Local farmers get fresh ideas

Published 4:54 pm Sunday, August 17, 2008

By Staff
Program could help consumers and farmers
Staff Writer
Local produce farmers are looking for community support for a program bearing the community’s name.
The program, Community Supported Agriculture, is an alternative farming system used primarily in urban communities throughout North Carolina and the nation. In essence, the system is designed to help produce farmers maintain their seasonal farming operations and provide consumers with the freshest of fruits and vegetables every week at a reasonable price.
Consumers interested in becoming members of the program must pay for a share of the farm’s crop in advance of the growing season. Similar to investors of any business listed on the stock exchange, members of the program become share holders of the farm. As share holders, members are subject to the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Web Site.
Typically, the reward for each member’s risk is a weekly share of the farm’s bounty during the growing season. Members are usually offered a variety of vegetables and fruits to choose from each week, and can either pick up a box of produce from a designated site or have it delivered.
Geographically, the closest farm to offer the alternative farming system is Jones Farm in Snow Hill. The farm offered the program for 15 weeks from April 26 to early August this year. Like most farms using the program, Jones Farm provided three produce pick-up sites each week for members in the Triangle-area.
Members could pick up their shares in Chapel Hill, every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Durham, every Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Raleigh, every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon during the season.
Full season share prices for Jones Farm were $150 per person, $300 per couple and $390 per family.
The farm’s Web site promises that “most of our vegetables are delivered to you within eight to 36 hours of being harvested.”
Beaufort County Agriculture Extension Agent Gaylon Ambrose has received inquires from county residents about the program and the possibility of bringing it to produce farms in the region, but explained that the system works a lot better in urbanized areas.
Not surprising to Ambrose, there are over a half-dozen produce farms serving the Triangle-area through the program, including Jones Farm.
He believes that the program will struggle to find support in Beaufort County because of its low population density, but also because of the county’s agricultural history.
In contrast to produce farmers, “Beaufort County farmers have a history of being tobacco farmers, green farmers,” Ambrose said.
According to the extension agent, commodity agriculture (corn, cotton, wheat and soybean crops), currently makes up “99 percent plus” of the agriculture business in the county.
The success of commodity agriculture in the county can be traced back to the historical success of tobacco farming in the region, Ambrose said.
Tobacco, as well as other commodity crops, generate a lot of revenue from a few acres of land, he said.
Another reason for the popularity of commodity crops as compared to produce crops is their consistent supply and demand.
Commodity crops are not as subject to the trials and tribulations of “boom and bust” farming because there will always be market demand for the product.
Although Ambrose is skeptical that the program will have success, it may gain popularity amid rising gas prices.
Sean Hardy, co-owner of Southside Strawberry Farm in Chocowinity, said customers have complained about the monetary strain of driving out to the farm.
The farm offers a wide variety of produce, but only sells its products on the farm and at Downtown Washington on the Waterfront’s Saturday Market through the growing season.
Hardy, a former tobacco farmer, said he tries to keep his marketing options open.
Hardy’s problem with the program is that their hasn’t been enough consumer demand to start it.
According to Hardy, sales at the weekly Saturday Market have grown this season, possibly pointing at a bright future for Community Supported Agriculture.
Southside has been selling produce at Saturday Market for almost four years, but has never achieved a sales volume as great as this year.
He thinks that the market for such a program is there, but wants more encouragement from county residents.
He believes that if locals were better informed, than the demand could be higher.