It’s Got to Be Local Agriculture

— Written By Kay Morton

Are you getting a little tired of eating store bought fruits and veggies, shipped in from all over? Has the unending winter weather and rain along with the appearance of daffodils got you thinking of spring? Are you craving farm fresh and locally grown fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, tomatoes, and cucumbers? Hold on a little longer, a bounty of fresh produce is coming.

North Carolinians spend about $35 billion a year on food. If each person spent just ten percent on food locally – roughly $1.05 per day – then approximately $3.5 billion would be available in the state’s economy. You can support our local agriculture by enrolling in North Carolina’s 10% Farm To Fork Campaign. The 10% campaign is an effort to encourage North Carolinaians to spend ten percent of their food dollars on foods from local sources. Through the campaign website – www.nc10percent.com  — consumers and businesses pledge to spend ten percent of their food dollars locally by purchasing products from area farmers and food producers. Participants will receive weekly email reminders to report how much money they spent on local foods. By pledging to the 10% campaign you will support our farms, food and manufacturing businesses and create jobs in addition to infusing fresh and flavorful fruits and vegetables into your diet. And of course, consuming more fruits and vegetables has proven to significantly reduce diet-related diseases and long-term health care expenses.

An easy way to support our local agriculture and get some really fresh, high quality produce is to become a member of the Sandhills Farm To Table Cooperative. Sandhills Farm To Table (SF2T) is not another store you need to visit. Local farmers harvest the food early in the morning, deliver it to the Co-op, where is it boxed and delivered to members at a convenient gathering site, all in a day’s time. So you are truly getting farm fresh produce! 

Again this year, N.C. Cooperative Extension in Lee County is partnering with SF2T to host the program at the McSwain Extension Education and Agriculture Center. By joining the Co-op and subscribing you can receive weekly, or every other week, a variety box of fresh local produce. Each box will have around ten pounds of produce to include at least two varieties of fruits and six of vegetables. Members will also have access to a new and improve website, with weekly recipes, preparation tips, an online Artisan Market and farm and community news. Members can also buy items in bulk and have their purchase delivered to the McSwain Center.

With the support of our volunteer organizations (ECA, 4-H, MGV, and Advisory Council) the McSwain gathering site distributed 2,162 produce boxes to 166 members during the 2013 season. The boxes averaged 10 pounds of fresh locally grown produce and with a value of $20 per box, sales generated well over $43,240 with average weekly sales around $1,663. By the end of the program, 21,620 pounds of fresh locally grown produce were distributed to families in Lee County to include 50 boxes distributed to families in need at a local food pantry.

Membership to the 2014 Sandhills Farm To Table is now open. Sign up as a member then choose your subscription/box and delivery option (every week or every other week). To become a member visit Sandhills Farm To Table web site at http://www.sandhillsfarm2table.com/ or call 910-722-1623 to sign up.

As the growing season progresses many pick-your-own farms, roadside farm markets, and farmers markets will soon open. For a complete listing of these farm stands, check out the North Carolina Farm Fresh directory at http://www.ncfarmfresh.com/. The directory will help you find the freshest locally grown fruits, vegetables, meat products, Christmas trees, ornamental plants, flowers, and herbs. The Sanford Farmers Market will be opening in April and we will be releasing more information soon.  If you just can’t wait, follow them on Facebook.

Remember if you are looking for the best tasting, healthiest and the freshest farm products…… “It’s Got to Be NC Agriculture”. So make the choice, make a difference and make it local. Be sure to call Cooperative Extension at  919-775-5624 if you have questions about any of these programs.

Susan Condlin is County Extension Director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.