Carolina Rice Revival
Sandhills Magazine 
From Paddy to Plate: Bringing Carolina Gold Rice production back to North Carolina

Nestled near the banks of the Neuse and Bay Rivers lay acre upon acre of tall rice stalks swaying uniformly in the brackish breeze. The sun rises and sets over the flooded Tidewater region where wild geese and mallard feed. The moon pulls the Intracoastal Waterway tides as they nourish and protect the grass blades of the golden rice fields. Every morning, Al Spruill walks the muddy bogs to inspect the growing grains. “This seed planting from late March will be ready for early September harvest,” he says.

Spruill has lived his entire life in Oriental, North Carolina, where the wide waters attract boating enthusiasts and outdoorsmen, and the swampy shores offer dynamic habitats to explore. “The flatlands provide ideal wetland for waterfowl, fish and other animals,” Spruill explains. “On our farm, we work to live in co-existence with our natural surroundings.”

Spruill is a fourth-generation farmer who understands the importance of living in balance with nature. The first rice harvest from his farm is used as ‘Ratoon,’ which is put back into the lands for the aquatic wildlife and waterfowl. The second harvest is then sold and distributed around the state under the Tidewater Grain Co. label. The specialty grain company is the brainchild of longtime friends and company co-owners Al Spruill and
Tommy Wheeler.

“This isn’t just any ordinary rice,” Tommy Wheeler says upon introduction. “This is the best rice you’ll ever put in your mouth.”
Tidewater Grain Co. and Mano Bella Artisan Foods new Risotto blends.

The Tidewater Grain Co. was an idea born out of a discussion between Spruill and Wheeler, a Davidson College alumni based out of Kannapolis. “In Pamlico County, little rice was grown until around the turn of the 1900s,” says Spruill. “Even then, it was sparce; one-to-two-plot sandy rows on private land.”

It was not until Spruill furthered his conversation with business-and marketing-minded Wheeler that the idea of harvesting rice in Pamlico County in the 21st Century was considered. “At first I thought he was out of his damn mind,” Spruill said. “But then it made sense.”

A Home-Grown Dream

Tommy Wheeler grew up hunting the bayous and bogs of the Carolina coast for duck and other waterfowl as a young boy. This family tradition became a formidable pastime of his youth, and later, a pursuit that he wanted to share with his own son. The problem was the coastal hunt clubs could no longer rely on the feeding and hunting grounds the centuries-old rice plantations had provided. “The rice plantations had dried up by the late 1800s with the emancipation of slavery, which left plantation owners without the knowledge or manpower necessary to grow such a labor-intensive crop,” Wheeler says. “Then a series of hurricanes damaged things beyond repair, the Industrial Revolution introduced new machinery that could easily drain the muddy bogs, and the state’s remaining growers gave up.”

Yearning for the coexistence of the rice fields and the hunting grounds of the past, Wheeler sought to reinvent the scenario on a mid-sized scale in Oriental. “The Tidewater region is well-suited for a semi-aquatic crop like rice because it requires constant irrigation to grow,” he adds. “And rice is remarkable in that it is one of the few crops that can flourish in flooded soils.”

The only thing Wheeler needed was a farm and a farmer to tend the fields. Enter Al Spruill.

“There’s something special about this rice and its story,” Spruill confides. “And while the seed has quite a scarred past, in our case, the story dovetails with our passion for waterfowl and coastal life. So I had to give it a try,” he adds.

A Legendary Seed

While the Carolina Gold Rice strain was found to have ultimately originated in Asia, the journey of how it got to the United States is shrouded in mystique. It is said that a distressed merchant ship arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1865 with some of the seed from Madagascar. He used the rice seed to pay for ship repairs before departing, and the rest is history.

“An ambitious farmer named Dr. Henry Woodward saw this as an opportunity and planted the first crop of Rice in the Americas,” says Wheeler. “It took off and soon took over the South Carolina lowlands and stretched into what is now known as North Carolina.”

The coastal areas of the Carolinas thrived for more than 200 years with its flatlands, fresh water sources, and ship ports for distribution before the final fall of the state’s large-scale rice production.

Wheeler and Spruill had found a creative way to fuel their recreational pursuits that also benefits the land and environment. “We operate as a partnership,” says Wheeler. With a background in physics, mathematics and engineering, Wheeler handles the business and marketing side of things while Spruill handles the farming needs and production. This complementary match enables the partners to sell their Carolina-raised grain to restaurants, shops, local farmers markets, and through local cooperatives like Sandhills Farm to Table. “We have a goal to be in every county in the state,” says Spruill.

“We know exactly how the piece of grain has been handled from when it went into the ground and from the time it was harvested until it reaches your plate,” Wheeler says. “But it is no easy task,” Spruill interjects.

The Rice Cycle

Like a team of 21st Century Explorers, this dynamic duo tackle 250 acres of flooded lands each season for Tidewater Grain’s harvest. First, the land must be prepared. Although the Tidewater region is mainly flat, fields must be examined for uneven pockets of too-deep water or exposed soil. A high temperature, humidity, and sufficient rainfall with irrigation facilities are the primary requirements of paddy, or rice field, cultivation.

In late March and during April, seed is mechanically sown in rows. The fields are then flooded so the seeds can sprout. The fields are then drained for alternate wetting and drying periods. A rice crop usually reaches maturity at around 105–150 days after crop establishment, or when the grains' moisture content is around 25 percent. Most of this is done mechanically by Spruill and his team before being stored to dry for milling.

The process of milling removes the husk, bran layer, and germ, and results in what we know as white rice. Brown rice is not milled, which explains its relative heartiness compared to white rice. Tidewater Grain Co. hopes to open its own mill in the coming year.

This inspiring partnership is committed to producing exceptional product with ethical intentions. If you are interested in trying it out for yourself, you can order varying varieties and sizes directly through TidewaterGrain.com, through Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative at sandhillsfarm2table.com, at The Berry Patch produce stand in Ellerbe at 351 Cargo Rd, and at worldslargeststrawberry.com.

The Uncommon Good: Sandhills Farm to Table
Pinehurst Living Magazine

Story by Greg Girard Photography by Jennifer B. Photography & Makana Photography

"Local from our roots to our fruits" is the message that greets you when logging onto the Sandhills Farm to Table website. Created more than a decade ago to support local farmers and meet the demands of locally sourced produce, Sandhills Farm to Table is a multi-farm community supported agricultural (CSA) organization with a simple mission: Grow local, buy local.

"We just want to keep the local farms thriving," says Mandy Davis, managing director for Sandhills Farm to Table. "It makes a big difference to them, to be able to deliver locally, about 30 minutes, rather than having to send their produce to Raleigh or South Carolina or Florida. That's always an option for them, but if they can cut down their costs to deliver produce right here to us, and we can guarantee their orders, it's better for them. The farmers start out the growing season knowing there's a certain number of people interested in supporting local. And it's better for the community because we can enjoy fresher food."

Indeed, studies continue to show the benefits of growing and buying locally. Local foods are more nutritious and flavorful because of the reduced time between harvest and table. Supporting local farmers positively impacts the local economy as farmers reinvest in businesses and services within the community. The fewer steps there are to receive food, the less chance at contamination. And there are environmental benefits from reducing the transportation of food to maintaining farmland and green space within the county.

Today, Sandhills Farm to Table works with, on average, about 15 farmers throughout the year, depending on the crops that are in season. Many of the farms are Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified, meaning they annually participate in a USDA audit program where they demonstrate compliance with food safety requirements. The facility where the volunteers pack the boxes for delivery is also GAP certified. 

For the consumer, the process couldn't be simpler. "Every year you do a membership, just like you would for Costco or Amazon," says Davis. "You pay your membership fee, which is $20 at the beginning of the season. After you sign up for a membership you buy a subscription to a box, either weekly or biweekly. Or you can just pick and choose as you go along. A lot of people will start out getting a box, but then maybe they have their own gardens that comes in during the summertime, so they back off a little bit and they pick it back up in the fall. We have a lot of different options. And we have different boxes that people can choose from. We also have an online market that enables people to buy produce in bulk and other smaller options as specialty things that we may not be able to have enough of to put in our produce boxes."

Each week, the boxes are then delivered to numerous pickup sites around Moore County, and the organization has worked to expand their delivery options, from home delivery to dropping off directly at local businesses like FirstHealth and First Bank. And along with individual consumers, Sandhills Farm to Table works with restaurants, canning clubs and charitable organizations. Davis notes nothing goes to waste.

Daniel Webster said, "When the tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization." It is a sentiment Davis, the farmers and volunteers can certainly appreciate. It's up to our community to do the rest.

The fill growing season is upon us. For information on joining Sandhills Farm to Table, visit sandhillsfarm2table.com.

Page 18 

A Southerner's Lucky Charm
Sandhills Magazine
Photos and Story by Christine Hall

Growing up in the Southern Pines afforded me the opportunity to dine on many locally grown Southern foods. Whether it was juicy figs from my grandmother’s backyard, fuzzy peaches grown in Candor, or field peas from Betty’s Produce, each delicacy brought comfort and familiarity to family gatherings. The highlight came on New Year’s Day, when I was sure to expect three things on the menu: Greens, Black-Eyed Peas, and Pork. No questions asked.

A good southern child was taught that eating these three items would ensure your health, wealth, and happiness in the New Year. Armed with this insider knowledge, every year I anxiously awaited the steaming pot of collard greens that would mystically increase my childhood allowance.

  • The symbolic green Greens – for wealth – would be boiling with bacon or bubbling with some other pork fat of choice.
  • Black-Eyed Peas – for happiness – would be cooking in a pot of bone broth and spices.
  • Pork – for health – would be country ham or another pork product of choice, and would seal your prosperous future.

 “The more collards you eat, the more wealth you will obtain,” my mother would chirp. My brother and I would wholeheartedly fill our chipmunk cheeks to the brim.

Other than family tradition, there is also a practical reason fresh items like collard greens are eaten in the South around the New Year – they are one of the last crops still in season! And they pack valuable nutrients for your health and wellbeing.

Collard greens are part of the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes Bok choy, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, rutabaga, and turnips. Cruciferous vegetables are high in nutrients and low in calories. According to Medical News Today, Collard Greens can help improve bone health and even your mood. The greens contain choline, a nutrient that helps with mood, sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory functions.

But don’t take my word for it. Just ask Davon Goodwin, a cultivator of collards in the Sandhills, whose farming venture turned out to be quite the lucky charm itself.

Turning a New Leaf

Davon Goodwin‘s farming story did not begin around the dinner table over collard greens. Nor did it begin with a long heritage of farmers. Goodwin’s farming ventures began in a more powerful way – following a 2010 tour in Afghanistan after suffering severe brain and back injuries from his vehicle hitting an Improvised Explosive Device.

During his medical recovery, he met two doctors who had a farm and were looking for a farm manager. Prior to his injuries, Goodwin had been studying biology and botany in pursuit of a PhD. His academic interests collided with his pragmatism and, not long after that, he began farming.

For him, farming brought a sense of normalcy back to his life and was a way he could still serve his country and community. “A farmer has the same discipline, same persistence, and same commitment to their community that a soldier has,” Goodwin says.

Today, he farms collards, kale, muscadine grapes, blackberries, and other produce on his own farm in Laurinburg – aptly named, Off The Land Farms. Goodwin also manages the Sandhills Ag Innovation Center, a food hub in Ellerbe, North Carolina, that connects local farmers to markets, and where local community-supported boxes, like Sandhills Farm to Table, are packed.

Farming Collards – a new way

Goodwin is one of the local farmers who has been growing a variety of collard green called Flash Collards. Grown for its paddle-shaped smooth leaves, Flash Collard leaves are taken from the stalk, instead of the more traditional method of ‘bunch-cutting’ the entire plant. This approach allows the plant variety to continue producing leaves over and over for longer harvesting.

Goodwin remains active in the communities in which he serves. While not in the field, you can find him working with youth and other veterans at Growing Change, an organization that turns former North Carolina prisons into therapeutic farms and community centers. Goodwin is also a member of the Farmer Veteran Coalition’s new North Carolina Chapter, which serves veteran farmers throughout the state.

To learn more about Davon Goodwin's military to farming journey, family, and work in the community, visit OTL Farms on Facebook @OTLFarms. More information about the Sandhills AgInnovation Center can be found at sandhillsag.com. For more information about Growing Change, visit growingchange.org and for the Farmer Veteran Coalition, visit farmvetco.org.

Taking the Long View

Sustaining a Sandhills Cooperative

February 4, 2020


by Christine Hall  »  Photos by Mollie Tobias
Season 11 Farmer Meeting

“Let’s talk about the ministry of farming, and the sacrifice farmers make to put food on our table,” Moore County Agriculture Extension Agent Taylor Williams began as he addressed a room of community leaders, farmers, restaurateurs, master gardeners and extension agents. The group had gathered in 2009 to discuss ways to help re-invigorate a deflated rural farming community in our state – one that was still reeling from changes in the industry landscape just years before.

Here in one of the top producing tobacco states in the country, Moore County once had 100 farmers producing nearly $12 million annually in flue-cured tobacco. Today that number of farmers is less than 20.

This decline is mostly credited to the end of the federal Tobacco Transition Payment Program, which had propped up farmers in the early 2000s while they re-evaluated their future, without tobacco. When the program ended in 2005, hundreds of farmers in North Carolina exited farming, taking with them a rich agricultural heritage that had spanned many generations. The farmers who remained (literally) in the field began looking for ways to adapt – and apply their practices to new markets.

One way in which farmers looked to replace or supplement lost income was by growing fruits and vegetables. For many this was a leap of faith. “Think about the average age of farmers, which at that time was about 59, and then consider being that age when you start your entire career over,” says Williams. “Changing crops can be a considerable undertaking.”

Community-Supported Agriculture
The group of visionaries, who had convened in 2009, had identified a complementary path forward: Sandhills farmers needed new markets, and consumers had interest in, and wanted access to, healthy foods. They identified a strategy for encouraging the market of fruits and vegetables and re-igniting the farmers’ passions and talents. It was then that the Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative sprouted.

“The Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative is a distribution center through which Sandhills farmers can supply fruits, vegetables and other farm goods to the community,” says Molly Goodman, co-manager for Sandhills Farm to Table and Ellerbe native.

The Cooperative was founded based on a community-supported agriculture (CSA) approach in which the producer (farmer) is connected with consumers (community members) who can subscribe to the harvest and related goods of our local producers. “It is an alternative model of food distribution and consumption that enables the farmers and consumers to be linked more closely together,” adds Goodman. “In addition to distribution support, we produce a weekly newsletter that provides a communications channel through which farmers can share stories, history about their farms, recipes and other interesting facts with their customers.”

The Cooperative staff help with the business end of distribution so that farmers can focus on farming. Staff and volunteers also help fill gaps in the infrastructure, such as transportation, packing and product storage. This is all done through the Sandhills Agricultural Innovation Center (SAIC) in Ellerbe, North Carolina. The Cooperative began utilizing the SAIC as its packing and distribution facility last year.

An important philosophy of Sandhills Farm to Table is buying the farmers’ harvest at a fair price. Through the Cooperative, a farmer can get more revenue than they would receive if selling to grocery store chains. “A tomato that you might pay $1 for in the grocery store, most farms only receive 10 cents,” explains Williams. “With Sandhills Farm to Table, it is typically 60 cents received by the farmer.”

The Cooperative brings together households in Moore and surrounding counties with the farmers who tend the lands where we live. Not only does the consumer benefit from the health advantages of seasonally fresh goods, they can also trace the origin of the products they consume. The system also supports the development of organic and other ecological farming that can improve our lands and health.

Sandhills Farm to Table is an example of a successful local food system and an alternative local food marketing option for farmers who had historically relied on tobacco. “Consumers are truly in the driver seat as to what farmers produce in their communities,” adds Williams. “If you want to preserve local farms, buy local. Sign up for Sandhills Farm to Table.”

How it Works
Consumers can join the Cooperative at any time of year, but the most common time to become a member is late winter/early spring before the first harvest. “Beginning in late April, our farmers begin harvesting items such as strawberries, cucumbers, sugar snap peas and asparagus,” explains Goodman. Volunteers and staff sort and box the goods at the SAIC. After boxes are packed, they are delivered to member site pick-up locations, or straight to member’s homes in Moore County through a partnership with Moore Home Services NC.

“My wife and I have enjoyed subscribing to Sandhills Farm to Table for several years. You cannot get any fresher produce and we love that it’s local,” says Moore County Commissioner Frank Quis. “The produce boxes offer great variety, which encourages us to try different fruits and vegetables. And learning how our farmers apply agricultural best practices helps one understand how they achieve the quality and freshness we enjoy. Sandhills Farm to Table is truly a win-win for our community.”

In return for a commitment to the harvest, consumers claim a stake in shaping and preserving local farms and what they produce. Every year, new crops, new producers and more organic and sustainable produce is added to what Sandhills Farm to Table has available. This past year the Cooperative celebrated its 10th anniversary serving the Sandhills with the launch of a refreshed website, new box offerings, and other member- and farmer-focused improvements.

About the Goods
Members have the option of choosing between several varieties of boxes and can skip or change weeks at any time. There are more than 20 gathering sites and workplaces in Moore, Lee, Cumberland, Hoke and Richmond Counties where consumers can pick up their goods. Box prices start at $18 and home delivery is available as an added option with a per delivery cost of $9.95.

Another aspect of the Cooperative is its Workplace Wellness program. In addition to gathering sites, workplaces can subscribe to boxes for their employees as a workplace benefit, allowing local employers to encourage healthier eating habits among employees.

Sandhills Farm to Table Celebrates a Decade of Service

Get the Dirt on Reasons Helping Moore County Grow Community and Eat Fresh is on the Rise

SOUTHERN PINES, NC – March 29, 2019 – Sandhills Farm to Table, one of the state’s homegrown Farm to Table Co-operatives, today announced the kick-off of its 10th Season growing, packaging and delivering fresh, local produce to residents and businesses in the Sandhills.

Beginning in late April, produce harvested from more than 1500 acres of supported Sandhills Farm to Table (SF2T) farmland will be sorted and boxed in a brand-new packing facility in Ellerbe, North Carolina, destined for the tables of residents across four counties. After teams of volunteers and staff pack the produce in iconic white and green cardboard boxes, they will deliver the procured produce to gathering sites for pick up, or – NEW this year – straight to residents’ homes.

Produce Rx

As the old adage goes, “An apple a day…” According to recent studies by Tufts University, researchers have found “prescribing” patients fruits and vegetables instead of pills for chronic illnesses would save more than $100 billion in medical costs. While food as medicine has long been advocated across the healthcare and wellness industries, it wasn’t until last year the 2018 Farm Bill included a $25 million Produce Prescription Program to fund pilot projects that institute healthier foods.

“It seems clear that fruits and vegetables can prevent many cases of chronic diseases,” said Molly Goodman, co-manager for SF2T and Ellerbe native. “In our corner of the world, we are proud to offer our communities resources to eat fresh and better their health.”

Connecting Moore County to a Farm-Fresh Lifestyle

It’s been a mission of Sandhills Farm to Table’s to cultivate healthy relationships between farmers and the greater community. The South is fortunate to have dinner tables with access to ingredients that are sourced from generations-old farms and gardens for nutritious ways to feed ourselves and our families.

The Co-op has benefited many farmers and residents in the greater Sandhills region since forming the alliance in 2009. From long-time SF2T farmer John Blue of Highlanders Farm in Carthage to new farmer Anna Jackson from White Hill Farm in Cameron, SF2T relishes the partnerships it makes.

According to Goodman, the philosophy of Farm to Table has always been to support local farmers by buying their harvest at a fair price and giving consumers fresh produce. “Customers commit upfront by joining the Co-op so that the farmers know they have a stable market,” Goodman explains. “The mechanics of software, website, billing, marketing, packing and distribution are all carried out by staff and volunteers so that farmers can focus on farming.”

What’s in the Box

SF2T produce is generally picked the day before and, in some cases, the morning of distribution. With a goal of less than two days from area farm to fork, that means a lot of hustle from staff and volunteers. “A lot of time and care is put into the packing process. It’s truly a labor of love,” says Mark Hunsicker, longtime staff member.

Members have the option of choosing between four varieties of boxes and can skip or change weeks at any time. During the box season, subscribers receive an e-newsletter ahead of each delivery with Sandhills farm news, featured recipes, storage tips and information about upcoming events. 

The delivery season for subscribers is 30 weeks, starting April 24. From familiar favorites, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, blueberries and peaches to vitamin-packed greens such as Boy Choy, cabbage, lettuces and kale, subscribers can indulge in farm-fresh food that tours the best tastes of the Sandhills. There are more than 20 gathering sites and workplaces in Moore, Lee, Cumberland, and Richmond Counties where consumers can pick up their subscribed boxes.

Two other aspects of the Co-operative are its online Artisanal Market and its Workplace Wellness program. This year’s upgraded SandhillsFarm2Table.com features a revamped online market offering fresh baked goods, grass-fed beef, pastured poultry and pork, local salsas, cheeses, jams and soaps.

In addition to gathering sites, many workplaces in Moore County subscribe to boxes for their employees as a workplace benefit, allowing local employers to encourage healthier eating habits among employees. SF2T Workplace Wellness participants include Sandhills Pediatrics, Aberdeen Town Hall, FirstHealth of the Carolinas, and Sandhills Community College.

Celebrate With Us

“The public is invited to celebrate with SF2T this month as the group embarks on what promises to be the most celebrated season yet,” said Goodman, who is passionate about sourcing fresh ingredients. “Pre-Season is always a lot of hard work, but also rewarding,” she added. “We’re ready to enjoy the harvest, and reap the reward.”

The group will commemorate its decade of provision at a series of parties in the communities it serves, starting with a gathering at Hugger Mugger Brewery, in downtown Sanford, Saturday, March 30, from 4-8 p.m. For the latest event updates, visit our website and Facebook page. A listing can also be found below.

Sandhills Farm Tour

Sat. April 6th 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Hosted by the NC Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener volunteers, the public is invited to tour working farms in Moore County. This year the tour has expanded into two circuits, each including food vendors and ice cream shops, and several
farms will offer child-friendly activities. For more information, visit the event page or call (910) 947-3188.

305 Trackside Anniversary Bash
Sun. April 7th 1-4 p.m.
Free and open to the public, the event at 305 Trackside will feature an indoor farmer’s market, food trucks and farmers serving local dishes, children’s activities, music and more. SF2T will also be raffling off subscription discounts, as well as announcing new and exciting changes to this year’s services. Come enjoy the opportunity to meet many of the Co-op farmers and artisans. 305 NW Broad St, Southern Pines.

About Sandhills Farm to Table

Established in 2009, Sandhills Farm to Table (SF2T) provides locally-sourced produce and artisanal wares to the greater Sandhills region of North Carolina. The cornerstone of the Co-op is its subscription services, which link farmers and consumers by offering handcrafted boxes of seasonal fare delivered from farm to fork. We are invested in our communities, making local food accessible to Sandhills families and helping to secure a living for the next generation of farmers. For more information about Sandhills Farm to Table, visit www.sandhillsfarm2table.com.

Celebrating A Decade of Sandhills Farm to Table

Sandhills Farm to Table recently celebrated their ten year anniversary in April. For over a decade now, Sandhills Farm to Table has been striving to satisfy community needs with locally grown and produced foods.

Established in 2009, Sandhills Farm to Table has never stopped working to bring the community together through locally grown produce and hand-made artisanal goods. Customers are able to subscribe to monthly boxes of in-season produce grown and provided by farmers local to the Sandhills region, as well as access to a marketplace of artisanal goods. Local artisans are able to craft and sell clean, locally-sourced products, such as meats, cheeses, honey, baked goods, and more.

For Sandhills Farm to Table, the term local includes Moore County and the surrounding communities. Through this program, farmers are given a secure market for their crops and products at a price that offers financial stability, while consumers are able to choose from a variety of healthy, locally-sourced products. This provides the community with convenient access to healthy food at a price comparable to current quality foods.

“Sandhills Farm to Table works to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers,” said co-manager Molly Goodman. According to Goodman, this allows the farmers and consumers to know and appreciate one another within the community, strengthening local bonds.

The recent ten-year anniversary celebration served to commemorate ten years of community effort from local farmers, consumers, and of course, the Sandhills Farm to Table team. After serving the community for nearly a decade, the celebration was both well-deserved and well-received.

Profits from Sandhills Farm to Table are subsidized to the community, offering assistance to small businesses, schools, and churches in the Sandhills region. Sandhills Farm to Table brings together hundreds of volunteers, farmers, and members of the community each year, all seeking to contribute to the local food movement.

“We engage with community members so they are healthier and happier, through sharing information about farm goods, recipes, storage and preservation tips, events, and gatherings,” said staff representative Christine Hall. “We are one of the first local food cooperatives in the country in which the producers, consumers, and staff are all equal owners,” added Hall.

By including three different stakeholder groups—the producers, the consumers, and the staff—in the decision-making structure of its operations, Sandhills Farm to Table is aiming to expand the understanding and respect of each stakeholder group so that each group can benefit the others. “This structure reflects our belief that ‘we’re all in this together,’” said Hall.

For more information or to find out how to subscribe to Sandhills Farm to Table, call 910-722-1623 or visit the official website at https://www.sandhillsfarm2table.com for future updates.

For the full article, please visit: https://thesevenlakesinsider.com/2019/04/celebrating-a-decade-of-sandhills-farm-to-table/



As local physicians, Drs. Christoph Diasio and Bill Stewart administer to the health of area children. This week, they join with with Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative to issue a unique Workplace Wellness challenge – fresh fruits and vegetables as a tangible health benefit.

 “Pediatricians are on the front line of the obesity epidemic in America, says Dr. Diasio. “We work hard every day to help our families make healthy choices.”

 Drs. Diasio and Stewart are pediatricians at Sandhills Pediatrics, a busy medical practice with offices in Southern Pines, Seven Lakes and Raeford. For the third season, this medical practice is leading by example. By paying for Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative biweekly Produce Box subscriptions for their entire 50+ staff, the partners at Sandhills Pediatrics practice what they preach.

 “When we heard of SF2T, it sounded like a wonderful opportunity to do something positive for our employees and our community,” says Dr. Diasio. “We tell our patients to eat more fruits and veggies and less processed foods every single day- we look at this as a way to say that we are walking the walk!”

Adds Dr. Stewart, “Sandhills Pediatrics has always sought to be a good corporate citizen, and we jumped at this opportunity to keep more money in the local economy and participate in this terrific project.”

Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative, a community-owned enterprise centered around fresh local food, is kicking off its Workplace Wellness outreach this week with a direct challenge at the third annual Members Potluck this Saturday. Drs. Diasio, Stewart and “Sandhills Ped” are joining the three-year-old Cooperative in reaching out to businesses and issuing a Workplace Challenge: “Enrich your business and employee health with Produce Box subscriptions.”

 The Co-op offers several ways to do this: As a direct “Employee Wellness” benefit of weekly or biweekly boxes as Sandhills Pediatrics does, or by subsidizing the $25 membership fee for employees, and/or by allowing pay as you eat payroll deduction payments for employees purchasing Produce box subscriptions.

Sandhills Pediatrics first decided to give employees the tangible benefit of an every-other-week box of fresh local fruits and vegetables in 2010. “When we thought about what we pay as a small business to provide health insurance, paying a relatively small amount to promote healthy nutrition for our staff was a “no-brainer”,” says Dr. Diasio. “If we lower our long-term health insurance costs there could be a positive financial return on investment. Sandhills Pediatrics treats childhood obesity every single day and was really proud to encourage healthy eating for our staff.”

 Leading by example shows genuine commitment and leadership, as only some 19 percent of North Carolina residents eat the recommended five or more vegetables a day. North Carolina adults rank 14th highest in the nation for obesity and 10th highest in the nation for hypertension, according to the 2011 study “F is for Fat:” Roxanne Leopper, MS, First Health Community Health Services, notes: “Adults spend a good portion of their day at work. This provides worksites with an opportunity to offer simple, low-cost workplace wellness initiatives that can have a large impact on employee health.”

 Patrick Coughlin, president, Moore County Chamber of Commerce, agrees: “Company profitability and longevity are directly related to employee health.” And a 2010 analysis of literature showed that every dollar invested into workplace wellness returned about $6 in savings for the company both directly in reduced employee medical costs, and indirectly through greater productivity, less absenteeism – a six hundred percent return.

 Beyond the tangible economic benefits, the Cooperative Produce Boxes, which are delivered directly to Sandhills Pediatrics offices, generate uplift and excitement among employees on “Box Day.”

“Of all the employee benefits we have provided, nothing has been as popular with our employees as the Farm to Table program! There is a buzz of excitement all over the office every delivery day. It’s like Christmas!” says Dr. Diasio. “It is a wonderful experience to have a box of fresh fruits and veggies to learn to cook new, and healthy foods! But honestly, it is mainly a really fun program!”

Sandhills Farm to Table delivery manager Steve Brock concurs: “Their people were really excited, especially when they saw what was inside the box. And it never faded. They grabbed the boxes so fast! Their expectations seemed to be more than fulfilled in every way.”

Ask your employer to take the Workplace Wellness Challenge this season. Send inquiries to Wellness@SandhillsFarm2Table.com to learn more.

“Be a great corporate citizen and consider this employee benefit,” urges Diasio. “Try it out, and we bet your staff will love it!”

This year, the NC Cooperative Extension’s master gardener volunteers have expanded the tour to reflect the Sandhills region’s rich and diverse agricultural heritage by showcasing farms located in Moore, Lee and Richmond counties. Foodies, gardeners, new and aspiring farmers, and kids will enjoy a memorable day on the farm learning about fruit, vegetable and meat production, livestock, as well as sustainable agriculture concepts, including veganic farming and biochar production.

The Sandhills Farm Tour has expanded into two circuits. Western Moore County and neighboring Richmond County farms will be open from 9 a.m. to noon. Farms in eastern Moore and Lee counties will be open from noon to 3 p.m. Each circuit includes food vendors and ice cream shops, and several farms will offer child-friendly activities.

The tour takes place rain or shine, and is free and open to the public. It’s also self-directed, so each circuit’s farms may be visited in any order. Maps, directions and descriptions of each farm and activities are provided in advance so visitors can plan their stops.

Tour planning should begin with the understanding that visitors will not have time to see all the farms on tour, and it is suggested that visitors select farms that interest them and then plan additional stops nearby.

Farmers will gladly answer questions about their farm and the challenges and rewards of producing the products they sell to their neighbors, farmers markets, restaurants and through Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative.

Each visitor registration is a car pass, which is good for a carload of people. Cycling groups are welcome to use one pass, too.

Bring cash and pack a cooler with ice, because there will be plenty of fresh farm bounty. Visitors should wear sturdy closed-toe shoes and be prepared for the muddy lanes and uneven ground of working farms. Wear warm clothing, sunscreen and hats. Adults and children are welcome. No dogs or other animals are permitted. Bring plenty of drinking water. Public restrooms may not be available at all farms.

Register at Sandhills-farm-tour.eventbrite.com by April 2, 2019 to receive your map for the Sandhills Farm Tour 2019, or call (910)947-3188 for more information.

Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative


— Written By Bill Stone and last updated by Rhonda Gaster

Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative is entering its 9th year supporting Sandhills farmers in Lee, Moore and Cumberland counties. The Co-Op is engaged in the community, making local food accessible to Sandhills families and helping to secure a living for the next generation of farmers!

Strawberries, asparagus, tomatoes, lettuce, and more will stuff the early Sandhills Farm to Table Co-op (SF2T) produce boxes, available by subscription on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Grown by the family farmers of SF2T, a community-owned Cooperative supporting over 35 Sandhills producers, SF2T brings to your table the freshest and very best in locally harvested produce.

To bring fresh, nutritious foods to Sanford, SF2T is partnering once again with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County & Karma Boutique for public pickups of fresh produce boxes. Deliveries for SF2T’s 2018 season began April 18th & 19th. Pickups are every Wednesday/Thursday through mid-November with a two-week break at the end of August. Convenient workplace deliveries in Sanford including Central Carolina Hospital, Caterpillar & STI Polymer are available as well and you can contact SF2T directly for more information about signing up your workplace. (910)722-1623 or email info@sandhillsfarm2table.com

Every produce box purchased also sends positive economic ripples out into the community. In 2017, more than $200,000 went to Sandhills family farmers & artisans through SF2T’s produce & local food purchases. Sandhills family farmers & artisans are fairly paid for their produce and artisanal market products. Money is contributed directly to community schools, churches, small businesses and organizations through Gathering Sites. Here locally, North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County plans to use their contributions from SF2T to support groups such as Extension Master Gardener℠ volunteers, 4-H Youth Development Programs, Lee County Extension Community Association and the Lee County Extension Advisory Committee.

Become a part of the local food movement and “Neighbors Feeding Neighbors”. Sign up today to receive fresh and local produce while supporting your Sandhills farmers and producers. Sandhills Farm to Table subscriptions are available online at the Sandhills Farm to Table website, or by calling 910-722-1623.

Bill Stone is County Extension Director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.

Sandhills farms invite visitors for the spring season
By Jasmine Gallup

Once again, Moore County farmers will open their barn doors to local residents interested in seeing what happens behind the scenes of working farms. Read more: www.sanfordherald.com/news 


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