For the last month, I have been working on grants that in my opinion can lead to opportunity and even prosperity for rural Stokes County. If successful, these grants will provide funding to create a replicable system that allows four local, regional food systems to create economies of scale and logistic capabilities that will allow them to better compete with a huge, government subsidized food system (.62 of each dollar of food income is derived from government subsidizes.) This is a system that is based on low energy costs (just saw and article that projected gas above $3/gal by Christmas, not exactly cheap)and mass production of food stuffs. To help make my point, here is a link to a very interesting video. This is an eleven year old young man that speaks volumes: http://www.commondreams.org/video/2010/09/29-2
If we are successful, food can be produced locally and sold to a large and rapidly growing population across the Piedmont of North Carolina. This can lead to jobs and help keep more of our land in crop production. Food can be harvested and in your home within 24-48 hours. You can actually know the farmers that are growing it, where it is being grown and when it left the field. This is quite different than the 2 weeks+ that we currently see. There are many details to be worked out, we need more farmers, we need more variety, we need processing facilities for overflow, we need to expand our growing season and much more.
The second grant addresses another need. The need to add new farmers and help our youth procure a future. In Stokes County, the average age of our farmers is 58. They show an average net income of $3,000/yr. It isn't hard to understand why our children are leaving to receive an education and not coming home. I gave seerious thought to having a career in farming as I grew up. I just couldn't make the numbers work. We hope to create an educational facility in Stokes County that will allow our youth and displaced workers to learn sustainable, intensive agricultural practices that can mean a reasonable wage for their efforts. It will include profit models and plans for multiple income streams, using every available sq ft of land to produce income. This plan plays to two strengths we already have in our county: a strong farming heritage and available land.
This is not an answer to all our problems but I think it is a start. If we play to our strengths, create small businesses, called farms it becomes one step of many. Our Economic Development Commission's plan of work depends on paying attention to our local businesses, helping create new ones and building an economy that is sustainable for the long term. The local food program has a chance to be an important tool in our arsenal. Wish us luck!