisis for family farms in North Carolina. The crisis worsened with recent trade international activities. In small “greasy spoon” restaurants in the south, it is not uncommon to see a “vegetable plate” on the menu, often including excellent southern traditions like collard greens and pinto beans, but also including macaroni and cheese, biscuits, and banana pudding. Free refills on soda accompany the plate. Seasonings are more likely to be fatback rather than herbs and spices. North Carolina falls squarely in the “stroke belt." Some would say our state is the buckle of the stroke belt, where cardiovascular disease rates are exceptionally high. Rates of diabetes and obesity are also high, particularly in rural areas. Consumption of highly processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, like in many parts of the country, contribute to poor health. Food insecurity is another significant problem in North Carolina, with 1 in 5 children identified as food insecure and a higher proportion of adults than many states facing the same problem. While less commonly mentioned, food deserts in rural communities are a common problem, where limited transportation and poor housing co-exist. We’ve learned from our research over time that many common approaches to address food insecurity that involve providing fresh produce (farmers markets, produce box programs, food prescription programs, and stocking corner stores with produce share) are ineffective: produce spoils quickly, many lower-income families lack the time, facilities, and skills/knowledge required for home cooking. There is a growing dependence on cheap, convenient food.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

2250000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Challenges of 2020: In the widely cited 2019 EAT Lancet report, leading scientists declared that transformation of the food system is urgent and critical to mitigate climate change and promote health equity, stating “The food we eat and how we produce it will determine the health of people and planet, and major changes must be made to avoid both reduced life expectancy and continued environmental degradation.” Climate change will disproportionately affect vulnerable communities through economic, environmental, nutrition, and health consequences. Simultaneously, our current food production and distribution system contribute significantly to environmental degradation. Truly interdisciplinary collaboration is needed to drive the discovery and implementation of evidence-based strategies and policy actions to simultaneously protect the environment and public health. North Carolina and the southeastern US more broadly are at particularly increased risk. This area is losing farmland to development and discriminatory lending practices at a more rapid rate than many parts of the country. Rural communities are losing population as farming becomes a less viable or desirable occupation and the youth move to urban areas. With this transition, we are losing a way of life that values community resilience and support. The transition from small farms to large scale pesticide and fertilizer-dependent commodity crops across the country has had a major impact on the environment and ultimately, climate change. Ironically, climate change, in turn, has an adverse impact on agricultural productivity. Hope for 2050: However, with the advent of teleworking and eco-tourism, as well as the growing desire for locally sourced food, there is the potential for a rural rebound. Smaller-scale labor-saving agricultural equipment can give our younger generation of farmers an opportunity to have a reasonable lifestyle and be less dependent on an uncertain immigrant workforce. Land conservation, farm incubators, and joint land-owning can help protect small farms and recruit a new generation of farmers (average age of current farmers is 58). We believe that our approach that addresses the intersection between food insecurity, food waste, and economic opportunity can help build on existing strengths and rebuild the economy of rural communities

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision is to find the “sweet spot” between healthy food access for all, and rural economic opportunity in terms of agricultural production, food manufacturing, and distribution. We will build on the strong agricultural tradition currently in acute need of new market opportunities, and also on the existence of commercial kitchens in small towns to generate new entrepreneurial opportunities. We are in the process of building a social venture that is designed around this “sweet spot.” Good Bowls LLC is a start-up company producing healthy frozen meals. Good Bowls is a mission-driven social venture addressing food inequity in rural communities. The company is founded on the work and vision of Dr. Alice Ammerman, UNC’s distinguished nutrition professor who has extensively studied food insecurity and its effects on health outcomes. Having developed a line of frozen meals (Good Bowls), the company is embarking on a two-tiered marketing effort: premium pricing to affluent communities combined with affordable pricing to SNAP-eligible rural communities. Along with the meals, the company will deliver nutrition education, taste testing, and cooking demonstrations. A second priority of the company is to source locally grown food (including B-grade) when possible while still maintaining an affordable price for consumers. The company business model is to sell the frozen bowls at a higher price at worksites and other direct to consumer customers, to subsidize the price for lower-income consumers. A successful pilot with 2400 bowls showed good acceptance from both higher and low-income consumers (favorite quote: “It doesn’t even taste healthy”) and strong support for the social mission, with a willingness for customers to pay more to subsidize meals for others. Recipes are based on the Mediterranean diet with a “southern twist” - using many classic southern vegetables such as sweet potatoes and kale and served over (largely hidden) brown rice. We are exploring a “social franchise” model where we will enter into agreements with small town entrepreneurs who can rent space in a community/commercial kitchen. Good Bowls will provide the recipes, bulk packaging, and technical assistance, and local entrepreneurs can hire staff from the local community as well as purchase food from farmers in the region. We are currently developing and testing several different sales strategies including hiring Community Ambassadors, like a cross between community health workers and Mary Kay Cosmetics sales force ”Beauty Consultants”, who would make a commission on sales of Good Bowls, and also offer basic nutrition education and cooking tips. We are also testing worksite sales through an online ordering system, as many people consume frozen meals for lunch.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Our vision is that rural communities and small towns would be revitalized and local agriculture will thrive. This will be the result of increased economic opportunities for farmers, food preparers, and distributors/retailers as well as easy access to healthy prepared frozen meals. Using our Food Ambassador sales force, we hope to “flip the script” regarding what is, unfortunately, a growing trend in some developing countries, for example from this New York Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html “A direct-sales army in Brazil is part of a broader transformation of the food system that is delivering Western-style processed food and sugary drinks to the most isolated pockets of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. As their growth slows in the wealthiest countries, multinational food companies ...have been aggressively expanding their presence in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that is upending traditional diets from Brazil to Ghana to India.” With local food production and distribution, transportation costs (economic and environmental) will be minimized, with a beneficial impact on climate change. Our Food Ambassadors will collect ideas for new recipes and offer taste testing opportunities to their clients to help us perfect our recipes. Improved nutrition will result in lower rates of chronic disease and drastically reduced health care costs.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Response coming at full submission.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

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