This is part of a series of articles about a local food distribution program. — The Editor
A new food initiative could soon have Richmond County farmers providing fresh produce to local institutes like schools and hospitals.
The Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative is a commercial enterprise selling fresh food to households. Unlike a grocery store, you pre-order your food and pick it up at a Gathering Center. The direct connection allows for the farmers to be paid more while consumers pay the same. The mission is to satisfy our local food needs with locally grown and produced foods.
After three successful years of the cooperative operating between Richmond, Moore and Lee counties, Founder Fenton Wilkinson is attempting to take it to the next level. Whereas the cooperative first served private subscribers, the latest idea is to connect farmers to institutions who wish to be served local produce.
Fenton’s cooperative idea is a three-way mutually beneficial business plan that allows producers, cooperative staff and consumers to all have an equal share in ownership.
The producers feel the relationship could benefit their business immensely.
David Sherrill, owner of David’s Produce in Ellerbe, said he had great success with Sandhills Farm to Table.
“It’s helped,” said Sherrill. “We haven’t grown, per se, in numbers, but we haven’t had so much loss because we are able to get rid of more produce.”
Sherrill said he sells produce at the Moore County farmers markets, the farmers market in Rockingham and will begin selling produce in Wadesboro this season. Sherrill’s seasons are long and he grows greenhouse tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, onions, cabbage, turnips, squash, cucumbers, green beans, peas, eggplants, pepper and garlic to name a few.
Allowing the cooperative to grow into a larger, regional hub that facilitates produce to be packaged and delivered to area institutions like hospitals and schools is something Sherrill said would take off, although gradually.
Wilkinson said he met with several area farmers and “found a strong interest in a community that addresses these markets.”
“Local institutions add another market level for farmers, expanding the potential customer base, and is a market that can use more volume of product than most households can use,” said Richmond County Cooperative Extension Agent Paige Burns. “So farmers can sell more product to additional customers.”
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at email@example.com.