A while back, I downloaded a book on Hoopla called 100 Best Health Foods and read about the bogus terminology used to sell food disguised as organic, Non-GMO, etc.
But it didn’t really hit home until I talked with Pat Farrell, owner and founder of Central Food Hub and Plaza Midwood resident. She has 40+ years in and around the agriculture business, and made me more conscious of what I’m buying and putting into my body.
Pat believes in education and thinks the average consumer needs to be educating themselves on agriculture – about how, by whom and with what something is grown.
She grew up on a farm in Iowa, a true Midwesterner, and after the Vietnam War, co-owned a farm in Wisconsin with her brothers, until corporate farm buyouts took it over. She spent many a Saturday at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market, as she described it, “way before [many of us] were a twinkle in our parents’ eyes.”
She remembers Wendell Berry during the gas shortage in the ’70s alluding to the corporate takeover when he warned, “You think gas is expensive, wait until they take over farming!” Thus, she watched the food supply chain become convoluted as corporate farming cut corners.
Pat continues to educate apprentices about how to care for produce through the Central Food Hub, which connects farmers’ goods to local vendors – farmer’s markets, other farmers, local restaurants, the consumer, etc. She sells produce through The Barn, hosted at Pure Pizza on Central Avenue.
Pat is what I like to think of as a food broker, buying and selling produce with quick turnaround time.
She started out with $500 of her own money in 2013, grossed a bit over $52,000 in 2014 and would have increased sales had she not been hit with cancer and then a heart attack in 2015. She was not deterred.
Today she has relationships with farmers all around the region, and she was not going to interrupt the food supply chain she had created — including relationships with Mary Roberts’ Wincrest Organics; Bush N Vine; and Joe & Dani Rowland with Rowland’s Row in Gold Hill.
‘No such thing as cheap organic food’
Pat mentioned people commenting on the price of her organic carrots at The Barn, and how they were cheaper at Harris Teeter. That’s the thing; it’s not the same. As Pat reminded me, “There is no such thing as cheap organic food; there’s a hidden cost somewhere; it’s just where? There’s a cost, and that’s what people don’t want to see.”
It could be anything from exploiting laborers, agriculture subsidies to water supply issues, she said.
Most farmers have very little time off, so the last thing they want to do is spend their Saturday at a farmer’s market. What Pat would like to see is a team trained and educated from the farm to the market about growing, feeding the soil, deterring pests, keeping produce fresh.
That is why she is taking so many people, anyone willing to learn, and training them from the ground up in a dying art of farming.
She hopes, like other food hubs around the country, to offer door-to-door produce delivery service, but needs cold storage, a refrigerated trailer to keep the produce fresh as she transports it from field to doorstep (N.C. State University has created just the vehicle for the job.) There is a Central Food Hub GoFundMe page if you want to help Pat make fresh produce more accessible to people in Charlotte or if you just want to learn more about what she’s doing in Charlotte to improve produce education and access.
As Pat likes to point out though, organic is not possible for all of us. There is only so much organic produce and agriculture just can’t keep up with population rates. To supply sustainable organic produce for everyone, there would need to be one grower for every 10 people.
So for Charlotte, there’d have to be approximately 100,000 farmers, and being in a banking town, this seems like a stretch since most corners are cluttered with condos, where would we find the land?
If nothing else, after meeting Pat you may think more about what you’re throwing in your cart, bag or putting in your mouth here in Charlotte because there are plenty of options. It’s just about knowing what they are, where they come from and how to keep stuff fresh longer.
Stop by The Barn on Sustainable Saturdays and talk to Pat – she’ll be happy to teach you a planting, picking, or perusing trick or two and save you a trip to the farm.
Check out Central Food Hub’s Facebook page.
Cover image courtesy of Facebook