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Virtual farmers market in the works

By Morgan Josey Glover | The News & Record

Nelson Kepley

Christian McCollum gathers eggs from nesting boxes at Massey Creek Farms near Wentworth. 

Industrial-food fatigued residents of Greensboro and other North Carolina cities have emerged in recent years as influential in the evolving local foods movement.

Behind the scenes, farmers are trying to meet that demand by growing and marketing foods in different ways. A new Rockingham County group pursuing nonprofit status wants to create a virtual farmers market that would enable Triad restaurants and other businesses to order meat and produce online.

Members of the Local Foods Coalition include about 40 farmers and concerned citizens, including Brenda Sutton, director of the county’s Cooperative Extension Office, and former County Commissioner Jerry Owens.

“Our food in this country comes from everywhere,” said Bill McCollum, a Madison farmer and coalition member. “People want to know the farmer that raised it and how he raised it. I used to be a big skeptic of this. I have completely changed my mind.”

The coalition will model the virtual market from one developed in Rutherford County by Foothills Connect, which sells to Charlotte area restaurants. The Rockingham coalition also wants to bring under its umbrella the county’s community kitchens in Reidsville and Madison, which are operated by the county Business and Technology Center.

The certified commercial kitchens allow people to prepare products, such as jellies, for sale.

The coalition also organized sustainability festivals in Reidsville, Eden and Mayodan this year to promote a local food economy.

The coalition exemplifies the conviction among many people that the number of family farms in North Carolina will continue to shrink if they don’t have a strong local customer base.

Richard Teague bemoaned the low attendance at farmers markets in Rockingham. He said farmers there will likely have more success marketing to people in Greensboro and other urban areas.

“It’s an awful lot easier to go to the grocery store, and most people are going to do that,” said Teague, a retired engineer who grows blackberries, pecans and chestnuts on 45 acres in Gibsonville. “I don’t feel the groundswell yet here in Rockingham County.”

Other farmers, including McCollum and Stoneville farmer Larry Smith, are more confident about a mainstream shift toward demand for foods produced locally and with sustainable methods. Last year, McCollum and his son, Garland, converted their Massey Creek Farms to a complete free-range operation after 20 years of raising as many as 25,000 pigs a year in buildings and on commercial feed before transporting them to larger facilities in other states. Now, about 200 pigs graze on pasture at the farm, along with chickens, sheep and heritage turkeys.

“We totally got out of that,” McCollum said about large-scale pork production.

“We want to do something that’s more sustainable, ecofriendly.”

Contact Morgan Josey Glover at 373-7078 or [email protected]

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