Do You Know What Is in Your Food System?
Much of the work being done in your local N.C. Cooperative Extension Office has to do with our regional food system. Some of us work to help farmers produce fruits and vegetables; others are here to advise livestock producers. In addition our Family and Consumer Sciences program helps provide science-based nutrition information and improve access to fresh food in the community. Still others work to help develop new markets to support our local farmers and assist with business and marketing. Even our 4H Youth Development program focuses on food and farms with many of their activities!
Richmond County has always had a strong agricultural economy, which has gone through several changes over the years. Once cotton was king, and tobacco was an important crop. There were more row crops in the county at one time, including corn, soybeans and wheat. Now broiler production is the most widespread agricultural enterprise in the county and provides a great economic boost.
In the past few years’ new words have entered our daily conversations and eating habits such as: local foods, eat local, foodie, locavore, grass-fed, pasture raised, and civic agriculture. With the back to the farm eating habits, consumers are clamoring for fresh foods, local honey, chicken coops in the back yard and edible landscapes. So how healthy is our food system in Richmond County?
There is still much work to do to find farm fresh food in our stores, restaurants and home kitchens but there are bright spots. Richmond County residents can purchase wonderful produce at farm stands like The Berry Patch, Triple L Farms and Bynum’s. The Rockingham Farmers’ Market is increasingly growing, now twice a week with strong sales and reliable produce, egg and honey sources and also offering SNAP Fresh Bucks that double a SNAP/EBT purchase. Sandhills Farm To Table CSA is available to purchase and pick up at Discovery Place Kids during the growing season. Recently a grant was received from Golden LEAF Foundation to build a facility called the Sandhills AGInnovation Center that will help small and medium growers pool their products and market them together, which will support new and existing growers tremendously and more fully develop our regional food system. Our office offers assistance to new farmers through NC Farm School and conducts trials at the research station to provide new techniques and varieties. Green Fields Sandhills is a new non-profit organization that is working to further the economic development impact of the agricultural industry in our region.
Civic Agriculture is the embedding of local agriculture and food production in the community, and is at its core a network of producers and consumers bound together by place-based local institutions and organizations. It is a new term for things sort of the way they used to be “in the good old days”. Farming is oriented toward local markets, farms are smaller and they are an integral part of the community. It will take continued support for the farmers and increased consumer awareness and interest in food to develop a healthy regional food system that looks more like civic agriculture, in addition to the established large commercial enterprises that are engaged in global agriculture. We need both systems and hope that you will become more involved and aware of your food sources. Follow Richmond County Extension and Green Fields Sandhills for updates and information, whether you want to grow your own, feed your neighbors or just be able to buy fresh local products. For more information call Richmond County Extension at 910-997-8255.
This article printed in the July 20, 2016 “Extension@YourService” column in the Richmond County Daily Journal.