Perspectives Online

Web link pairs independent farmers and consumers


William Brinkley, owner of Brinkley Farms in Creedmoor, is a participant in the NC CHOICES program that helps him market his pasture-raised pork products.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

A program designed to help independent hog farmers market their products will pair farmers and consumers through a Web-based marketing initiative.

The initiative is a component of NC CHOICES, a program developed by N.C. State University, N.C. A&T State University, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and other groups to help small and mid-sized hog farms find local markets for niche pork products. The program, funded by a three-year, $600,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is administered by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Buyers and sellers of pork products will be brought together on a Web site, which was to become operational in late spring. Initially, 11 farms will be recognized on the site (http://www.ncchoices.com). The farms, which are located across the state, all offer pork products from animals raised without antibiotics, while some offer "pasture-raised" pork, meat from pigs that are allowed to roam outdoors rather than being confined in buildings, as is the case with most of the pigs raised in North Carolina and other parts of the nation.

Direct marketing benefits farmers, consumers and communities, said Susan Jelinek Mellage, North Carolina Cooperative Extension associate and project manager.

"Independent family farms often lack the resources and expertise to market their products," Mellage said. "At the same time, individuals interested in supporting family farmers and in consuming healthy, locally grown pork products don't have the information needed to make an informed choice and find these products. Direct marketing enables the farmer and the consumer to engage directly with one another, to learn from one another. It's a win-win situation for everybody."

Farmers will list contact information, pick-up and/or delivery methods, available products and a detailed account of their production methods and philosophies on the Web site. By giving consumers access to safe and nutritious foods grown in a manner that protects the environment, promotes health and encourages economic development, NC CHOICES hopes to create enough demand to encourage a shift to more environmentally friendly, sustainable hog production, Mellage added.

"We would love to see farmers in North Carolina dealing more directly with consumers and to see consumers take an interest in how their food is produced," said Dr. Nancy Creamer, director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems. "NC CHOICES can serve as a model for communities around the country that wish to develop markets for locally produced products from independent farms."

The Center for Environmental Farming Systems focuses on developing farming systems that nurture the environment while ensuring the short- and long-term productivity and profitability of agriculture. It combines the roles of research, extension and education and encompasses broad stakeholder involvement. The center embraces an ecological and systems approach to agriculture in which methods that ensure the production of food and fiber are coupled with environmental responsibility and economic, social and community viability.

The grant is part of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Food and Society Initiative. Launched in 2001, the Food and Society Initiative is inspired by a vision of a future food system that provides for all Americans safe and nutritious foods grown in a manner that protects the environment, promotes health and brings economic development to both rural and urban communities.

- Dave Caldwell