Farm Initiative Gets Underway with Businesses
Pinehurst Resort recently received its first shipment of carrots from Ricky Carter Farms in Ellerbe.
"They were beautiful," said Ed Peckels, the resort's director of food and beverage. "We're looking for great things from our local growers."
The resort is one of several institutional customers in Moore County that will participate in a pilot project this year as part of the Farm to Institution initiative being developed by the Agribusiness Committee of Partners in Progress, the county's economic development arm.
The initiative is a spin-off of the popular Sandhills Farm to Table program that sells boxes of locally grown produce to residents.
Stakeholders in the new effort include farmers in Moore, Richmond and Lee counties, as well as Moore County institutions such as the resort, the public school system, Sandhills Community College, Penick Village, FirstHealth of the Carolinas and St. Joseph of the Pines.
The initiative got a big boost last week after the Moore County Board of Commissioners voted to spend $15,000 toward the effort, the final piece of a $75,000 puzzle that will launch the pilot project and a feasibility study.
"Your support will directly benefit the farmers and agricultural economy of northern Moore County and strengthen the tourist and service businesses in southern Moore," Fenton Wilkinson, a committee member and founder of Sandhills Farm to Table (SF2T), told commissioners before their vote.
Wilkinson said the pilot is being done in conjunction with the study so "we don't miss the growing season this year."
"The pilot will be a learning-by-doing process," Wilkinson said. "The study will take four or five months to complete. It will help design a farm-to-institution process that will be successful long-term. It will also satisfy the requirements of lenders and other funding sources to create the physical infrastructure necessary for this system.
"We're creating relationships, not just a mechanism. We're not looking for a short-term win."
Wilkinson estimated that up to $1 million will be needed to implement the initiative fully.
"Most of the cost will be for a building and transportation," he said. "We'll also probably need some equipment for flash freezing and light processing, for example. It's likely to be a phased process."
Wilkinson said a portion of the money raised for the study and pilot came from stakeholders - several institutions donated $1,000 apiece, others gave $500, and a number of farmers chipped in $100 each.
"This is really being driven by them. They really want this to happen," he said. "There are other food hubs around North Carolina that are struggling because they don't have buy-in from the farmers and the institutions. Fortunately, our farmers and institutions are vested in the process."
Billy Carter, a committee member and owner of Carter Farms in Eagle Springs, said the initiative is a logical extension of Sandhills Farm to Table.
"There are a number of inherent advantages that farmers see," Carter told the commissioners. "There are some barriers to accessing the types of (institutional) markets that exist. Those barriers can be expensive, and they can be bureaucratic nightmares. This program clears a lot of barriers, and it makes things a lot more practical from smaller entities to access these institutions."
Carter, who tends to about 1,000 acres and participates in SF2T, said the new initiative is "an interesting project" that provides "a great opportunity" for local growers.
"It would be very difficult for an individual grower to access these institutions," he said. "It's novel and unique, and has the chance to succeed. It's taken over a year to get the thought process in place, but it looks like an exciting opportunity at this point."
Peckels agreed, saying, "We're really looking forward to doing business with the Farm to Institution program."
Wilkinson said the pilot will start this spring and run through the fall.
"Our budget is based on a 30-week schedule," he said. "The goal is to sell more produce, encourage farmers to increase production, and extend the growing season."
The study is being done by Matson Con-
sulting of Aiken, S.C., which specializes in helping value-added agricultural ventures succeed.
Wilkinson hopes the initiative is fully operational by the 2014 U.S. Opens at Pinehurst No. 2.
"We want this to be a positive story that can be told around those tournaments," he said. "The eyes of the world will be on Moore County."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the
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