Building Support for Local Foods in Montgomery County With Kaitlyn Lamaster
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As the Horticulture Agent and Local Food Coordinator at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Montgomery County Center, Kaitlyn Lamaster covers local foods, consumer horticulture, commercial horticulture, natural resources and forestry, manages the Master Gardener program, and serves as the Pesticide Coordinator for the county. “My favorite part of this position is that I am able to bring education of the natural world to all demographics of people by working on multiple projects to help bring program areas together. From supporting the consumer and helping community members learn to grow fruits and vegetables to helping promote the purchase of local foods and even assisting producers with cultural problems they may find, I get to make a difference on all levels of fresh produce consumption.”
Montgomery County is a rural county in the South Central part of North Carolina with a total population of approximately 27,223 people. Accessible markets for local food producers and consumers is a challenge in the rural county. To combat this issue, multiple growers in the county started their own markets. These markets are located both on the growers’ property as well as off-site such as at neighborhood entrances and roadsides. To support these markets, Kaitlyn has learned about laws and taxation around roadside markets to help farmers follow requirements. More information about relevant policies can be found at the NC State Extension Farm Law website. To further expand awareness and grow customer bases for local foods and farms, Kaitlyn partners with her county Livestock Agent, Tracy Blake, to push farmers towards having more of an online presence and creating agritourism opportunities.
Focusing on relationships and partnerships has helped Kaitlyn develop her program. “It has brought new people into my life that I have formed friendships with and it has brought new ideas and opportunities to the table that I previously wouldn’t have had.” One area where this focus has paid off is in the planning of an initial “A Taste of Montgomery”, farm to table gathering that includes all aspects of agriculture in Montgomery County. This plan is being informed by a committee that includes County Tourism and Development, the community college Business and Industry Head, and a Montgomery County resident with a passion for getting things done. Producers are involved in the planning and have been able to learn and share ideas with each other. So far they have planned a four-course meal consisting of ingredients from local farms. Specialty products, such as herbal tea, bread, and special varieties of hot peppers are also included in the meal. To help with the event, the County received a Meat Suite grant to help offset the cost of meat. Additional funding came from the county tourism and development office. They expect to hold the event on November 12, 2022.
When asked about the future of local foods in North Carolina, Kaitlyn shared, “I think the future of local foods in North Carolina is bright. I feel that the number of people that seek out local food options will only continue to grow which will create more opportunities for small and local farms to provide fresh meats and produce. I have found that the consumer is becoming increasingly aware of the additional health benefits that come from eating fresh foods as well as the positive environmental and economical impacts that buying local has.” Some of Kaitlyn’s favorite recipes featuring local foods are Eggplant Parmesan and Homemade Marinara with fresh tomatoes.