Richmond County is better prepared than many other counties in North Carolina to build a local food system that will revitalize economic and social health of the community. According to “A Community and Local Government Guide to Developing Local Food Systems in North Carolina” (Mettam, King and Dunning 2013), there are programs, policies and collaboration that can prepare a county for a strong community food system and many of them have been put into place.
Approximately 75 percent of American consumers’ favor food grown in the United States over imported foods and prefer to buy from local sources. In 2005 and 2010, the USDA established minimum daily requirements of fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in order to improve the American diet and decrease obesity related diseases. According to American Farmland Trust, an estimated 13 million more acres of land growing fruits and vegetables are needed to meet even the minimum USDA goal! Encouraging consumption of fresh foods produced from local farms promotes health, protects farmland and improves the state’s economy (agriculture is already a $84 billion sector of North Carolina’s economy.)
Programs and policies to guide planning and land use that are recommended and in place include present-use value programs, voluntary agricultural districts and zoning ordinances. More work should be done to seek out programs to help preserve and protect farmland and create opportunities for our next generation of farmers. At Richmond County Extension, we are trying to help new farmers locate farmland as well as resources. This Thursday night from 6 to 8 p.m., an event to help new and beginning farmers meet and network is taking place that is sponsored by Green Fields Sandhills and the National Young Farmers Coalition. Visit https://gfsfarmermixer.eventbrite.com for more information. If you are a young farmer or young to farming please check it out!
Developing collaborations for growth in local food systems is a strength of the Richmond County community. Our office works closely and collaborates with county, municipal, farm and service organizations. Green Fields Sandhills fills the need for a food policy council and needs volunteers who are interested in promoting agriculture (www.greenfieldssandhills.org.) The Richmond County Board of County Commissioners has incorporated food systems into its economic development strategies by supporting the development of the Sandhills AGInnovation Center (a produce aggregation and marketing business in Ellerbe), supporting our Extension Office, as well as a small amount for the Richmond County Farmers Market Association in 2016.
The outlets for buying and selling local foods exist but need to expanded to grow the Richmond County local food economy. The Richmond County Farmers Market Association supports three markets per week beginning April 2017: Saturday mornings in Rockingham in Harrington Square; Wednesday mornings in front of the Health Department in Rockingham on Caroline Street; and new this year, a Thursday evening market in Hamlet near the historic depot.
Selling produce at a farmer’s market is a great way for a small farmer to get started and to sell products at retail prices. There are also several roadside stands in the county that provide local produce, such as the Berry Patch in Ellerbe and Triple L Farm in Derby. Developing opportunities to market produce and other farm products in grocery stores, convenience stores, institutions and schools is an area for expansion in the county.
Food produced and consumed locally creates more economic activity in an area than does comparable food produced and imported from a non-local source. The increased revenue and employment are due to the transactions that occur between the farms and the local consumers. So, support local farmers with your buying habits and you will also support the economic vitality of our community and your physical health! For more information, please contact Richmond County Extension at 910-997-8255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Kelly is county extension director of the N.C. Cooperative Extension office in Rockingham.