Locally-produced foods a growing trend in Mecklenburg County

Growing trend for locally grown produce

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - There's a good chance when you eat at many local restaurants, you're eating food grown here in the Mecklenburg County area.

There is a growing trend for locally produced food to be used in restaurants and many local farmers are stepping up to the challenge. Farming is certainly alive in our area, but the question is, is it well?

There are more than 50,000 farmers in North Carolina, and it doesn't get much more traditional than it does at the Mary L farm in Rowan County. This 300 acre farm has been in Rick Parker's family for five generations.

As Parker describes it, "Mary L. farm has been an ever-changing farm that used to be cotton years ago, and grains, and horse-drawn... everything to modern day 360 grade A cows for conventional dairy."

Parker sells his milk to a national milk company, but sells his beef, pork, poultry and vegetables locally. He said that's important to him.

"I believe that's what we need to be doing everywhere," Parker said. "I think that people need to know where their food comes from... know a little more about their food. For one, they appreciate it more. Second, they'll find that some of the old foods are hard to beat."

Not so traditional is the Boy and Girl Farm in Union County run by Joe and Amy Rorher. It's only seven acres and has been around just two years. But even though it doesn't rival larger farms like Mary L, Joe says you can still make a living.

"It can be lucrative," said Joe. "We have enough to support ourselves, to pay the bills. No you won't be rich, you won't ever make hundreds of thousands of dollars, but enough to make a good living."

All of the many vegetables raised at the Boy and Girl Farm are sold locally. Amy says it's just better when you eat locally-grown food.

"Everything that we produce is so much fresher, especially from a can," she said, "but even versus the fresh produce in the grocery store - it tastes so much better and it still retains so much more nutrients."

Urban Gourmet Farm in Charlotte is certainly one of the most unconventional farms in the area. The farm was started by Michelle Smith and Hiram Ramirez. And what do they grow?

"We grow mushrooms," said Smith, "and everything is done indoors, temperature controlled, everything's climatized and we manage everything, temperature controls, humidity levels, etc."

And everything grown at Urban Gourmet Farms is sold locally.

"I think sustainability is an important thing," Ramirez said. "I think keeping the dollars in your local community is an important thing. And I think people just need to get closer to their food."

But growing food locally in Mecklenburg County is becoming more of a challenge. The amount of farm land here is shrinking - down 19% percent in the last official tally. The average size of a farm is down 20%.

Zack Wyatt is concerned about that.

"We again are giving the responsibility to feed ourselves, our families, our communities away to China, to California and Mexico," Wyatt said.

Wyatt is the founder of the Carolina Farm Trust, an organization working to support local farmers.

"And being able to go to these small farms and be able to buy directly from them and understanding the local and regional economies and how important that is to different areas of the country," he said. "And that's how we're going to sustain ourselves."

Farming is hard work, always has been and always will be. Yet for all its challenges, Amy Rohrer says it's worth it.

"It's very rewarding," she said, "Being able to grow something from a tiny seed and watch it grow into a big plant and actually be able to eat it and feel good about eating it and know that it is healthy."

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