squash

By Dave Russell

 

Sally Mae in Whittier needs five yams and six large butternut squash for the Thanksgiving feast. The fresher, the better.

Farmer John in Canada has a harvest of butternut squash to get to market. Farmer Jim in Balsam has yams fresh off the vine for sell.

How can the needs of these three people be met?

Through the efforts of WNC Farm to Table, a budding nonprofit launched by Lisa McBride, former manager of the Jackson County Farmers Market.

McBride’s vision would help farmers find customers and customers find farmers, so Sally Mae would not have to drive all over Jackson County to get her goods fresh from the farm. She logs on to a website where local farmers in Jackson and surrounding counties have posted their available products and makes her selection. WNC Farm to Table would facilitate Sally’s pickup of the locally grown, fresh produce at a central location.

The mission is “to provide local food to both consumers and to wholesale and increase the market for farmers and producers,” McBride said.

Restaurants, consumers and farmers would connect through a simple ordering system that would be completed soon.

“Instead of just going to farmers markets or having to network with every restaurant, it simplifies the ordering system for consumers and the farmers,” she said. “The idea is to not have high markups so that you can make the food more affordable and keep the money in the producer’s pockets.”

Farm to Table acts as the “middle man,” but in this case the middle man makes little to no profit.

“I’ve done $77,000 worth of wholesale this year and most of that goes back to the farmers,” she said.

About 30-35 farmers, including about 10 in Jackson County, have signed on to participate, McBride said.

Local Food Marketplace (home.localfoodmarketplace.com) would host the online connection between consumer and producer.

McBride points to High Country Food Hub on the site as a similar venture to her dream.

It was founded by the Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture in Boone with just one freezer. Four years later, the High Country Food Hub serves more than 500 customers across three states while supporting 90-plus local food producers.

“The website will have what’s available each week,” she said. “The farmers will go in and upload what they have each week. The customer pre-orders it and then the farmer delivers it to the physical location of Farm to Table and then we will distribute it.”

Based in Eugene, Oregon, the site hosts customers from Alaska to Hawaii to Boone.

McBride seeks a brick-and-mortar location – preferably centrally located with refrigeration – to set up shop, where producers bring their goods and customers pick it up.

“I’m looking at that right now,” she said. “I have a couple of real estate agents looking for something.”

Vendors at farmers markets offer more than produce. Soaps, crafts and other non-food items are often present.

Farm to Table would be open to that aspect of the market as well, McBride said.

“I will eventually have all of that,” she said. “I’ll work with the different soapmakers, and things like that will be available. Supplements, tinctures, cut flowers can be available if they are willing to set it up and be a vendor, and I can sell it if it is local.”

Alcohol is off the table, but hemp products might be included in the future.

“I know a number of people who have CBD farms and grow their own,” she said. “There are some regulatory hoops to jump through in order to be able to sell CBD products.”

Farm to Table has a board of directors, a necessary step to establishing a nonprofit.

One of those board members is Rob Hawk, Jackson and Swain County extension director.

“Extension has been helping this effort with locating some of the agriculture producers to supply the resources for Farm to Table to supply the food markets,” he said. “I think one of primary things of the success of this new business venture will be getting more local agriculture producers in the local food supply chain along with infrastructure such as a couple of cold storage units to hold over the products longer in between harvest and food processing.”

McBride has set up an online fundraising page to kick start the venture – https://bit.ly/3wyxlao. She can be reached at 331-7684.