“Local” was the hit of the party

I volunteered this year at the Buy Haywood booth during Asheville’s huge street festival, Bele Chere. Buy Haywood is a program funded by the Golden Leaf Foundation and sponsored by the Haywood County Economic Development Commission and the Southwestern N.C. Resource and Conservation Development Association. The program’s purpose is to develop a well-known brand name for agricultural-related products and encourage citizens to buy these local products—ultimately encouraging their production by providing a sustainable income for producers. This effort also includes state and local agencies, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, and the Bethel Rural Community Organization (see the Web site: buyhaywood.com).

To be honest, I first questioned volunteering my time to promote fresh vegetables and nursery products at a street festival. I questioned whether attendees looking for entertainment and a party atmosphere would even be interested in the notion of sustainability. I wondered if they would be willing to stop by a booth surrounded by beautiful plants supplied by a local nursery, or to sample fresh tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers meticulously grown in Haywood County.

Boy, did I get an education! I am an unabashed farm promoter, but the hundreds of folks I talked to put me to shame. They wanted to know where they could buy these products. They shouted their desire to purchase food from areas they knew. They never hesitated to sample the fresh tomatoes; never once questioned the safety of the crisp, flavorful cucumbers. They marveled at the size and flavor of the thick-walled, luscious bell peppers that the river valley in Haywood produces.

Nearly to a person, each wanted to know how they could help get these products in their retail stores. Most wanted to help keep farmers on the land. I heard stories of their childhood, their gardens, farms that had disappeared.

This little booth at Bele Chere and all the wonderful stories have inspired me to again think programs like Buy Haywood can make a difference. With the cost of fuel as it is, the issue of food safety in question, the knowledge that fresh is important, I believe the word is getting out. I think with the help of folks like I met in downtown Asheville—some from the region, some from other states—the farm economy can be improved and become sustainable again. And after all, farmland preservation depends on being economically viable.

Right now fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers are being picked and packed in Haywood and surrounding counties. Beautiful greenhouse and nursery plants are ready for purchase. In the past, these premium products have been sold hundreds of miles away with the only competition being how cheap someone could buy them. We can all help see that most of these farm products are purchased locally, and feel good about spending our money here.

Many of us often say, “Ask your retailer to buy local products—you will be glad you did!” After this positive experience at Bele Chere, it seems I was preaching to the choir!

— Bill Yarborough
Bethel area in Haywood County

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