Rural Community-Owned Produce Cooperative


Organization: Foothills Family Farms
Project Coordinator: Meredith McKissick
Organization Description: Foothills Family Farms provides cooperative marketing and technical assistance, among other social and economic benefits to local farmers like the sharing of resources, markets, labor, and knowledge. The organization was established in 2007 to try and encourage small farmers in the area to transition to more sustainable practices, leading to a more environmentally sound rural landscape and allowing them to access growing markets in Western North Carolina for organic, humanely raised farm products. Organizing small farmers and marketing their products as a group helps farming operations that would have trouble marketing their products individually due to their lower volume of production.
Location: Old Fort, McDowell County, NC

“The establishment of a facility for Foothills Family Farms, and the opening of our retail market in rural Old Fort, may serve as encouragement to farmers and consumers in other rural areas that perhaps the local food movement can someday reach them, too. Fresh local produce is more readily available in cities, and the growth of healthy rural communities will increase as local products become convenient and affordable to the everyday consumer. One of our goals in establishing this facility and retail market is to accomplish that combination of convenience, consistency, and affordability in a town that has lingered on the fringe of the rising local food movement in Western NC. It is our hope that a successful facility for local farmers and a market in Old Fort will serve as a model for other struggling rural communities seeking to re-develop while keeping in touch with their agricultural roots.”

 
Meredith McKissick of Foothills Family Farms wants to strengthen the rural communities in rural western North Carolina by creating a farmer, craftsmen, and consumer owned cooperative that will help process and package local goods to sell in an aggregated, competitive form, while also providing a store front for local rural citizens to have greater access to healthy, locally produced foods. The facility will be established in the town of Old Fort in hopes of creating an economic hub for the struggling rural community.”
 
Based in McDowell County, Foothill Family Farms provides cooperative marketing and technical assistance, among other social and economic benefits to local farmers like the sharing of resources, markets, labor, and knowledge. The organization was established in 2007 to try and encourage small farmers in the area to transition to more sustainable practices, leading to a more environmentally sound rural landscape and allowing them to access growing markets in Western North Carolina for organic, humanely raised farm products. Organizing small farmers and marketing their products as a group helps farming operations that would have trouble marketing their products individually due to their lower volume of production.
 
The organization helps small farmers greatly by relieving the farmer of having to take the sole burden of marketing their product. The organization can establish relationships with buyers and set up at farmers markets, leaving the farmer to have more time for planning and actually tending to their crops and livestock. Since its inception, Foothills Family Farms has grown tremendously; in 2007 it sold $10,000 worth of McDowell County farm products. In 2008, it had added many more farmer members from McDowell and many other surrounding Foothills and Mountain counties, selling over $35,000 worth of farm products in that year. The organization currently serves farmers in McDowell, Rutherford, and eastern Buncombe County.
 
The organization applied for a TCRF grant in 2009 in order to expand their facility to meet demands for locally produced goods in western N.C. and to increase their capacity for more farmers and craftsmen to join. By expanding the processing and packaging facility, farmer members who grow produce in the more rural areas east of Asheville will be able to aggregate their products and work as a group to establish themselves in markets. Asheville’s markets are thriving and growing but rural citizens in nearby areas still lack access to healthy, local food because it is all being directed toward urban markets. The expansion will help them accommodate their steadily growing membership with more space, more equipment, especially greater capacity for refrigeration, and more staff to help in the packaging and selling.
 
McKissick writes, “The establishment of a facility for Foothills Family Farms, and the opening of our retail market in rural Old Fort, may serve as encouragement to farmers and consumers in other rural areas that perhaps the local food movement can someday reach them, too. Fresh local produce is more readily available in cities, and the growth of healthy rural communities will increase as local products become convenient and affordable to the everyday consumer. One of our goals in establishing this facility and retail market is to accomplish that combination of convenience, consistency, and affordability in a town that has lingered on the fringe of the rising local food movement in Western NC. It is our hope that a successful facility for local farmers and a market in Old Fort will serve as a model for other struggling rural communities seeking to re-develop while keeping in touch with their agricultural roots.”
 
Foothills Family Farms’ processing facility in downtown Old Fort could be planting the seed for a strengthened rural economy in western Carolina. Small farmers who are attempting to produce food sustainably will be more competitive by organizing, negotiating prices, sharing resources, and being on a competitive level with larger food distribution companies that typically supply consumer foods in the modern system. The facility could also provide non-farming citizens in Old Fort with employment, assisting in the processing and packing of products coming right out of the fields surrounding their community. Lastly, the facility provides greater access to healthy, local foods for the people of Old Fort. Serving doubly as a retail location, the community can conveniently purchase healthy foods in the downtown Old Fort area, eliminating the need for having to potentially drive to a more urban area to access food being grown in their own backyards. Eventually, Old Fort could be a bustling agricultural town once again, with a growing number of surrounding farms providing the product and small businesses filling storefronts that are currently vacant, longing to have their shelves filled again.