Local food movement emerges quickly, author says

The rule in Aaron Newton's house is that one must know the first name of the person who raised an animal before one can eat it.

For the 36-year-old Concord native, living a sustainable lifestyle and focusing on locally grown and raised food began seven years ago.

"I was blogging and doing some amateur journalism regarding energy issues and environmental issues," Newton said. "It just kept coming back to how environmentally destructing some of our (farming) practices are and how much energy they require."

Newton, a former land planner, challenged himself that within five years he would produce more calories per year than he was consuming.

"It was not necessarily just eating what I grew in my yard, which is an unreasonable goal for almost everyone, but putting more into the system than I was taking out," Newton said.

In 2006, fellow farmer and author Sharon Astyk approached Newton with the idea of co-authoring a book on sustainability, and Newton jumped on board. In 2009, "A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil," was published. That year, Newton also met his calorie-producing goal.

The book gives advice on local food systems and living sustainably and suggests solutions to the food crisis problem.

Along with advice mentioned in his work, Newton said the first change people can make in order to live more sustainably is to educate themselves by reading longer volumes on the issues.

Second, he said, give back to the community. Lastly, he said, start to examine eating habits.

"Really take a hard look at what you are eating, where it's coming from, what's in it that you may not know, and who your money is going to support when you buy food," Newton said. "That examination may lead you to make changes in what you put in your mouth and what you buy for your family."

Today, Newton's motivation to continue to live a sustainable lifestyle comes from his two young daughters.

"If you were to go to my house right now, and we were to scrounge around in the kitchen, I am certain we would find a can of pineapples from Hawaii. We are definitely not perfect," Newton said. "I tell people it is a journey not a destination."

Aside from eating locally, he said his family is also conscious of the amount of energy they use.

To make the shift to an energy-efficient home, Newton said he has sealed and reinsulated his home and has also been driving down the amount of kilowatt hours of energy used.

"It's great for the environment, also a fun little project for the family, saves money and makes you less vulnerable to economic shifts," Newton said.

In his career, Newton has worked full time at the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm in Cabarrus County, which is a three-year-old farming program that helps gardeners make the leap to market farming.

Currently, he is the local food system project coordinator for Cabarrus County and works with a team of 23 council members to coordinate all local food efforts.

"We are a victim of our own success right now, and the flood gates are opening. People are paying attention to what they eat, the food demand for local foods is going up, but there aren't yet enough people who are working on the development of a local food economy," Newton said. "So my goal is to step back and try to structure a system that engages more people."

Compared to areas like Chapel Hill and Asheville, Newton said, Cabarrus County is at least a decade behind in sustainability efforts. However, the county is catching up quickly.

"People in Cabarrus County have taken it upon themselves to hopefully become the leaders in the Charlotte region at organizing this local food movement," Newton said.

Last year, Newton mentioned that Cabarrus County was named institution of the year by the Carolina Farms Stewardship Association.

"I would say that the wind is at our backs, and it may have just caught up with those who set sail a little earlier," he said.