County to Seek Grant for 'Farm to Table' Initiative
An initiative aimed at delivering more locally-grown produce directly to local dinner tables has easily passed one hurdle.
The Moore County Board of Commissioners agreed Monday to submit an application to the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) for a $30,000 grant to develop a business cooperative known as Sandhills Farm to Table.
Craven Hudson, director of the Moore County Cooperative Extension Service, said farmers are looking for alternative crops, and this project would be a good opportunity to achieve that purpose while satisfying residents' wishes for local fruits and vegetables.
"We're helping farmers stay profitable," Hudson said.
If the grant is approved, the money will be used to cover costs related to the actual design of the enterprise. This includes consumer research, market/price structure and product research, research on food safety and other government regulations, and the business structure for the co-op.
The project represents a collaboration between the Department of Planning and Community Development and the Extension Service.
In his report to the commissioners, Planning Director Joey Raczkowski said that more than 500 Moore County residents recently completed an online survey in which they expressed "strong interest in receiving fresh local produce" through a cooperative or similar program. He cited as an example the success of a similar program, The Produce Box, in Raleigh.
Raczkowski said the program has already received a $10,000 donation, which has been deposited to a trust account and is to be held until the cooperative becomes operational.
Local residents Fenton Wilkinson and Jan Leitschuh have agreed to coordinate the program, Raczkowski said.
Raczkowski quoted Extension Agent Taylor Williams as saying that the concept has been warmly received by the farming community. Williams said that Leitschuh has secured commitment from some local farmers to supply the cooperative.
Both Wilkinson and Leitschuh have experience in this type of enterprise. Leitschuh holds a degree in agriculture and production and is active in the Cooperative Extension's Farmer to Farmer program. She writes for The Pilot newspaper, PineStraw magazine, and her own Cottage Garden newsletter. The subjects are such things as gardening, local foods and food systems.
Wilkinson spent 20 years as a business attorney and local food system consultant in the state of Washington. Wilkinson, who has already handled much of the market research and community outreach for the Moore County project, helped to develop a business plan for Full Circle Foods, a home delivery local/organic grocer in Whatcom County, Wash., before moving to North Carolina.
RAFI-USA is an arm of the Tobacco Communities Reinvest-ment Fund, which makes annual grants to farmers and farm groups throughout North Carolina for projects that generate new farm income, establish new markets for local products and services, and create employment opportunities.
The fund is supported by a grant from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, established in the late 1990s to administer a portion of the funds allocated through the nationwide settlement with major tobacco manufacturing companies. The purpose is to encourage farmers to continue farming while adjusting to the loss of income from the declining tobacco economy.
In other business, the commissioners approved an amendment to the classification and pay plan by adding a long-range planner position effective immediately. The board approved the hiring of the planner at an October meeting. The new planner will provide assistance with development of a countywide long-range plan updating the land-use plan adopted in 1999.
The board also adopted a tap fee payment plan policy to include existing private residences, churches and religious properties. It allows payment in three installments within 90 days, rather than requiring lump sum payment up front.
Financial Services Director Lisa Hughes presented the quarterly fiscal report on behalf of Sandhills Center for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilit-ies, and Substance Abuse Services.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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