Caldwell County: The Source for Local, Sustainable Food
“I pulled them this morning,” the man with smiling eyes says as his outstretched hand, roughened by farm work, holds a bunch of fresh turnips, clean purple and white orbs with vibrant green tops bound by a strong rubber band. Next to the turnip salesman, a woman wearing a large straw hat smiles among buckets of beautiful cut flowers, a riotous rainbow of colors. Further along, a beekeeper proudly displays his wares of pure Sourwood honey, a premium product only produced by honeybees in the lower Appalachian Mountains. At another booth, Mason jars hold pickled okra, cucumbers and bamboo and ruby red strawberry jam, blackberry jelly and apple butter, preserved harvests that will be welcome treats for the coming winter. A dazzling array of agricultural products greets the farmer’s market visitor and she is humbled to realize the entire bounty was produced in Caldwell County.
Prior to World War II, it was not unusual for Caldwell County residents to grow their own food and even city dwellers managed small kitchen gardens. In the years following WWII, new businesses and industries bustled and busy working families gratefully accepted the convenience of supermarket wares, frozen “tv dinners” and fast food restaurants as the number of local gardens and farms dwindled. In recent years, diet-related illnesses, increased awareness of food production techniques and the delicious taste of fresh, local foods spurred strong food interest in Caldwell County and many residents are now active livestock, vegetable and fruit producers.
Rich, fertile soil, temperate climate, and knowledgeable gardeners are key ingredients in Caldwell County’s recipe for a successful local food movement. Throughout the year, residents enjoy fresh, locally grown seasonal treats at several dynamic farmer’s markets, commercial farms and restaurants and a popular community garden brought national attention to our area. Agriculture and associated businesses account for approximately seventeen percent of North Carolina employment and income and with a rich agricultural heritage, Caldwell County is geographically suited to be a state agriculture leader.
Some Caldwell County farms sponsor Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups. CSA members pay farmers for a specified length of time to deliver, usually on a weekly basis, a box of seasonal produce. The upfront money ensures farmers will have a ready source for harvests and CSA members are assured of a steady supply of fresh produce. “Pick Your Own” farms are popular in Caldwell County and customers pay for the privilege to harvest their own fruits and vegetables. Another local agriculture trend is organic production and although there are currently no organically certified farms in Caldwell County, several farmers are involved in the certification process and many others implement organic practices.
Many organizations, including the Caldwell Beekeepers Association, Caldwell County’s NC Cooperative Extension office, the Master Gardener’s Association, the 4-H Youth Development program and several garden clubs offer services and support for locally grown crops. As demand for fresh, local food increases, Caldwell County, with its powerful agricultural history and ideal growing environment, is poised to fulfill consumers’ wishes.