FROM THE COMMUNITY FOUNDATION OF WNC
There are many challenges facing small farmers across Western North Carolina. A strong alliance between Mitchell and Yancey counties will address several of these by creating a food hub for the region that will provide a shared aggregation facility, expanded access to customers, joint marketing and now, through a $25,000 grant from The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, rental access to key field equipment necessary for small or transitioning farmers.
Part of a comprehensive two-county plan to support farmers through a leased post-harvest facility, TRACTOR (the Toe River Aggregation Center and Training Organization Regional) aims to increase sales and economic opportunity for farmers. The project will coordinate the aggregation, distribution and marketing of locally grown fruits and vegetables from small producers. The facility, to be located in Burnsville, is scheduled to open in May and will offer processing, packaging and distribution as well as GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) training and technical assistance.
“The TRACTOR project meets many of the goals of our Food and Farming strategy and is a great example of how a focused approach can produce results,” said CFWNC President Elizabeth Brazas. “We invested time in understanding the issue and collaborated with engaged stakeholders to help move this project from concept to realization. We worked in partnership with our affiliates, the Yancey Foundation and the Foundation for Mitchell County, and together we are pleased to provide this funding.”
CFWNC’s funding will allow the purchase of shared field equipment to be used by farmers in Mitchell and Yancey counties for the 2012 growing season. Vegetable and fruit production requires specialized machinery, needed once or twice a year, representing a cost-prohibitive investment for a small farm. It is anticipated that a second set of equipment will be purchased next year to enable each county’s Cooperative Extension Office to assist new and transitioning farmers.
“The future of farming in rural counties like Mitchell and Yancey depends on the farmers’ ability to remain profitable in a changing marketplace,” said CFWNC Program Officer Tim Richards. “In vetting this project, we were impressed with the strong multi-level collaboration and the cross county partnerships. A great deal of work has gone into TRACTOR that will help to revitalize a sustainable local food system in this part of Western North Carolina.”
The TRACTOR project has been in development for the past few years. A feasibility study in 2011 confirmed that there is sufficient demand from farmers and broad support from the community. Working with both counties will achieve economies of scale to meet buying needs of more retailers and institutions, consolidate quality control and technical assistance and ensure that efforts are not duplicated.
In laying the groundwork for TRACTOR, Cooperative Extension collaborators Jeff Vance of Mitchell County and Tres Magner of Yancey County brought together funders whose collective support is crucial. Yancey County and the Town of Burnsville have committed to covering leasing and utility costs for the first year. The renovation of the building, technical assistance and the purchase of equipment for refrigeration, freezing, storage and washing was funded by a $68,000 Specialty Block Grant from the State of North Carolina. Other support includes $10,000 from the NC Small Town Economic Prosperity Program (STEP) and some smaller local grants. Applications are pending with the Golden Leaf and Z. Smith Reynolds foundations for other start-up expenses.
A detailed business plan is being developed that forecasts the food hub facility and aggregate marketing services becoming self-supporting in two to three years.
In 2011, The Community Foundation adopted a new strategic plan that focuses discretionary resources on People in Need, Early Childhood Development, Food and Farming and Preserving Natural and Cultural Resources.
The Community Foundation is a nonprofit serving eighteen counties in Western North Carolina. The Foundation is a permanent regional resource that facilitates more than $8 million in charitable giving annually. CFWNC inspires philanthropy and mobilizes resources to enrich lives and communities in Western North Carolina. More information can be found at www.cfwnc.org.