This year we are excited to honor NC farmers who are impacting the overall health and well-being of our young people through their efforts marketing to institutions (not an easy feat!). This is our way of showing appreciation for all the work they do to create a more equitable food system for all people. Providing fresh foods to our youth and the institutions committed to serving them healthy, nutritious, locally sourced food helps them thrive! The passion and commitment of these Local Food Heroes, does not go unnoticed! Congrats to all of our CEFS Farm to Fork Local Food Heroes.
Robert has been dedicated to helping build the farm to child care system from day one. He has worked with many of the child care centers in wake county to provide fresh local produce for the center and also created opportunities like CSA boxes and onsite farmer’s markets for families to receive the produce as well. Robert has been essential in determining details about how child care programs can be a whole new market for small local farmers.
The son of farmers, Robert Jones, a fourth generation African-American farmer, grew up on the farm that has been in his family since the early 20th century. In the early days, his family planted corn, soy and tobacco with tobacco as the main cash crop. For much of his life, Robert worked to get away from the farm and entered the technology industry, working for both IBM and Progress Energy for many years. He lived in Durham with his wife and two daughters for years. When Robert retired, he decided to return to the family farm. He worked at the Breeze Farm in Hillsborough for several years to gain farming skills. Today, he lives down the street from the 8 acres where he is currently farming. Farmer Jones grows a wide variety of vegetables and a few fruits, including melons. He focuses on sweet potatoes, collard greens, peppers, tomatoes and most any other farmers’ market vegetable you may want to eat. Buying from Jones Farm, Child care facilities may purchase produce directly from Farmer Jones or through the Wake POP market or at Western Wake Farmers’ Market in Cary. Farmer Jones welcomes field trips from child care facilities at the farm in Greene County, where children can also see a few pigs and some cows. In addition to selling to child care centers and farmers markets, Farmer Jones has an eight month CSA with drop off sites determined based on his customers’ locations. Everything Robert Jones does is about reaching out to people about meeting their needs, doing things he believes matters, and simply making a difference in his community.
Susie has always been a great supporter of farm-to-school. She has supplied some our schools with her delicious berries in the past and we always hope each year that we can make that happen. There is a small window of time, late May to early June, that the berries are available, so it is a challenge and she does everything she can to make things work. Feast Down East also sells her berries to UNCW and grocers and our restaurants. Susie is definitely a local food hero.
In 1997, Susie Newberry and her husband, Al, noticed an abandoned blueberry farm for sale in Pender County. With farming experience, but little knowledge about blueberries, the couple did some research and decided to give it a go, moving from Wilmington to Burgaw to live and work on their new farm. The Newberrys started working on their farm little by little, steadily plowing and replanting new blueberry bushes. “The sandy loamy soil was perfectly suited for blueberries; hardly anything else will grow there at all”, Susie says. Much of the farm remains wooded, and their home sits on part of the land. Susie feels that blueberries are a challenging crop to grow. The season is very short and very intense, lasting from only two to five weeks, depending on the weather. Newberry’s Blueberries currently sells the majority of their crop wholesale, to American Blueberries. They also sell some berries through Feast Down East, for farm to school when they can, and to several small health food stores in Wilmington, including Tidal Creek Cooperative Food Market and Lovey’s.
I've had the pleasure of working with Victor since 2011, both through Working Landscapes and the Warren County Economic Development Commission. He is a forward-thinking farmer and community leader. Victor has been instrumental to the advancement of agriculture in Warren County and the region, from growing the high school ag program to helping launch Working Landscapes' Chopped Produce Initiative. Victor had the idea that Warren County greens should be chopped and bagged for schools region-wide, and now it is a reality!
Victor Hunt is a Warren County native and has been farming in the area since 1978. Over the years, Victor has raised everything from hogs to tobacco to small grains. Currently he grows vegetables and raises beef cattle. Hunt Farm is truly a family affair. His uncle has mentored Victor since his days as a young farmer. Victor’s mother, siblings, and nieces all participate in the planting and harvest of his fall and spring vegetable crop.
Victor’s favorite crop to grow is collard greens – aligning with his favorite time of year. Hunt Farm is one of the first produce farms in the region to be USDA GAP certified, receiving the certification specifically to provide collard greens and cabbage for school children through the Chopped Produce Initiative at Warrenton non-profit Working Landscapes. Victor was also instrumental in establishing this farm to school initiative with other farmers in the area.
Victor is also a Warren County Commissioner and a member of the Warren County Cattlemen’s Association. With his leadership positions in county government and in the community, Victor advocates for the importance of investing in agricultural projects in the county and for the preservation of local farm land.
When approached about working to provide local fresh produce for young children and their families, Brian said yes without any hesitation. Willing to do what was needed Brian bought into a dream of having a pop up farmers market at child care centers. Not only does he provide the produce but he explains to families various ways to prepare the vegetable. It is exciting to see the family return and talk about eating a new and different vegetable. Brian’s immense knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious and is making a difference for young children and their families- healthy eating of fresh local produce is becoming a reality!
Ashe County Farmer Brian Chatham grew up in the high country of North Carolina, and his enterprise High Mountain Farms is dedicated not only to growing and selling delicious produce, but to engaging and serving his community. Brian and his partner Sonya are part of CEFS NC Farm to Childcare Initiative, joining the Wilkes County Partnership for Children and their team to help create sustainable pathways that will provide young children and families with local food in childcare centers and at home.
Working with local community partners, they hold a pop-up market at a childcare center, providing access to fresh foods for families and for the center chef to use in meals and snacks. Brian also volunteers his expertise to the childcare center staff by helping to develop gardens at child care centers. The initiative is expanding this summer with three other daycares in Wilkes county purchasing fresh vegetables to serve in their centers as well. Brian and Sonya are so excited about this project that they are expanding the idea into Ashe County where they will be providing fresh veggies and a monthly pop up market to a child care center there as well. They both have a passion for providing fresh, healthy food for children to eat and enjoy. Their dream is that we inspire in this generation of children the importance of being good stewards of the land. Their motto: We Farm. You Eat.
Jeff and Lisa Bender work as a team with Bender Farms. They are both very committed to their community and are champions of agriculture in general. Adding produce to their tobacco farm as a new enterprise was a huge change for the farm, and the Benders tackled this head on. Jeff Bender is very innovative and not afraid to try new things. The Benders have been extremely instrumental in efforts to grow a local food economy in Warren County, working closely with Working Landscapes to supply local produce to local school systems in the region.
Bender Farms is a diversified row crop and produce farming operation utilizing about 400 acres of land in Warren County to grow flue-cured tobacco, soybeans, produce, wheat, and corn. Jeff Bender grew up on a tobacco farm. He attended North Carolina State University where he met his wife, Lisa. Right out of college, Jeff and Lisa ran a dairy operation for about 17 years. During this time, they started diversifying their business, growing sweet corn to sell to the local community. When the dairy operation began struggling to compete in the industry about the time of the tobacco buyout, they transitioned into tobacco and also began expanding their produce operation to include melons. About five years ago, Jeff started serving on the Working Landscapes Board of Directors and selling a small amount of produce to them. Working Landscapes is a non-profit seeking to build the local food economy in Warren County and the region with a strong current focus on selling local produce into the local school systems. Jeff says that the Working Landscapes mission aligned well with the community values and goals of his family farming operation. Lisa says, “Jeff and I always grow everything with the people who will eat our food in mind. While we are always mindful of the business of our farming operation, we know that what we produce will be on someone's table, fed to those they love most. Figuratively, we are a "guest" at their table, and we want what we have produced to be as healthy, fresh, and delicious as possible. Our farming operation is as much about people–homes, kitchens, schools–as it is about agriculture, land stewardship, and business.”
After becoming one of the first farms in the region to become GAP-certified, Bender Farms has served as a backbone supplier to local school systems through this Working Landscapes value chain. They sell a number of varieties of greens and cabbage through the Working Landscape produce facility, where it is chopped and bagged creating an ideal fresh produce product designed specifically to meet the needs of the school cafeterias. Bender Farms also sells to a couple of regional food service distributors, local grocery stores, and several roadside stands. Jeff and Lisa both serve in leadership roles with the local Farm Bureau. Jeff has also served on numerous CEFS project advisory committees and supported other project efforts, including those of the NC Growing Together Project, the SARE-funded local food systems graduate course for Extension Agents, and more recently, development of a virtual value chain tour of a farm to school effort in his region.