Thank YOU Farmers!!

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Each year, the Cooperative Extension Service at N.C. A&T State University celebrates the crucial role of small farmers in North Carolina’s $91.8 billion agriculture sector with Small Farms Week. This week we salute the small farmers of Granville County for their contributions. Small farmers are not only important because they are the foundation to our food and agriculture system, but they also represent and hold firm the tradition and value of hard work. Farmers faced some additional challenges this past year, navigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through it all, farmers continue to strengthen our community economy by employing 1000s of people each year. As an organization, we work closely with our local farmers by providing educational programs that deliver the most up-to-date information. Extension Agents continue collaborating with various agencies to provide farmers required certifications including pesticide certifications and GAP training. Additionally, for the past several months we have worked to distribute PPE equipment for our local farmworkers. In honor of Small Farms Week, Cooperative Extension has planned some wonderful activities to celebrate the great work of our farmers. Here at N.C. Cooperative Extension in Granville County, we would like to thank all of the farmers in the community. We recognize that you are the backbone of the agriculture system and we honor you for the great service you provide.

Where would you be without North Carolina Agriculture? Potentially unfed and unclothed. Where would you be without North Carolina Agribusiness, which includes forestry? Add to the above list, unsheltered. For the most part, the American people have been blessed with an abundance of delicious, safe, wholesome, and nutritious food available to us. Additionally, there is the luxury of many options when it comes to where and how that food is produced. However, about this time last year, when the country was just beginning to live with the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic and all that it entailed, grocery store shelves were no longer overflowing with some of those items. That perceived shortage (and it really was a supply chain issue, not a true shortage) may have triggered in people the realization that we are truly fortunate to have the efficient and economical food system that we have in this country. And the food we eat does not just magically appear at our favorite grocery store. Someone toiled long and hard to get those products on those shelves so we could put them in our pantry.

March 21-27, 2021 is Small Farms Week, a time to recognize the important contributions that small farms make to their communities in multiple ways. Numbers from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture, indicate that Granville County has just shy of 4200 farmers (owners, operators, tenants) that are operating over 2700 farms tending 60,000 acres in cropland. Major crops include soybeans, tobacco, grass (pasture and hay), wheat, corn, sweet potatoes, and peppers. However, many other crops, including fruits and vegetables, are produced as well. Cattle and hogs make up the most significant numbers of livestock raised in Granville County; but other livestock, including horses and chickens, are raised here also. In addition, to the various food and fiber products agriculture provides to individuals, Granville County’s agricultural industry infuses just shy of $24.5 million dollars into the local economy. That’s money that is spent at other Granville County businesses; pays salaries; provides tourism opportunities and contributes to taxes and public services within the county. Furthermore, agriculture benefits the environment by protecting natural resources, such as soil, water, and air, and sequestering carbon through cover crop plantings and permanent grass plantings.

Granville County has a long and rich agricultural history providing some of the above-mentioned benefits. However, times have changed forcing many agricultural producers to change how and what they grow in order to stay in the industry they love. Tobacco, although still a very important crop economically, is not grown on as many acres as it once was. Many of those farmers have transitioned to crops like vegetables and fruits, which may be grown in similar ways and/or growing conditions or using some of the same equipment. Deborah Brogden, a grower of strawberries and many other fruits and vegetables, commented that the biggest change she has seen in farming has been the diversification of crops grown, but appreciates that change because it has afforded her a larger role in her community as a supplier of fresh produce and allowed her to develop personal relationships with customers.

Many in the general public understand the long hours that go into being a farmer, and most farmers know that commitment is required before they ever sign up for this occupation. Unfortunately, many other factors can make farming a difficult way to make a living. Both Michael Boyd, of Primrose Farms in the Stem area who produces strawberries and blackberries, along with Charles Currin, of Currin’s Dairy outside of Oxford, commented that the labor situation becomes more of an issue every year. Typically, the work itself is not difficult, but it is long and confining and finding individuals to do those tasks can be a challenge. Additionally, regulations, paperwork, and record-keeping can be burdensome, according to both Forest Blackwell, a hog producer in the northern part of the county, and Jason Dixon, Dixon and Son’s Farm which produces a variety of fruits and vegetables in the Oxford area. In addition to these issues, many farmers have had to deal with profits being squeezed from both sides – input costs have increased exponentially while prices paid for products produced have increased only slightly. An example is the cost of a piece of equipment has increased 520% from 1983 until now, while in that same timeframe, the price paid for the product sold has only increased 10%. Those types of situations make it difficult to remain in farming.

Although long hours, frustrating regulations, depressed prices, and labor issues can make farming difficult, small farmers enjoy the work, and most consider this occupation a lifestyle as much as a business. They are proud of what they do, what they produce, how they take care of the land and animals, and how they contribute to their community. Many have served or continue to serve on boards and/or committees for organizations or churches. Furthermore, the food they produce contributes to the health and well-being of their local communities, making these farmers a vital part of the community.

Small farms are businesses, and these farmers make a living and provide for their families with this occupation. However, for most, it is more than just a business. Many grew up on a farm and chose to come back to that way of life, even knowing that there would be many challenges ahead for them. The success of seeing plants and animals grow and thrive keep these farmers doing what they are doing which allows you, the consumer, to enjoy the fruits of their labors. When asked if farming was a business or a lifestyle, Currin replied “if you didn’t love the farm, you wouldn’t do the business.”  That statement says it all.

So, how can you find your local Granville County farmers? Where can you purchase these delicious products they have produced? The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has a couple of websites to help with that.

NC Farm Fresh is a directory of pick-your-own farms, roadside farm markets, and farmers markets throughout North Carolina. It is designed to help the consumer, find the freshest locally grown fruits, vegetables, Christmas trees, ornamental plants, flowers, and herbs.

Got to Be NC  promotes North Carolina agricultural products and goods with the mission to put local ingredients and products on store shelves, dining tables, and restaurant menus throughout the community.

MeatSuite is a website designed to help consumers in North Carolina (and New York) find locally produced, high-quality meats in bulk.

Finally, the Visit NCFarms app, available to download on both Apple and Android devices, gives you the opportunity to look for farmer’s markets, farms, roadside stands, and agritourism sites from your phone while you’re out and about.

Go find some of these farms, purchase their products, support their decision to feed and clothe you. Show your appreciation for their hard work by spending your dollars on their products. And celebrate the contributions farmers make in many ways during Small Farms Week.