The objective of the AGInnovation Center is to help farms transition from growing tobacco to fruit and vegetable production, and distribute those crops to profitable local and statewide markets.
The SAIC is in Richmond County, at the intersection of N.C. 73 and N.C. 220, the heart of tobacco country which now has farmers engage to shift away from what was a profitable and growing crop to turning their farmland into valuable resources for other foods.
“The food hub is a tool for a multi-county approach to sustainable farm produce distribution,” said Pat Corso, executive director of Partners in Progress told The Pilot. “It is exciting. This is something that started four years ago, and it has come to fruition”.
The Pilot reports that in Moore County, agriculture makes up 20 percent of the local economy. The region’s climate and soils are well-suited for small, diverse operations, and the surge in demand over the last decade for locally produced foods has opened new doors. Farmers markets, roadside stands and subscription programs have grown along with the public’s interest; however, these stand-alone revenue sources can be labor-intensive and do not provide enough income to balance the books.
Enter the Sandhills AGInnovation Center, which will serve as a central collector of local produce and processing facility for agricultural products.
“A lot of distributors want to buy from small- and medium-size farms, and this just makes it easy for them to come to one place. The quality will be good, and we can take on some of the processing that would be hard for farmers to do at their own farms,” they said.
But there is an even more important offering: the SAIC offers another sales venue that can bolster any existing marketing efforts local farmers may be engaged in. And that may well point to unique success as they point out that “The food hub will have flexibility and can evolve in those areas most needed in our community. We are completely open to whatever support is needed for our farmers.”
Think of the model as being similar to food incubators for start up food brands, but this one is for farmers offering them a holistic approach and offerings – from processing, to certifications, to food safety, to renting equipment by the hour, to helping them market.
Davon Goodwin, is SAIC’s manager who became involved in farming after he was injured while serving in Afghanistan. With a degree in biology and botany, he says it's a good fit.
“Our model for a food hub is very different than others. It is a new concept, we don’t buy the product. We have to have a market for the product before it comes here: the relationship between the buyer and farmer is already established. We are a third party at the food hub to help foster those relationships.” A great program to not only help existing farmers but can empower others to join this much needed profession by making it easier for them to succeed.