Lake Norman & Mooresville

Company connects local food movement

Carolyn Davis created her business with one goal in mind: Offer people easy access to local food.

Her 17-month-old venture, GO Local NC Farms, provides a group buying service for people looking for locally grown meats, eggs, vegetables, honey, soaps and more. Similar to community-supported agriculture programs, it has a few distinct differences.

"We are a group that buys from local farms but, unlike others, we have no membership fees, no minimum order and people don't have to commit to buy from us on a regular basis," said Davis.

The mother of three said she started the buyer's club as a hobby in 2009 and made it a business in January of 2010. Carolyn and her husband, Jimmy, run a small hobby farm on 20 acres in Cabarrus County.

Davis said she has gained 160 unique (first-time) customers in the last three months and 215 in the last six months. Extra delivery dates were added in May to meet increasing demand for weekly distribution, and this summer will mark the first season of offering vegetables. She serves hundreds of clients through area pickup locations, including three Concord locations and one dropoff at Callabridge Commons Shopping Center on Couloak Drive, just south of N.C. 16.

Davis recently met with Aaron Newton, the local-food system program coordinator for Cabarrus County, to discuss ways to make local food more accessible and affordable to residents.

Newton, a 36-year-old Concord native and co-author of "A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil," praises the company's ingenuity for creating a network that connects growers and consumers through a user-friendly online ordering system.

"GO Local NC Farms is just the kind of new local foods business we need in Cabarrus County - connecting farmers and cooks through an innovative distribution strategy that harnesses the easy access of the Internet," said Newton. "Farmers can upload what they have and cooks can order what they want based on week-to-week availability. "

Brent Barbee, Cabarrus County native and farm manager at the sixth-generation Barbee Farms, is offering two new additions to GO Local's usual line up. Produce baskets will come in two sizes and are expected to be a big draw as the growing seasons begins to peak. A small basket is $12, and a large basket is $24, and Barbee will rotate through more than 40 items of seasonal produce grown on a 45-acres farm.

"We try to keep our cost in line with the grocery store," said Barbee. "The real difference is in the quality. We pick the items to go in the baskets Friday, before they are delivered to the customers on Saturday. ... It puts the consumer as close to the farmer as you can get, besides coming directly to the farm."

Though the bulk of the customers are from Cabarrus and Mecklenburg counties, regulars come from Rowan, Stanly and Union counties, and from as far away as Raleigh and South Carolina.

Patrons can choose from more than 150 products purchased in bulk from family-owned farms throughout Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties. Prices remain comparable to local grocers, but buying local has advantages, said Davis.

"We connect you with local farms in Cabarrus and surrounding North Carolina counties," said Davis. "We believe by purchasing from a local farmer there is accountability.... You know who is raising your food, who to talk with if you have questions; you know that the farmer is eating the same food that they are selling to you, and you're benefiting from purchasing as a group."

Available meats include 100-percent-grass-fed, grain-finished beef, pasture-raised pork and chicken. Livestock are raised with no hormones or antibiotics, and produce is grown without the use of pesticides

No dairy is offered yet, but soy-free eggs and organic animal feed are popular.

Brandee Callahan, 32, has lived in Huntersville for about two years and has ordered from GO Local for a year. She cowpools about every three months and supplements with smaller orders.

"I joined because I was looking for a healthier meat source for our family," said Callahan. "I feel good about my purchases because not only am I providing my family with a healthier diet, but also supporting local farms in the area."