Farms app, technology address food insecurity in Pitt County – Greenville Daily Reflector

In addition to growing the agritourism industry in Pitt County, experts hope a newly introduced app can serve as an asset in the fight against food insecurity.

Pitt County on Tuesday joined the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Visit N.C. Farms app, a smartphone application which connects residents or visitors to farms and fresh local food.

The app features listings that include farms and fisheries, pick-your-own farms, farmers markets, local goods and food pantries, restaurants and events that feature food grown, raised, caught and made in North Carolina.

At the Umbrella Market in Uptown Greenville Wednesday, Leigh Guth, director of the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Pitt County, said that the app’s ability to address food insecurity is tailored to the county.

“The way it addresses food security is a little specific to Pitt County,” Guth said. “The Pitt County Farm and Food Council is also involved in this effort working to address food insecurity. In our app, not in every county’s, you can look for food assistance. It would connect you to farmer’s markets and see that several of them accept SNAP and EBT, like the Leroy James market. You can also see specific vendors who have that ability as well.”

Data for 2020 from the N.C. Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, a consortium of graduate students from across health science professions in the state, said that 36,240 people in Pitt County are food insecure.

Jennifer Caslin, marketing and project manager with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina said that implementing technology like the app is part of the group’s plan to address food insecurity.

“We have developed a strategic plan for the next three years to address broadband issues and help us in getting the word out,” Caslin said. “It is definitely something we are concerned about and have been for a while.”

Caslin said that her organization uses technology similar to Visit N.C. Farms. Their Kids Summer Meals Program features a text function which can allow for parents to react quickly to opportunities to find food. She also noted that Food Bank CENC’s food finder web service has been a huge asset.

“Specifically after the pandemic we saw that our food finder service went crazy,” Caslin said. “We recently added a Spanish language option to the site and saw that it was one of our most trafficked assets.”

Data from Caslin said that in Feb. 2020, the English site had 1,347 views. In March, that number increased to 9,353. In April, the site was viewed 10,627 times.

Spanish functionality was introduced the first week of April 2020 and accrued 1,054 more visits.

Apps like the food finder and Visit N.C. Farms can also serve individuals who do not have access to internet but do have a phone, Caslin said.

“Something we often do is use the food finder to plug in a caller’s zip code and let them know where food is available through programs like SNAP,” Caslin said.

Guth also noted that the app aims to serve the state’s two strongest industries – agriculture and tourism.

“One of the things that we love about this app is that we get a report on a monthly basis on how many people have downloaded it and used it,” Guth said. “It will also show us what they are searching for. Is it a strawberry farm? A farmer’s market? That is going to give us some data on the back end and be more impactful for our farmers and consumers.”

The application is free and available on the App Store or Google Play.