Joe Rowland, a 32-year-old Concord farmer, has become one of the latest success stories to come out of the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm.
The county-owned farm helps individuals start farm-based businesses through classroom instruction, hands-on experience and guidance from seasoned farmers. He’s been farming at the incubator farm for three years but also runs an 18-acre farm in Gold Hill with his wife, Dani.
Rowland Family Farms LLC recently took over Go Local NC Farms, an online farmers market and delivery service for the Cabarrus, Charlotte and Piedmont/Triad areas. It operates out of the incubator farm and offerings range from local dairy items, meat, eggs and organic produce to honey, soaps, flowers and other products purchased directly from farmers or vendors throughout the county and the state.
Carolyn Davis created the business in 2009 to offer people easy access to local food. Similar to community-supported agriculture programs, there are no minimum purchase requirements, long-term commitments or membership fees.
“With us, you choose exactly what you want, and you don’t get stuck with whatever gets sent,” said Rowland. “We carry a full line of dairy products from Homeland Creamery in Julian. We have cheese coming in from Ashe County Cheese Company. We have peanut butter coming from the west of the state. We have veggies coming from within 10 miles from here. We have beef, chicken, pork and eggs coming from within 15 miles. … It’s prepared with you in mind.”
Rowland said taking over the business was a no-brainer.
“There’s a huge customer base because people don’t always have the time or interest in shopping at weekend farmers markets, but they are still completely interested in local, fresh, good food and helping the community,” he said.
Rowland coordinates a network of 25 farmers and vendors, who serve a customer base of 1,000 patrons. He handles 30-60 orders per week and the average bill is $80 to $100.
“We’ve been trying to grow our business and taking over Go Local seemed like a good way to do it while expanding on our farmers market business,” Rowland said.
Originally from Winston-Salem, Rowland has always wanted to be a farmer. He’s lived in the Charlotte area the last five years and said the local food movement is expanding in a positive direction.
“The folks here in Cabarrus are definitely pushing for it,” said Rowland. “They have the Local Food Policy Council, farmers markets. They’ve got the incubator farm – which there’s only a couple (of) in the state – so I think they’re definitely on the forefront of the whole movement.”
Currently, Rowland delivers to 10 locations from Charlotte to Concord, traveling 120-plus miles to eight stops each Saturday. Forming larger networks throughout the state will help the local food economy flourish, Rowland said.
“There are small businesses throughout the state doing similar things that I’m doing … but we just need to be able to kind of connect the dots between them; then you’ll really start to have a thriving economy that’s bigger than just Concord,” he said.
The local food movement boosts the economy and helps the environment but also supplies healthier, more nutritious food.
Shannon Johnson, a county planner and the sustainable local economy project manager, has lived in Concord nearly five years. She raises chickens for eggs, grows some vegetables and purchases from Go Local regularly.
“Local is my passion,” she said. “My whole life I’ve been passionate about it because I grew up in a town that changed from local to chain stores. Ever since I moved here and saw there was a lot of (local food), I’ve been on a mission to bring local back to the people.”
Johnson also helped create Think Cabarrus First, a county-run campaign that promotes buying locally and is set to become a nonprofit in July.
Three nationwide studies in the last five years showed an average of 63 percent of every dollar spent on locally-owned businesses, products and services stays in the community, said Johnson. While only 14 percent get re-circulated when shopping at national retailers or local chain stores.
“Those numbers are not Cabarrus County numbers, but they’re national numbers you can kind of play off of,” said Johnson. “Small choices can make a big difference and the relationship part of it is huge because that builds community.”
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