PMP going back to roots

By Keith Strange

May 13, 2014

PILOT MOUNTAIN — After a miserable growing season last year, officials with Pilot Mountain Pride say they have narrowed their focus and are making a few changes to the way fresh, local produce is marketed in the region.

“To put it bluntly, we’re getting back to our roots,” said Bryan Cave, director of the county’s cooperative extension service. “Since we opened Pilot Mountain Pride several years ago, we’ve had a lot of success and have tried a lot of things, but we need to get back to our roots and focus on what we do best and our original goal: To help farmers market their product.”

While Cave said customers won’t see much difference, the center is now focusing on generating a steady stream of revenue by narrowing their choice of products.

“The major difference in the way we’re doing things this year is we’ve been working with our farmers and now we have a better idea of what crops are coming in and when they will be there,” he said. “We’re going to be focusing on selling a few items in bulk.”

This year, those items include yellow squash, cabbage and bell peppers.

“We looked at our records and what has been selling and are focusing on that,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to continue to try new things, but they may be secondary.”

Cave agreed that customers need variety, and said the group will continue to work to provide what customers want.

“We’re not just going to do a few things and nothing else, but we’re going to focus on a few products from a bulk standpoint to pay the bills,” he said.

The new direction for the marketing center is the result of trial and error, according to Cave.

“I think any time you start working on a new project, you don’t know exactly what you’re doing so we tried new things and several different avenues like the storefront in Mount Airy,” he said. “We found that we do a good job of putting products together and marketing them in bulk, but we’re not so good at marketing on a sales floor.”

Cave said the group’s primary purpose hasn’t changed — helping area farmers.

“That’s the goal,” he said. “We had gotten hung up on everything being consumer-drive, but realized we had to focus on who’s growing the product. That’s what we’re going to do, help the farmers and move forward from there.”

Two new employees are also in place at the Pilot Mountain center, Cave said.

“We decided one person couldn’t do it all,” he said, noting it took years of trial and error to come to that realization. “We’ve been down that road, so now we have Ricky Fulk in the position of director and Joshua Cave in charge of marketing.

“They’re both farmers, so they know and understand agriculture and the issues facing county farmers,” Cave added. “Both have marketing experience and they compliment each other very well.”

While the focus of the center has changed somewhat, Cave promised consumers shouldn’t see much difference.

“Anyone who, for example, went to the Mount Airy store can now go to the Pilot Mountain Pride website and sign up for a weekly notice of what we have for sale,” he said. “They can place their order online and we will deliver it to a nearby place they can pick it up.”

Todd Tucker, director of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, which oversees center funding and operations, said he feels positive about the changes.

“We took a look at the past couple of years as to what the program originally started out to do and that is getting more local food to local people,” he said. “We quickly realized that wasn’t going to pay the bills. We tried a few different things and after a couple of years we realized we had to sell in bulk to give us a steady stream of income.

“It was a growing and learning experience,” Tucker said. “But I think this will make the difference for us going forward.”

Keith Strange can be reached at 336-719-1929 or via Twitter @strangereporter.