PILOT MOUNTAIN — “I’ll tell you what, if I can eat like this every day I’ll be back tomorrow,” North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler said yesterday as he stood up from the table.
Troxler was in town with about 40 people from across the state Wednesday as part of a tour of state-funded stream restoration projects, but said he wanted to stop by Pilot Mountain Pride.
The commissioner was invited by Pilot Mountain Mayor Earl Sheppard, who also serves on the soil and water board, which has recently been placed under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture.
His group included Pilot Mountain and county officials as well as farmers from across the state he said serve as “ambassadors for the Department of Agriculture representing the state from the coast to the mountains.”
Following a tour of the stream restoration projects, the commissioner and his group were served a lunch comprised nearly 100 percent from products grown locally and marketed through Pilot Mountain Pride.
Troxler said he uses tours like Wednesday’s “to learn how agriculture and industry in North Carolina interface,” and said the Pilot Mountain agricultural aggregation center can serve as a model for farmers across the state.
“I think this is a wonderful example of what can happen when people work together,” he said, noting that his department helped initially fund the project. “This center is a source of pride for me.”
According to Troxler, success stories like Pilot Mountain Pride can, and should, be emulated throughout North Carolina.
“I’d love to see this marketing model be replicated across the state,” he said.
Addressing the group, county Cooperative Extension director Bryan Cave and County Manager and former economic development director Chris Knopf gave a brief overview of the center, noting that today, just a few years after opening its doors, more than 100 local farmers participate.
Knopf told the group that a lot of the member farmers are former tobacco growers.
“We needed something for them to transition to that would be a marketable crop, and for us that was produce,” he said.
But the statement greeted with resounding “oohs” and “ahhs” from the experienced farmers was when Knopf and Cave told the group how entities as varied as the local community college and governing boards all came together to help make the center a reality.
“I don’t know of any project that’s brought people together like Pilot Mountain Pride has,” Knopf said.
It was a sentiment echoed by Pilot Mountain Mayor Earl Sheppard.
As he looked around the center, his voice softened to almost a whisper.
“This is one of the best things I’ve done in my life,” he said.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.