Farm Plan Lets Everyone Win
If you look up the definition of “win-win” in the dictionary, someday there should be an entry about Moore County’s exciting new proposal for a Farm to Institution initiative.
This concept looks about as imaginative as they get. It is designed as a logical outgrowth of the highly successful Sandhills Farm to Table program, but taking it to a dramatically higher level, to the great benefit of both farmers and customers.
Instead of routing locally grown fruits and veggies to households, as Farm to Table has for three years now, this program would deliver them to a number of major local institutions, which now get them from more conventional wholesale sources. These new high-volume customers include FirstHealth of the Carolinas, Pinehurst Resort, Moore County Schools, Sandhills Community College, Penick Village and St. Joseph of the Pines.
Much of the credit for this visionary venture goes to Pat Corso, who put together an agribusiness committee in September 2011, shortly after he took over as executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress.
Builds on ‘Farm to Table’
This is a logical extension of Sandhills Farm to Table, but with much greater potential for participating farmers in Moore, Richmond and Lee counties. When they sell directly to consumers, they stand to make about 70 cents on the dollar, compared with 17 at the grocery store.
There are major upsides for the institutional customers too, as there already are for the individual clients. Two major ones are freshness and quality. Supply lines are so much shorter and more efficient that you can have carrots and corn and cucumbers that were picked in the morning and delivered to customers in the afternoon.
A total of $75,000 has been raised — including $15,000 donated by the Moore County Board of Commissioners — to launch a feasibility study. But rather than waiting for the results of that, the agriculture committee launched by Corso is also doing a pilot project, so that it doesn’t lose this growing season while the bigger study is being conducted.
The pilot project and study should dovetail nicely, ensuring that the final feasibility report will be much more than speculation and providing a solid foundation for the ultimate recommendations.
Many Questions Remain
Launching the new program on the scale envisioned could cost up to $1 million, with much of the expense going for a building. That facility could end up being more than a mere warehouse, since a certain amount of processing may be required to satisfy the big customers. The school system, for example, prefers its carrots sliced instead of whole. And there could be some flash-freezing involved.
Although an existing building may be identified for possible conversion to this new use, a newly constructed one seems more likely. The Whispering Pines site out of which Sandhills Farm to Table currently works is said to be inadequate even for that more limited operation, which last year served 1,600 customers. One possibility is a bigger complex that could serve both systems, with the obvious synergies that could involve.
We haven’t even mentioned the benefits to area farmers, many of whom have been forced to look for alternative crops and marketing possibilities with the drop in tobacco production. This could be a real godsend for them.
So, yes, we’re talking win-win here.
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