This adventure started for me at the beginning of the year. I got laid off from my job, a new start-up breaking into the wonderful world of government contracting. As with most people who get laid off, time suddenly slows down, the blinders come off and the reevaluation of your life starts to begin.
I grew up in a farming community. I loved and hated it. We had a pretty large garden, butchered a few hogs, got our eggs from our own chickens. My dad hunted and we got beef from the neighbors’ cattle farms. This is not to say we didn’t go to the grocery store, but when we did, it was to supplement what we did at home. I have fond memories of how I grew up and the only part I truly didn’t like as a kid was the work but those memories fade and only the good ones remain.
As a father of five, I struggle with now living in a development in suburbia. My kids never have to go far to find a friend to play with, the chores are limited to a few rooms and it seems like there is always something to do. But there is something missing.
You learn a lot living in a farm community: about life and death, what hard work looks like, how to problem solve, how to best utilize limited resources, how important community is.
I never envisioned being involved in a nonprofit let alone starting one. I knew that if I ever was to be affiliated, it would have to be about a great cause that I knew a lot about and could actually make change. One thing that I knew from the very beginning was that we would have to be different from other organizations. After much consideration, the Carolina Farm Trust was born.
Our mission is to protect farmland and foster an ecosystem of sustainable farming. We are not an advocacy group, we are not a policy group, nor are we focused on legislation change. We are focused on helping our small agriculture community in today’s environment. However, we will advocate and effect policy and legislation change by our actions.
We hear of a lot of environmental problems that we face every day. I think it is also safe to say we do not hear a lot of solutions to those problems. Carolina Farm Trust is a solution-based organization. We know the problems. Our farmers are rapidly aging to retirement and big agriculture and factory farms are growing and have a stranglehold on our food system. It takes a quick Google search to open your eyes on what factory farms are doing to our environment and also how it is treating animals.
One company to discuss is Smithfield. They operate in North Carolina and are now owned by a Chinese conglomerate. Look into it and make your own conclusions, but I will say that I will never buy a Smithfield product again. It is very alarming to me that a few major conglomerates control what we need to survive. Why are we buying produce from California, Mexico and around the world when we can buy it down the street? Why are we buying pork, beef and poultry from all over the country when we raise it all here in the Carolinas? The answer is access.
Yes, we can go to farmers markets or sign up for CSAs but we need to be able to find produce, beef, pork, and poultry grown and raised in the Carolinas at our grocery stores. Not as a novelty or a token effort in a “Buy Local” marketing campaign. With all the label confusion and legislation to keep information from us it is imperative that we take control of our choices. We all have choices and it is important to know where your food comes from. Ask. If you are comfortable with the answer being a factory farm that is destroying the environment and putting those that live around it at risk, that is your choice. If you would rather buy produce from 3,000 miles away than right here in the Carolinas that is your choice. The food movement is getting stronger every day, but we need to support it from a grassroots level.
It is easy to get on a soap box on these issues but where is the change and where are the solutions? There are wonderful nonprofits and policy groups out there fighting every day to educate us and trying to change legislation to protect us. My belief is that they will fail on their own. One thing I do know is that if we want effective change then we have to get out there and compete in the market.
We need to think like the conglomerates and work together with advocacy and policy groups to create a regional approach on how to feed ourselves. “Farm to Table” restaurants are popping up everywhere, farmers markets are growing, establishments like Earl’s Grocery in Elizabeth are opening up. The market is telling us that we care where are food comes from. We need to keep the momentum going and that’s what we intend to do with Carolina Farm Trust.
We want to first and foremost provide land access to the Carolina farming community. We also want to help new farmers get started. We will work with local community banks and back farm loans, or provide funding directly. Each tract of land we buy will have a focus of being sustainable from an energy and water standpoint. We will give access to all of our tracts to academia so they can work with farmers on researching best practices and new ways of farming. We also want to work with existing nonprofits and help existing farmers. Whether it’s helping build a barn, getting a tractor fixed, or help with land infrastructure we will be there. We as an organization want to stay lean and small to make sure the money we raise gets into the dirt and gives people the opportunity to create things with it. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Carolina Farmers and get them what they need to succeed.
Our current status is that we have just completed a fully-executed contract on 40 acres in Lincolnton. The sellers have been kind and very gracious to give us to the end of the year to raise the money to purchase the property. Once purchased, we will then immediately lease the property to Big Oak Farm out of Kannapolis to support their expansion. This is not about just a piece of land: it is about growing a farm, it is an educational opportunity, it is open to the research community, it is true economic development, and most importantly, it is in investment in the Carolina region.
We need your help. We have an event this fall called Carolina Jubilee that will help us raise money.
This inaugural event will celebrate Carolina farmers and all North Carolina- and South Carolina-operated companies and organizations focused on sourcing their supply chains in the Carolinas. We want businesses that support our mission to get behind us because we believe in you.
If you are vendor that is owned and operated in the Carolinas and want to be a part of Carolina Jubilee, please contact us. This is your opportunity to get a piece of the action of supporting local on a grand and long term level. Show the Carolina region that we just don’t want to be involved in the food movement but that we ARE the movement.