Sandhills Farm Tour to Showcase Diversity
BY TED M. NATT JR.
From peaches to Asian vegetables to Angus beef cattle, the inaugural Sandhills Farm Tour has been designed to showcase the agricultural iversity in Moore, Montgomery and Richmond counties.
"The unique offerings will enable consumers to come away with a broader understanding of agriculture and how local farmers have had to adapt to survive," says Taylor Williams, an agricultural extension agent in Moore County since 1998. "It will be well worth doing because it will be insightful."
The tour will be conducted July 23 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and admission per carload is $10 before that date. Tickets can be purchased at any of the county extension offices, as well as the farmers markets in Moore County at the Armory in Southern Pines on Thursday and at Downtown Southern Pines Park on Saturday.
Tickets can also be purchased for $15 the day of the event at the farm sites, and a map will be provided.
Farms on the tour include Shadow Hill Farm and Kennel in Jackson Springs; Clayton Orchard in Candor; Hilltop Angus Farm and Hope Farm, both in Mount Gilead; Vang Farms in Troy; and Triple L Farms and Dewitt's Game Farm, both in Ellerbe.
"You can start anywhere," Williams says.
He adds that the tour was developed to help solidify the connections made in the past decade between farmers and "the rest of the community."
"These farmers are delivering fresh food to our restaurants, participating in Sandhills Farm to Table, selling at our farmers markets and operating their own farm stands," he says. "We don't want to become a food desert, which means that we're producing food and we don't know where it's going. Instead, we want farmers and consumers to come face to face. It sort of breaks down that anonymity within the food system.
"Of course, all of this is predicated on consumers seeing the value in what farmers do."
The stakes are high, both locally and statewide. Agriculture was a $140 million industry in Moore County in 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available. Overall, agri-business is a $74 billion industry in North Carolina, which makes it No. 1 in the state.
"Obviously, the economic impact is huge," says Craven Hudson, Moore County's Extension Service director. "The importance of agriculture in the county is not as well-known as golf, but it should be. It's critical to continue growing these local initiatives and opportunities for farmers to find direct markets to consumers."
Many farmers have spent the past two decades converting from tobacco, which used to be "the" crop in North Carolina, to alternative crops such as fruits and vegetables.
"The whole key to this thing has been developing a market for these alternative crops," Williams says. "Initially, farmers were saying, 'Where am I going to sell them?' More and more, we've answered that question."
Williams has also taken local farmers to Lancaster, Pa., to show them how the Amish have combined agriculture with tourism.
"The Amish understand the connection between food and their tourism product," he says. "Their model of sustainability also helped them survive the Great Depression. We could all learn a lesson.
"To a certain extent, people need to learn how to grow and prepare their own food."
The Sandhills Farm Tour will include product samples and cooking demonstrations at some venues, while consumers will be able to ask questions at every venue.
"Food is important to all of us," Williams says. "This is a farm tour with very unique offerings. I am certain that it will be a fun event."
For more information on the tour call (910) 576-6011.
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