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Farms find niche, sell directly to consumers

Posted May 15, 2009

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— With fewer farms statewide, more farmers are trying to set their business apart and reach customers directly.

"We're finding our niche of customers who are more interested in exactly where their food came from, how it was raised," said Steve Mobley of Meadow Lane Farms, which specializes in beef cattle.

Organic produce Farmers cut out middlemen to stay in business

Ten years ago, Mobley said, he marketed his cattle mainly to wholesalers. Now, his prime business is farmers markets.

"You have to be able to go to the market. You have to talk to people. You have to market your product," he said.

Other farmers agree that selling directly to customers is a good way to succeed when many family farms are going out of business.

Since 2002, North Carolina has lost 757,000 acres of farmland – that's an area larger than Wake and Durham counties combined – and more than 1,400 farms closed. One third of those closures occurred in the last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Some Franklin County farmers are hosting a farm tour and festival this weekend and a Saturday night dinner featuring local foods to boost their marketing efforts.

In addition to marketing directly to consumers, S & L Farms has built a niche in raising free-range chickens.

"These birds go wherever they like. They're not confined to this farm, unless they want to be," owner Linda Maggio said.

Maggio said raising all-natural poultry helps her meet higher consumer expectations.

"Part of that is because of the scares we've had in the food supply – bad spinach, bad tomatoes," she said.

Customer Joyce Kinstle said she appreciates knowing who is growing her food.

"Getting fresh vegetables right off the truck is just a real plus for our family. I'd much rather buy from the farm than go to the grocery store," Kinstle said.


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