PEMBROKE — Pembroke’s new farmers market looked like a successful business start-up in the early morning hours of May 5.
The location, UNC Pembroke’s Distance Education parking lot, is convenient to campus and just off the town’s busiest street. There were vegetables, flowers and seedlings on truck beds. Money, business cards and stories were being passed.
Volunteers from the Students in Free Enterprise, Marcia McCoy (president) and Stephanie Sturdivant (a vice president), helped out. And there were customers, like Rob Wolf who said he was an advance scout for library employees. Chancellor Kyle R. Carter and his wife, Sarah, were there early on a morning walk with Dooley, their dog. They bought two plants and some kale.
“Would you like a bottle of water?” Sam Deese asked. “We learned in class that happy customers buy more. So I brought a cooler full of drinks.”
Deese, whose farm is west of Pembroke on old U.S. 74, is a graduate of UNCP’s Sustainable Agriculture Certificate Program. “I do landscape design work, and I am looking to take it to the next level. We’re looking to tap new markets, maybe mushrooms. I’ve got a greenhouse so that helps.”
The market will continue (Thursday, May 19 is the next date) and is sponsored by the Sustainable Agricultural Program, a project of UNCP’s Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Development.
On Thursday, everybody agreed that area growers need markets like this to sell their products to produce extra income. But does Pembroke need a farmers market?
“That’s what we’re going to find out,” said Emily Locklear, coordinator of the Sustainable Agriculture Program. “We’re going to do this every other week and maybe every week if needed. We’ll see how it goes and then see if we can form partnerships.”
Locklear will enroll two more classes over the next year and a half, which will increase the volume and variety of produce for the market. On this day, there were potatoes, mustard greens, kale, hanging baskets, potted plants and tomato and cabbage seedlings. The growers promised more with the advancing summer.
“The other year, I sold 1,200 watermelons and disc-in that many more,” said James Albert Hunt, who devotes 10 of his 150 acres off the Cabinet Shop Rd. to vegetables and fruit. “I’m selling out at Papa Bill’s some, and I sell okra to Bo’s and Safeway (supermarkets). Yea Lord, we need a farmers market.”
Hunt promised, field peas, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, okra, cantaloupe and watermelons. Deese, who learned micro-propagation techniques in the program, promised more flowers and houseplants.
David Hunt, who also lives off the Cabinet Shot Road, put in 10 rows of plastic this spring with the help of a North Carolina Cooperative Extension program. He’ll plant okra, speckled and lima beans, corn and watermelons.
“From what we learned in class, black plastic is supposed to produce five-to-six times as much,” Hunt said. “I could do flowers and strawberries too. It’s a little something extra, extra money.”
Eleven students completed the first Sustainable Agriculture class. Six of the graduates are getting work experience and two of them are working in local vineyards, Locklear Vineyard in Pembroke and Cypress Bend in Wagram, N.C.
“The program has been great, and it is good for our students to have exposure to the University,” Locklear said. “The farmers market will be trial and error, but mostly trial and success, we hope.”
Several customer left with smiles. Querida Hunt, a Regional Center employee, said her potatoes would go in the pot with onions. Terry Locklear, a Distance Education employee, said he will roast potato wedges with olive oil and add some parmesan cheese.
The Sustainable Agriculture Certificate Program is a 48-hour certificate program coupled with work experience that focuses on new trends in agriculture and new ways to produce agricultural income.
It is funded by a three-year $478,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to N.C. Department of Commerce’s Division of Workforce Development for a State Energy Sector Partnership grant and contracted to UNCP through the Lumber River Workforce Development Board. The funds are provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) with adherence to Equal Opportunity Employer/Program requirements.
For information, contact UNCP’s Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator Emily Locklear at the Regional Center at (910) 775-4000 or email email@example.com. The Regional Center is a division of UNCP’s Office for Outreach.