i-Three Issue Corps 2016 – Sandhills Food Systems

Susan Kelly

County Director

North Carolina State University

Paige Burns

Horticulture Agent

North Carolina State University, NC Cooperative Extension

Paige Burns said:

What is the change you are designing to achieve?

Support our farmers and grow new ones by providing reliable access to institutional markets through the food hub.

How will you measure that change?

Food hub sales numbers, the amount paid out to farmers, the number of farmers who sell through the food hub, and the change in numbers of buyers will all measure the success or lack of success of the food hub to support and grow farmers in the region.

What is the innovative component or strategy you will implement as a result of the design-a-thon?

This food hub is a unique collaboration between county government (Richmond and Moore), county economic developers, farmers, and Cooperative Extension. The diversity of partnerships provides great perspective and scrutiny as the project develops to ensure a practical and profitable option for farmers who participate. Richmond County government is providing the funding to support the hub, a contracted general manager, while Cooperative Extension provides expertise in fruit and vegetable production, food safety, and marketing. Already thus far Extension has provided expertise and support for the farmers to form a regional Cooperative, which will utilize the food hub for aggregation and light processing.

How did the design-a-thon help you?

Paige said: The process confirmed our confidence in the project as we heard good comments and support for our concepts.

Susan said: It confirmed our project as we discussed it with the key informants.

Summary:

A thriving local food system in the NC Sandhills has the potential to save existing farms and grow new ones, at a time when many farmers are seeking more opportunities for self-determination and economic return than conventional agriculture provides in this infertile region.

In the Sandhills, farmers are struggling with numerous challenges. The harsh Sandhills soils make growing row crops challenging, and yields are relatively low so when commodity prices are down, it is almost impossible to make a profit; tobacco continues to decline in the area, as contracts become ever harder to get; fruit and vegetable production require high input and intensive management, but can be profitable when markets are available. Many of our established farmers are gone, retiring or nearing retirement, and younger farmers are challenged by lack of capital, land, and expertise in the high management demands of growing quality produce. By establishing a food hub in the Sandhills, we hope to provide new markets for existing farmers and help grow new farmers by providing a market option that provides relatively high profitability (70%) without the demands of time and energy required for direct to consumer sales such as farmers markets.

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