Franklin County’s Local Food Legend, Martha Mobley
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To say Martha Mobley is a well-connected queen of the Franklin County food system would be an understatement. She has been involved in farming operations and local foods since birth, growing up on a 1,000 acre livestock operation that was started by her grandfather in the early 1900s. Currently, she is the Franklin County Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in livestock and beekeeping, and has been involved with a number of other food-related endeavors: founder and manager of Meadow Lane Farm, Franklin County Beekeepers Association and Women in Agriculture liaison, Durham Farmers’ Market board member, and early promoter of the local foods movement in North Carolina.
Franklin County Local Food Landscape
Martha describes Franklin County as ever-changing; more and more people are making Franklin their new home and highways are expanding. “I see more interest in buying local, especially local foods,” said Martha. Phone applications like Visit NCFarms are helping with the process of new customers locating farms that grow and sell local food. However, internet access continues to be a major challenge in the county, specifically for the rural northeastern section.
Primary Programs, Projects & Events
Martha’s Extension Local Food programming began in the mid-2000s when Martha and several other Agents began noticing more interest in local food. During this time, they organized a local food festival that showcased local foods from Franklin County and collaborations between regional chefs and local farmers. They also held meetings with producers that specialized in livestock and crops to discuss subjects such as grass-fed versus natural versus conventional meats. This event was eventually dubbed Franklin County’s Local Food Festival and Farm Tour, lasting for approximately six years.
As an Extension Agent, Martha has enjoyed and continues to enjoy coordinating various events and programs for people with a range of expertise from seasoned farmers to children that are just embarking on their local food journey. One of her favorite projects was conducting Junior Chef Camps, a youth camp that involved visits to Franklin County farms and farmers’ markets, where they bought products then cooked with those ingredients to create a delicious, healthy meal. At the end of the week, the students traveled to a restaurant to witness behind-the-scenes action with a chef. This trip was sometimes replaced by a visit to the Governor’s Mansion and a tour of an urban garden. “Everyone enjoyed these camps!” Martha shared.
Over 18 years ago, Martha became involved with the Successful Small Farms Opportunities Conference. This conference is a large networking event with an emphasis on local foods. Martha began leading the conference 15 years ago and continues to lead it. She has assistance from Specialized Advisory Committees, a team of volunteers and co-workers from the region that help with event logistics. Typically, there are 10 educational sessions with subjects such as how to grow certain crops, how to market, or how to add value to a certain meat or vegetable. It last occurred in February 2020 and has plans to reinstate in 2022. It will be held the last Saturday of February at Louisburg College in Louisburg, NC. The conference will have a new name and focus, Successful Women in Agriculture.
More recently, Martha collaborated with the Town of Louisburg to submit a grant that would support the revitalization of the Town’s old train depot station. They plan to remodel the space into a local food hub for catering, food trucks and more.
As a farm manager, Martha conducts the annual fundraising event, Dinner in the Meadow at her farm, Meadow Lane Farm. After the passing of her mother and husband, she decided to create this event to honor them and their love of food. All proceeds go towards a scholarship for youth and a $5,000 grant for a small-scale farmer in the area.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, Martha has discovered a few things that have been helpful for the producers she works with and for herself as a farm manager. She has found that teaching farmers how to adapt to new technology for pre-orders and learning how to develop mailing lists are crucial steps in adapting to pandemic changes. She has also found value in the networks that have been established due to the pandemic like the Local Food newsletter. “[They] are important with the sharing of information to keep up to date on all the important issues,” said Martha.
Martha recommends other Local Food Coordinators to network with state agencies like NCDA&CS that are rich in resources. Their money and expertise can take Extension programs to the next level. She believes the future of local food in North Carolina is bright. “Due to a growing consumer base that is more health conscious, I think the local food will continue to grow and thrive,” Martha added.
Martha’s favorite place to purchase local food is at any farmers’ market. You can find her selling her farm goods at the Durham Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings throughout the year.