Danelle Cutting: Farmer has passion for what he does
By Danelle Cutting
Rowan Cooperative Extension
As the temperatures rise, everyone gets excited about gardening, farming and being outside. This seems to occur around the last week of March, the same time that N.C. A&T Small Farms week starts. This year was once again a beautiful week to celebrate small farms.
We kicked off the 29th Annual Small Farms Week in gorgeous Burnsville at Mountain Heritage High School. Their FFA students greeted the attendees and the 2014 Small Farmer of the Year, Ryan Wiebe, of Wiebe Farmin’.
Students and participants gained valuable knowledge from a panel consisting of Kentucky Extension Agent David Davis, a native of Burnsville; Kevin Wilson, a Yancey County farmer and member of NC Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee; Kathleen Wood, the garden manager of Yancey County’s “Dig In!” Community Garden; and Wiebe, the Small Farmer of the Year.
After the panel discussion, the group visited TRACTOR Food and Farms (Toe River Aggregation Center Training Organization Region) aggregation facility for local farmers. TRACTOR helps local farms by providing a central location to wash, grade, pack, and store their produce to be sold in tractor-trailer loads.
With the help of TRACTOR, farmers have been able to get into major retail stores. TRACTOR has been able to assist farmers in becoming GAP (Good Agriculture Practices) certified. They also offer a small equipment assistance program. This has been a great asset to the small local farmers who do not always have the capital needed to make large equipment purchases like tractors, tilling equipment, graders and coolers.
Having the aggregation site also makes it easier for the farms to get local produce to the major retailers in the Appalachians. Most retailers do not enjoy working and buying produce from multiple farms. When farmers use TRACTOR, they can create loads of produce to meet the needs of the retailers.
On the day of the kickoff, the group toured Wiebe’s farm. He grows a variety of produce like cabbage, garlic, beans, winter squash and even some mushrooms. Wiebe used to sell at the local markets, but he has grown towards a wholesale farmer and has enjoyed working with TRACTOR to help move his product. TRACTOR farm participants receive 80 percent of the sales, while TRACTOR keeps 20 percent.
Wiebe has learned a lot over the years, and most of his knowledge and experience came from North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Wiebe came from Florida with a non-farming background so he used one of the best sources to get great, un-biased information. For him, it came from Yancey County Cooperative Extension. Wiebe has a passion for farming like I have never seen and would make anyone want to start farming. Attending Small Farms Week is a great experience that everyone should do at least once.
The next days of Small Farms Week consisted of seminars about grants, farm loans, NC Farm Schools and the announcement of the 2015 Small Farmer of the Year, Louis and Magnolia Williams Jr., of LouMag Enterprises in Henderson. Small Farms Week lasts three days but is a great conference to attend for anyone wanting to start farming, learn more about farming, or learn about being a Small Farmer of the Year.
I highly encourage everyone to check out the previous Small Farmer of the Year’s videos of achievement by visiting their YouTube site: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA749256CA72D2EB2. They are a true inspiration.
Farmers are a passionate group and deserve far more credit than we can give. If you are interested in the programs mentioned in this article, visit your local Cooperative Extension office at 2727 Old Concord Road, Salisbury, or call 704-216-8970. If you would like more information on Small Farms Week, visit: http://www.ncat.edu/news/2014/02/small-farms.html.