It’s Got to Be LOCAL Agriculture

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by Kay Morton

Are you getting a little tired of eating store bought fruits and veggies, shipped in from all over? Has the appearance of daffodils got you thinking of spring? Often with these events, comes the desire to start eating farm fresh and locally grown fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, tomatoes, and cucumbers. And the tasty list goes on.

North Carolinians spend about $35 billion a year on food. If each of us would spend just ten percent of our food dollars, roughly $1.05 per day, on locally grown food, then together we will be building North Carolina’s local food economy while enjoying the greatness of homegrown.

Enrolling in the 10% campaign www.nc10percent.com supports our farms, food and manufacturing businesses and creates jobs in addition to infusing fresh and flavorful fruits and vegetables into you 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 grow and harvest the food, deliver it to the Co-op, where it is boxed and delivered to over 21 convenient gathering sites in Moore, Lee, Cumberland, Richmond and Hoke counties, all in two days. This means 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 choose to 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 receive a weekly e-blast, have access to the online Artisan Market, can subscribe to a produce/bread box, be able to buy bulk produce from our growers and have all your purchases delivered to the McSwain Center gathering site for pick up. Lee County members will be able to drop by the McSwain Center beginning April 16 and pick up their box of fresh local produce. This is our fourth year with the program and of all the sites; the McSwain Center is the largest. By the end of the 2014 season members picked up 1,979 produce boxes during the 28-week program. Sales generated well over $39,580 with average weekly sales around $1,413. By the end of the program, 19,790 pounds of fresh locally grown produce was distributed to consumers in the Lee County area which included 600 pounds of produce distributed to families in need at a local food pantry.

The McSwain Center gathering site had 160 participants in 2014 and we are looking to go higher this year. Membership to the 2015 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). If you would like to participate membership and produce box subscriptions are being taken on the Sandhills Farm To Table website 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 are in preparation mode and will open in April. 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.

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.