Then, consider what you would do if the produce stopped coming to the shelf of the store.
This was the sort of issue addressed during the Local Foods: Options & Opportunities - South Central District Local Foods Conference at the Cole Auditorium Friday.
“We eat every day. That’s not going to go away, no matter how bad the recession gets,” said the event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Nancy Creamer. “The demand for local food is so strong. We spend $50 billion to attract business from outside the country. That’s a lot of money we could distribute locally.”
Creamer is a distinguished professor of Sustainable Community Based Food Systems at NCSU. She is also Director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, a research farm developed in partnership with NCSU, NC A&T University and the NCDA&CS.
Creamer went on to describe various campaigns that aim to bridge the gap between consumers and farmers who have produce available in the county, such as Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food and North Carolina Farm Fresh. Though many people have heard of farmers markets and sometimes shop at them, many may not realize how they can contribute or change their entire lifestyle to be a part of a community that feeds itself. She said the hurdles in the way of making local food a way of life once more are in infrastructure, processing and distribution.
Paige Burns, Cooperative Extension agent for Richmond County, said most people do not consider the journey their produce has to make to get to the store shelf. Vegetables and fruits harvested in other states or countries must be packed and shipped, and Burns said the people shipping the produce barely inspect two percent of the crop before it ships.
Food, water and pesticides are not as well regulated in foreign countries as they are in the U.S., but we still eat the food that comes from other countries. With gas prices on the rise and tension growing in the existing infrastructure across the nation, the push for people to learn how to feed themselves is even greater than before.
“This is the best time ever to be farmers,” said Burns. “We have programs in every county to help people learn how to farm. It’s a national security issue if we can’t feed ourselves.”
The USDA has even made grants available to beginning farmers, something Creamer said was a “good opportunity and can help bring young people back to farming.” And Burns said many people with land or resources often don’t know the potential of what they have. That’s what Cooperative Extension Agents are for. The Ag Extension serves as a place where people can get guidance. The help is out there.
“The extension’s job is to put things together,” said Burns. “With people retiring, getting laid off or looking for a second job, we can help.”
Creamer listed many benefits for eating locally-produced foods. One third of North Carolina’s children are obese and at risk for diabetes and other serious health complications. Eating fresh produce will cut down on the burden of health care costs.
“Kids actually like that stuff,” said Creamer.
Another benefit to spending money on Richmond County farmers’ produce is that the money stays in the county. That’s where the “10 Percent Campaign” comes in. By going to the website www.nc10percent.com or by calling 919-515-0244, you can pledge to spend 10 percent of your grocery fund on local foods. The website can calculate exactly how much your ten percent is, and then will send you an e-mail once a week to ask you what you bought and where. We spend about $35 billion a year on food. If we spend 10 percent in our community, $3.5 billion stays in our community.
There are many other ways to help the community with this shift towards a more agricultural and environmentally-conscious life. Sustainable Sandhills is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving the natural resources of the eight county region surrounding Fort Bragg through education, demonstration and collaboration. Goodness Grows in North Carolina program assists food manufacturers, farmers, retailers, agricultural businesses and commodity groups with the marketing of their produced or processed products. North Carolina Farm Fresh aims to increase consumer awareness and purchases at pick-your-own farms, roadside farm markets, farmers markets and retail nurseries. For more information on farming resources, fresh foods, and how you can help make changes towards a healthier lifestyle, contact the Agricultural Extension at 910-997-8255.
Staff Writer Dawn Kurry can be reached at (910)997-3111 ext. 15, or by e-mail at email@example.com.