Are you savoring the farm to table movement? Love farmer’s markets? Think about this: While you are shopping and dining, North Carolina is losing more than 100,000 acres of farmland a year to development.
It is rare that reading an interview inspires me to schedule a meeting. Like you, I already have enough of those on my calendar. But when Zack Wyatt was interviewed on WBTV about his vision for Carolina Farm Trust on a Friday morning early in July, I couldn’t resist. And as it turns out he wanted to talk to me, too.
Recently I’ve been working on a plan for a Food Innovation District to catalyze the development of food businesses for many reasons, but one of them is to increase the demand for local food in the Piedmont region. We consume more than a half-billion dollars in produce alone that we don’t grow here. But our farmers will not be able to increase their capacity without farmland.
And in addition to increasing capacity for existing farmers, we need new ones who use sustainable practices. But the cost of land is a barrier to entry. And year-to-year leases on land involve a great deal of risk. Who wants to invest in amendments to improve soil quality when your lease might not be renewed?
Zack wants to bridge that gap. Through Carolina Farm Trust his intention is to purchase farmland and lease it at cost to farmers who have a business plan to grow produce sustainably and raise pastured livestock. He’s eager to start now, which I can entirely appreciate. Because for every day that passes, more acreage that has been dedicated to food production is being purchased and developed into housing subdivisions. Zach grew up on a 200+ acre farm in Virginia that now no longer even resembles a farm.
The first farm Zack is working to help is Big Oak Farm in Cabarrus County, which is eyeing land in Lincolnton that would help expand their livestock operations. Zack needs the funding to purchase the land so he can lease it back to Mike and Dawn Smith. The property owners agreed recently to put the property under contract till the end of the year to give him time.
We’re all in this together. It is about the resilience of our community. It is about our food. When I last spoke with Zack he was putting in a day on Elizabeth Dover’s farm, enduring this heat right alongside her. Zack is in it for the long haul.
By Lynn Caldwell
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