Embracing Change: Building Local Food Systems With Greg Traywick
Greg Traywick has served as County Extension Director in Cleveland County since 1992. In addition to his administrative responsibilities, Greg’s program areas include livestock, pesticide education, community development, and local foods. He particularly enjoys the interface between local foods and community development, believing that a robust local food system can function as a major contributor to the economy, health, and social fabric of the local community.
Cleveland County, located halfway between Charlotte and Asheville, is predominantly rural. Production agriculture remains the county’s biggest industry, contributing $140 million to the local economy each year. Farmers largely raise traditional commodities, including poultry, beef cattle, and row crops. Many farmers are beginning to capitalize on the region’s growing demand for local foods. Acreage of high-value specialty crops like blackberries, strawberries, muscadines, malting barley, and distillers grains are increasing. Increasingly, livestock producers are finishing animals on the farm for direct-to-consumer sales. The local foods landscape is also attracting new and beginning farmers, several of which are exploring organic production systems and value-added manufacturing opportunities. These trends challenge Greg and the Cleveland County staff to tailor their programs and technical support to a diverse audience of growers.
One such challenge was establishing a farmers market. Greg was instrumental in creating Foothills Farmers’ Market, which has grown tremendously since its inception in 2009. To increase traffic to the market, Greg was key in creating a space where the market could be held. He led fundraising efforts for construction of a $1.8 million market pavilion in 2015, drawing on a blended stream of funding from federal and state grants, private and corporate foundations, commodity and farmer organizations, and municipal government.
He works closely with the market’s non-profit board of directors and manager, guiding the market’s continued growth and development. The organization’s fourth USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant, received in 2019, launches implementation of a comprehensive strategic business plan. This plan, developed in partnership with a firm specializing in consulting for nonprofits, contains a detailed scope of work aimed at realigning market governance and business operations. The plan’s goals are to stabilize organizational leadership, reduce burnout and turnover of market management, and foster purposeful collaborations with community stakeholders. Current activities include repositioning the market’s brand, modernizing marketing and promotions efforts, increasing engagement with affinity groups, and leveraging additional human and financial resources. The grant-funded project creates new income opportunities for farmers by bolstering agritourism and by financing a feasibility study on a shared-use commercial kitchen to support manufacture of value-added food products for direct sale. Infrastructure improvements at the market pavilion will improve on-site conditions for both vendors and shoppers, facilitate enhanced market day food demonstrations, and address current food safety concerns. Cleveland County has been proactive and successful in procuring grants to bolster the local food system, and other Cooperative Extension Centers could do likewise.
COVID-19 has impacted Greg’s local food program by delaying implementation of grant-funded projects and activities, altering farmers’ market operations, limiting face-to-face training sessions and planning meetings, and reducing opportunities for interdisciplinary agent collaboration. He has used some of this downtime to make additional farm visits to assist growers with decision-making around farm business planning, enterprise expansion and diversification, infrastructure development, marketing, and resource development.
Greg encourages other local food coordinators to try to build strong collaborations and community support around their Extension programs and unique local food systems. All Extension program areas (agriculture, family & consumer sciences, and 4-H) can contribute, as can our affiliated volunteer organizations including Extension & Community Association and Extension Master Gardener℠ volunteers. Partnerships with local government, economic development, health care providers, the health & fitness community, and self-identified foodies are instrumental in building momentum of the local food movement.
North Carolina is positioned for continued expansion of its local food system, fueled by steady population growth, robust tourism, and a reasonably strong economy. NC State University plays a vital and visible role in fostering this growth through relevant research, teaching, and Extension programs.
Greg’s Favorite Local Foods:
Greg enjoys shopping from local farmers, and is surprised to learn how his taste buds are changing. Formerly averse to raw tomatoes and greens, he now loves them. He favors rather simple dishes over complex recipes…things he can cook himself. A favorite meal would be something like locally-sourced London broil, sautéed kale with fresh garlic and hot pepper, and a baked sweet potato.