Gordon Mercer and Marcia Mercer Global Digital Post

The Global Digital Post: The Return of Local Agriculture, Gardening and Supporting Infrastructure

Gordon Mercer and Marcia Mercer Global Digital Post: “Why do people still farm? The local- food revival, it seems to me, runs on passion: people’s desire for connection to the seasons, to the soil that feeds them, to powerful flavors that can’t be manufactured with chemicals or preserved over 1,300-mile delivery hauls. The problem facing local food production isn’t lack of demand: it’s lack of infrastructure.” Tom Philpott


Franklin, NC -- (ReleaseWire) -- 03/29/2011 -- It is spring. Even our goat Elsa is impressed enough to leave the daffodils alone. She has, however, munched on every green shoot the rose bushes have offered. Elsa sees opportunity in spring and many communities are seeing opportunity for economic development in the megatrend back to local agriculture.

Spring means gardening. For us, perhaps, Gordon puts it best, “Marcia and I have not been blessed with the gift of agriculture.”

Our grandparents had green, very green, thumbs and would surely chuckle at our notion that we could quickly learn a craft they had been learning for a lifetime.

Gordon’s paternal grandparents farmed in Shannon, N.C., raising tobacco, cotton and a huge vegetable garden. Marcia remembers her grandmother’s yard in St Augustine, Florida was filled with flowers and herbs. Her parsley, snipped with the cleanest of kitchen shears, gave an intoxicatingly fresh taste to her coleslaw.

Marcia’s maternal grandparents’ were dairy farmers in Chapel Hill. Dairy farmers have a horticultural advantage; they have fertilizer, lots of fertilizer. Along with alfalfa hay for the cows they grew rows of deeply colored vegetables and acres of silver queen corn. The tomatoes were the stuff songs are made of. Gordon’s other grandparents in nearby Raleigh raised hay, corn and garden vegetables. By the end of summer, freezers and pantries were filled with the winter store.

We have tried vegetable gardening. We have two freezers and for years attempted to raise and freeze our own vegetables. The local farm produce stands were pleased that didn’t turn out so well. We usually ended up purchasing our bushels of vegetables to freeze from them. We consoled ourselves, knowing were helping the local economy.

Fruit trees were one of our projects. This resulted in a ‘beat the birds to the cherries’ game we lost for years in a row. The cherry tree is very tall. To throw bird netting over it would take a scaffold. Every summer we watched with pride and awe as the cherries ripened. Every summer there came a day when the cherry tree, laden with exquisite pinkish- orange fruit, became a cherry tree laden with ……………nothing. Well, three maybe four cherries were left dangling.

“They weren’t even ripe!” Marcia would shriek.

Last year we finally beat the birds to the cherries. We don’t know how or why. But we are grateful and the cherry jam from that tree is unsurpassed.

We have been successful with okra. It is tall and stands above the weeds. We have had limited success with tomatoes, squash and sunflowers. We flunked potatoes. We flunked cabbage. Do we remember one of our grandmothers saying cabbages like used coffee grounds? Our soil seems to be just right for peppers and we did make and freeze some (antioxidant rich!) red pepper soup.

We have had complete success with wild azaleas, mountain laurel and wild roses. The squirrels love our walnut trees. Friends, however, casually mention that these do not require agricultural skills and neither do our wild blackberry plants. (Gee thanks!)

Still, our grandchildren love searching through our garden each year. They fill their baskets with vegetables we missed and are proud. They like to dig in the dirt. They like to plant seeds. They like climbing stepladders to stare in the face of sunflowers. They love fried squash and okra.

It is spring and time to plant again. We are having our soil tested. Our grandchildren are helping us start our indoor seeds. We are checking the compost to see if it is ready. We are putting in another raised bed.

And we are thinking that this year Alan Durden’s veggie gardening class given through the NC Cooperative Extension Center in Macon County, NC might be a really good idea. We plan to brush up on soil selection, insect and disease control and soil testing.

There are global and national trends back to gardening and local agriculture. According to the Piedmont Environmental Council, we get a greener economy and stronger economy when we support local farmers. Communities are building new agricultural infrastructures as fuel prices rise and consumers want fresher vegetables without the high costs of shipping added. Since 2009 food prices have risen 26 percent according to the Food and Agricultural Organization. As oil prices go up we can expect more food price shocks that will require emphasis on local agriculture.

54 percent of those gardening say they are trying to save money, according to the “Vegetable Star.” Fresher, better food is also at the top of reasons more of us are gardening. Smart commissioners and local leaders are beginning to discuss community infrastructures on agriculture, as well as local organic farming and relate this to local economic development.

In Franklin, NC during harvest season we have a Saturday morning Farmers Market for farmers and gardeners to sell produce, plants and other agricultural products. Each year more farmers have roadside stands, selling directly to the public. These trends build our local economy and help us retain sustainable beautiful agricultural land.

Local courses given by the NC Cooperative Extension Center in Master Gardening help certify volunteers to strengthen our agricultural knowledge. Community gardening and agricultural projects help build our community infrastructure and help new generations become more involved in agriculture and gardening. Our annual Macon County Fair and Fairgrounds are an important part of our local agricultural infrastructure. Our September Macon County Fair theme is usually, “Sow It. Grow it. Show It.”

You can get more information on the Franklin, NC area by reviewing our recent column: “Franklin, North Carolina-A Touch of Global.” To find out more about Franklin’s agricultural infrastructure in a global economy contact, Alan Durden, County Extension director in Franklin, NC. We will be attending one of his courses soon.

We all seem to be watching our past and future merge and we try to remember a few things our grandparents tried to teach us about agriculture as more local agriculture becomes the norm once again and restaurants express a preference for local vegetables. Marcia remembers, as a teenager, carrying her parent’s tomatoes into supermarkets to sell. She never thought it would help her understand and cope in future economies. It is interesting Steve Jobs, chief executive officer of Apple Corporation, is building a home with a garden inside of it.

The trend in local agriculture is a megatrend that is so prevalent that, like the fish that can’t see the water, many local leaders are so locked into models of the past that they are missing a major opportunity for economic development in their community by not providing leadership and resources for thinking through an infrastructure that responds to new needs for local agriculture in their communities. For example, if you are a local leader, would you encourage or expect grocery stores and restaurants to post whether they buy from local farmers? While local governments spend a great deal of money on economic development, how much support is provided for local farmer markets in your community?

Gordon Mercer is international president of Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society and a professor at Western Carolina University. Marcia Mercer is a writer and columnist. Her new children’s book, “When I Woke up the World Was Yellow” will be out soon. Go to http://9955.hostednr.com to get to our Global Digital Post Press Room. Views expressed in the column are the views of the authors and do not reflect the views of other organizations. Global news originates from local news and you heard this first on the "Global Digital Post."