PILOT MOUNTAIN — The idea for Pilot Mountain Pride began almost as a pipe dream, but through an almost-unheard-of spirit of cooperation and a little good fortune, it has grown from an idea into a viable marketing mechanism for local farmers.
According to Surry County Cooperative Extension Agent Bryan Cave, it all began after somebody went to a conference.
“Back in 2003, when (now-county-manager) Chris Knopf was a county planner, he and I were discussing ways to incorporate agriculture into the county’s economic development plans,” Cave said. “He’d been to a planner’s conference in Asheville and we wanted to do something along these lines in Surry County.
“We ended up just talking about it for about three years.”
In 2006, the North Carolina Department of Commerce initiated a program called NC STEP (Small Town Economic Prosperity) that brought together groups from areas hit hard by the decline in the tobacco and textile industries.
“The move toward local food came out of this thinking,” Cave said.
And then things started rolling.
“There was a little bit of talking, a whole lot of formal discussions and things started falling into place,” Cave noted. “We got into a better position to push things along.”
Through the STEP program, organizers began to put together a concrete, ordered list that incorporated the local food movement and the potential for an agricultural marketing center into the county’s list of priorities.
“Then some tobacco money became available through Golden LEAF funding through a community assistance initiative for counties who were stressed by the decline of the tobacco and textile industries,” he said.
About $2 million was provided through the tobacco funds that could be used as communities see fit.
And with the help of various public agencies, the support of local business and industry, and cooperation between localities, things began taking shape.
“One of the things that I’m most proud of is that the governments of the city, towns and county came together with the business and industry community to make this happen,” Cave said. “With all of this coming together, we put together Pilot Mountain Pride.”
And since opening its doors a couple of years ago, the marketing center has been steadily growing.
Cave said that because Pilot Mountain Pride tries to be a one-stop shop for farmers to market their product they have been fully supportive of the center.
“On the low, very conservative end, I’d say that we’ve marketed over $30,000 worth of produce so far this year,” Cave said.
Prior to opening the doors of the center in May, 2010, center planners conducted a feasibility study on the potential sales.
“We were anticipating, from the study, that by the end of year one we would consider it a success with $30,000 in receipts,” Cave noted. “We hit over $300,000.”
And receipts are expected to grow to exceed $1 million in annual receipts, he added, “with 80 percent of that going directly back to the farmers.”
“This has grown beyond our wildest dreams.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.