Local Food Agents Gather for Learning & Sharing

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sheep at Montgomery sheep farmOn Friday, March 24th, the Local Food Program Team gathered for their bi-annual meeting at Montgomery Sheep Farm in Biscoe, NC. During the visit, the owner of the farm led us on a tour where we learned about different revenue streams that he said are vital to the farm’s success. On a 200 acre property, the farm is home to over 500 sheep, as well as turkeys, horses, chickens, farm dogs and cats, and even a few peacocks that we learned help keep the mice out of the barn! Their sheep herd is “maintained by Sun Raised Farms, which uses sheep to sustainably maintain the grounds of solar farms across the Southeast”.

The farm also houses over 100,000 solar panels and in 2018, they decided to take the farm property “entirely off grid to demonstrate the feasibility of renewable energy and micro-grid technology. Since commissioning the system, Montgomery Sheep Farm has produced 99% of its own energy.” In addition to the farming aspects, they also operate a bed and breakfast, host farm to table dinners and other events, and “serve as a demonstration research site for those interested in sustainable agriculture and off-grid living.” LFPT members touring sheep and solar farmAfter our tour of the farm it was time to do a little work before lunch! We enjoyed the sunshine and warm weather on the porch while we shared agent and program updates as well as updates from each of the program team workgroups. This team really puts out some awesome work!

LFPT meeting at sheep farm

 Agent Updates:

  • April Vigardt, Catawba County Agriculture and Local Foods Agent is hosting a series of Local Foods Cooking Classes in Newton and Hickory where participants can learn fun and interesting ways to prepare fresh, local produce while also supporting local farmers. Read more about the class and what dates it will be offered. April also shared about the annual, weeklong “Eat, Drink, Be Local” celebration coming up in June in Catawba County. The week includes farm tours, cooking classes, gardening workshops, and ends with a Farm Feast at Raising Roots Farm. Lastly, April shared that she piloted one module from the Small Farm Bootcamp and is waiting on feedback to decide how to move forward.
  • Meredith Favre, Lee County Local Foods Coordinator, shared about a Regional Small Farm Bootcamp where 9 counties were represented. They completed 8 modules, once/week from 10a-2p on Saturdays, and supplemented farm tours. They really enjoyed this format and pilot and have garnered a lot of interest to do it again in the future and may incorporate livestock and flowers.
  • Hannah Dankbar, Local Food Program Manager, shared that there are 4 existing livestock modules in the Small Farm Bootcamp thanks to NC Choices. The Small Farm Bootcamp will be available statewide for Agents this fall.

Workgroup Updates:

  • Growing Farm Capacity:
    • There is a new Farm Planning Extension website that was created to provide tools and resources to help new and experienced farmers best manage their business and property. Topics addressed include managing land and water, business development, taxes, liability and insurance, regulations, certifications and marketing. The workgroup is excited about this new site and is hopeful that it will help grow new audiences! 
  • Farm to ECE:
    • The workgroup has held four Farm to ECE trainings across the state where over 130 participants and 37 Extension Agents attended. They have three new counties interested in adding Farm to ECE programs. The Farm to ECE guide has been completed and is printed! It is very extensive and has a lot of great information for agents looking to incorporate Farm to ECE in their counties. 
  • Farm to School:
    • The workgroup is still focusing on their CALs Online Academy training which will incorporate 8-9 modules on Farm to School topics such as how to get started with a school garden, garden design, planning process, field trips, and more! They plan to complete an Intro to Farm to School pilot in May or June and they are hoping to get good representation across the state. 
    • The workgroup also shared about some exciting new funding opportunities for Farm to School work. The USDA has given NCDA $5.6 million that can only be spent by schools on local food with a priority on socially disadvantaged farmers. This is a great opportunity for farmers to build a relationship with schools and the NCDA Farm to School Program. The workgroup is hosting a webinar on April 11th on “How to Sell to K-12 Schools”.
  • Economic Impacts of Local Food Systems:
    • The workgroup is also working on a new project with NC Farm Link to complete an Incubator Farm Case Study. They are interviewing Incubator Farms across the state and hope to learn more about their experiences and operations to create a resource guide for agents to share out with community members interested in starting their own incubator farm. 
    • This workgroup is seeking opportunities to share curricula with new agents. Examples include the Organic Business Planning and Agritourism Development curricula.
    • The workgroup shared about A Government Guide on Building Local Food Economies which focuses on NC examples of local and regional governments and community advocates creating innovative local food economies. The guide connects planners, economic developers, and other local government officials and administrators with resources for increasing the development of local food economies. 
    • The workgroup hosted a series of Land Summits which educates landowning and farming constituents on matters that affect their land use. Workshops in the series focus on County Land Regulations, Protecting Your Farm and Forestland, and the Business of Agriculture. 
  • Local Food Preparation:
    • The workgroup is currently working on seasonal newsletters to be distributed to agents. 
    • They completed more recipe testing at the end of 2022 and plan to add new recipes to their Local Food Demonstration Kit & Recipe Cards
  • Food Security:
    • The workgroup is hosting a workshop on June 1st called Community Gardens and Cooking: Cross Programming for Food Security at the NC A&T State University Farm Pavilion. The goal of the workshop is to show how agents can work across program areas to create an effective and sustainable food system. Registration is now live and the group will fund one-night hotel stays for up to 15 registrants. 
    • The workgroup is continuing to grow the Donation Station program with six counties returning from last year and the goal of launching 10 new counties this year. They hosted an Agent Training in February and plan to host a Volunteer Training in April/May. 

local lunch during LFPT meeting

Following our team updates, we enjoyed a delicious lunch sponsored by NC Farm Bureau and Randolph County Farm Credit. A chef from Raleigh came to Montgomery Sheep Farm on March 23rd to help prepare a meal using all local products! The group enjoyed a take on an Italian Wedding Soup with lamb meatballs!

After lunch we had time for networking so we could learn about each other’s programming and local food involvement. We spent time doing an activity similar to speed dating where we sat down with someone and took turns sharing responses to prompts about our work and after a few minutes rotated to someone else. We constantly have new members joining the team so it was a great chance to get to know one another and hear about awesome work across the state!lfpt networking People sitting around a table.

The Extension Local Food Program Team welcomes N.C. Cooperative Extension agents and specialists. Reach out to Hannah Dankbar to get added to our email list for future meetings.