Dustin Adcock has an idea that could dramatically boost the local economy. But he needs support from local farmers and consumers.
Adcock recently became the state’s first local foods agent for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. The 28-year-old Unionville native, who taught agriculture at Union County high schools for five years, works out of the Union County office and covers Union, Stanly and Anson counties.
He’s the first in the state to be named to this position so some of the details and responsibilities of the job are “being decided as we go,” he said. But the focus is on educating consumers and producers of the need to keep our money in Union County, or at least our region.
He said if consumers shift their food-buying habits to make 10 percent of their purchases from local or regional food producers, they could bring $32 million back into the local economy.
Building a bridge between consumers and producers is one of his goals.
He’s been working on that by attending monthly farm bureau and county commission meetings, traveling to farms and visiting farmers markets.
He’s trying to build some trust and some interest, he said.
“I’m particularly fond of working with small, newly established, or maybe not even established, farms,” Adcock said.
Because some small farms and backyard operations don’t claim their status in any official way, a lot of them are hard to find and require going to markets and talking to growers, he said.
“Yesterday, I went to the Muddy Boots Farm in Stanly County,” Adcock said. “Just by meeting with the farmer, I found five new growers I didn’t know.”
He’s working to educate local farmers about food safety and the necessary certification for selling produce to restaurants and grocery stores.
Another area he’s focusing on is building market awareness.
He said some farmers drive to Raleigh to sell things, but selling locally would pay off in the long run.
“Even if the return is smaller at the start, it can grow,” he said.
One way of expanding the local markets is through a cooperative he’s organizing that actually extends beyond his three-county region, into Montgomery, Richmond and Chesterfield (S.C.) counties. For example, a peach farmer just over the South Carolina state line is participating.
“We’re trying to sell more directly to consumers,” he said.
He said the goal is to work together, rather than compete against each other.
“We have nine growers, and we are shooting to sell 400 boxes of produce every week for hopefully 18 weeks. It allows growers to spend less time on marketing, and more on growing.”
For $396, consumers can get a box with a variety of fresh, local produce every week for 18 weeks, beginning the first week of May. Each box will contain a variety of produce, depending on what’s in season.
For example, the first week might contain one head of cabbage, one bunch of green onions, two heads of lettuce, a bunch of radish, a package of spinach, two quarts of strawberries and two pounds of greenhouse tomatoes, he said.
“And basically the people are getting a very low price,” he said. “We’re shooting to keep it down to 70-80 percent of retail prices.”
Consumers will pick up their weekly produce at a farmers market or other designated location. Adcock said he would like to work out deals with large employers – a hospital, for example – to get employees to participate in the co-op.
He’d like consumers to know that local produce is tastier and healthier.
“Local foods have a higher nutrient count because they don’t degrade as produce does in the warehouse,” he said.
And, he said, families find that they eat a healthier, more-balanced diet when they have a box of fresh vegetables every week.
In addition to organizing the co-op, Adcock works with growers to try new produce that researchers determine should flourish in local climates and soils.
For example, he’s been having workshops in Anson County to get people interested in growing shiitake mushrooms, which are getting a very high premium, some upward of $10 to $12 a pound, he said.
And Adcock knows firsthand the challenges many growers face.
“I actually own and operate a small produce farm myself,” he said.
Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jane? Email her at email@example.com.
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