What a great gathering this week to learn what's happening in progressive Orange County: the 21st annual Orange County Ag Summit.
The main take-away from the event for me is that Orange County is serious about supporting its small farmers and food businesses. It has given $400,000 in grants to 53 farms since 2015 (from a 1/4 cent sales tax). It supports the Breeze incubator farm and is making a $500,000 investment in rural broadband infrastructure. Grant funding, incubators and internet access are key avenues to grow the local food supply and get that food into the hands of retailers and thus more consumers. (Could supermarket companies help with some of this financial lift?)
The event featured CFSA staff doing their excellent training on the GAPs food safety certification, another key issue for wholesaling. CFSA has really learned the ins and outs of this process. Staff from Weaver Street Market gave an overview of selling to retailers, laying out the significant benefits of selling wholesale (and risks) and urging farmers to consider contacting retailers months before a desired sale. In that session, I had a chance to plug our work and brought up the coming impact of Wegman's. The event's keynote was Tom Warshauer from Charlotte City government, talking about their new $100,000 foodshed study. Although the study could use more attention to mainstream retailers and wholesalers, it gathered excellent baseline data on the regional foodshed and benchmarked Charlotte against ten other regions. This should be replicated across the state.
I had great chats with exhibitors. NC Driftwatch is protecting our organic farms and pollinators -- and has very enthusiastic staff. Piedmont Food & Ag Processing Center in Hillsborough is going strong; it has incubated growing companies like Seal the Season and many others who are selling in mainstream retailers, . (These are more projects that could use friendly funding from the deep pockets of the mainstream retail food industry [MRFI]. It would be great if MRFI staff attended these type events to learn more about the local food and ag scene.)
Kudos to Orange County for this event and for their continued commitment to good things for their farmers and foodies.