Thank you for taking the time to read my words. I have been the Business Director for Carteret Local Food Network for a full year this week. In the last year, I've learned so much and I really wanted to share my experiences with you, our supporters, so that you know not only what good you do in our community, but how you have affected me personally, and my family.
First of all, thank you to everyone who has donated to our GlobalGiving campaign for our Veggie Van Mobile Market so far. If you're unfamiliar with what I'm talking about, I need to improve my marketing skills. :) Seriously, though, if you're not sure what I'm talking about, please click on the image below for GlobalGiving to be taken to our project page. It contains more information about why we're collecting donations throughout the month of December.
Carteret Local Food Network is focused on making a difference in Carteret county. Part of our mission is to increase food access and security. When I signed on as part of the team initially, I understood what those words meant, but not how they applied. Food access to me meant that an individual could access a store to purchase items. Food security meant that they were able to. Here's what I didn't know: there are people in Carteret county who cannot do these things. I've learned that not everyone has that opportunity. In implementing our Veggie Van program, we've uncovered a great need in our area for fresh produce in underserved areas of our largely rural community.
I've lived behind Garner Farms in Newport twice in my life, once as a middle schooler and again as an adult. I've driven by their farm stand and fields every day for more than 12 years altogether. I never once stopped to shop there, even as a single mom with two kids at home. I always went home, changed out of my work clothes, loaded the kids into the car and went back to Wal-Mart or Food Lion. From personal experience, I've considered it cheaper to purchase from the dollar menu at McDonald's than from a local farmers' market or farm stand. I've seen the difficulties associated with transportation in an area where public transportation does not exist. I've learned than only a small number of retailers (usually big box stores) accept SNAP/EBT benefits and often families are forced to eat produce that has been treated with pesticides and covered in wax to prevent bruising during long transits to make its way to our coast, often the end of the shipping line.
Recently, I've learned that purchasing produce directly from the farmer is usually less expensive. Items are not picked prior to optimal ripeness, treated to allow for shipping durability, and aren't usually several weeks old by the time they get here. The cost of produce doesn't factor in transportation, shipping, customs and import fees, pesticides or other treatments, or large scale farming overhead. I've seen firsthand the farmers who work full-time at another job and then come home to work their fields, clean their hydroponic trays, weed their gardens, and work until they're exhausted.
I've learned that agriculture is a labor of love.
Our local farmers don't plant and grow produce to make money. They do it because they are passionate about giving back to their communities, better health, sustainability, and the environment.
Twisted Willow Farm in Beaufort juggles children, full-time jobs, and a farm but will always meet us to supply our Veggie Van. Harlowe Custom Microgreens has a full-time job but also keeps extremely detailed notes on their growing practices, planting information, lighting, and fertilization to maintain their exemplary consistency among their produce. Grayzfarm works hard to maintain their hectic schedule and more than once, Chef Caroline has helped harvest the items for our CSA box or our Veggie Van in the wee hours of the morning prior to packing our boxes or setting up our Mobile Market tables. Garner Farms worries about how the new road construction in Newport will affect their fields while struggling with personal health issues. The Farm at Bogue struggles with growing pains, destructive weather, children, and setbacks in restaurant orders due to COVID-19. Have you seen Shenk Family Farm feeding chickens with a toddler on their hip? They make it look effortless.
While that list is certainly not comprehensive, it does give a good idea of what challenges our farmers face and still, every morning, they get up and head out to their fields to harvest their produce, feed their chickens, and share their goodness with our families. I, for one, am honored to have them at my table. I love it when we sit around a meal I've cooked and my children can refer to the farmers by name, talk about helping with a Crop Mob, and discern the difference between store bought eggs and Shenk Family Farm eggs, a head of iceberg from Wal-Mart v. a head of coral frill lettuce from The Farm at Bogue, or voluntarily sprinkle some sunflower micros from Harlowe over their salad without tears. I also love it when I have the time to visit a farmers' market and the farmers know me on sight and refer to me by name.
Carteret Local Food Network is proud to say that we have helped support every farmer we have worked with in 2020, from helping deliver their produce to buying from them to help distribute their produce from one end of Carteret county to the other. We firmly believe that setting up our Veggie Van Mobile Market during the week allows the farmers to move their produce at times other than weekend markets, especially as we reach the end of the traditional market season.
More than that, we help our community. It's been incredibly eye-opening to talk to members of our community who, like me, didn't realize that fresh, local produce was so affordable. Members of our community who struggle to find transportation any day of the week, but especially on the weekends when their rides may have other plans. I can't describe to you the feeling in my heart when some members realize that we take SNAP/EBT and they realize that they can afford to eat better, eat healthier, and give back to their community by supporting their local farmers as well.
This year, 2020, has been challenging. My big takeaway is this: every year is challenging. Every year will have tests that need to be overcome, moments of celebration, and sighs of relief. When we all work together for the good of our community, the mountains that we move can be immense.
I've also uncovered a bigger truth. The goodness and kindness and support that we send out has a ripple effect, even if we can't see it.
I hope you know that the $5 donation you make into our jar at a market or through a fundraiser is used to offset technological fees associated with our ability to take SNAP/EBT. It's used to purchase produce from a local farmer and it helps support their family. That $5 helps pay for the gas to get our Veggie Van from Beaufort to Cedar Point and back again. It helps us bring fresh vegetables to families who might never otherwise have had the option or confidence to try a kohlrabi.
We are often thanked for the good we do but I need the ripple effect to keep going. I need you, our supporters, to know that we couldn't do what we do without you. We depend on you to talk to your family, friends, and network about eating locally and supporting our local farmers. We rely on you to spread the word and our share our social media posts to help us have a larger impact and reach other demographics.
As we move into 2021, I promise to share more stories, more photos, and talk more about the good that you are helping us do in our community.
Do you have a story to share about your experiences with local food in our community? If so, please send it to Stacy at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to share your personal experiences as well.