PILOT MOUNTAIN — While concrete numbers aren’t available yet, officials with Pilot Mountain Pride say this year’s season has been head and shoulders above last year’s sales, and they note that bigger and better things are likely on the horizon.
“I think we’ve had a very busy season this year,” said Lewis Draughn, director of the marketing cooperative. “To me, there has been a lot more business than last year. We have a lot of new farmers and a lot of different produce being offered.”
Pilot Mountain Pride is a non-profit marketing center owned by the Surry County Economic Development Partnership that focuses on marketing locally-grown produce to both individuals and businesses.
Farmers who participate are certified in GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) by the U.S.D.A. GAP is a food safety program for farmers that helps them minimize risk and problems that could be associated with fresh produce.
When they market their produce through the center, the center keeps about 20 percent of the income generated and returns the rest to the farmer.
Draughn said that while a little fall produce is trickling in, this year’s season is beginning to wind down.
“We’re still getting a few fall items like butternut and acorn squash, cabbage and broccoli, but things are starting to slow down,” he said.
This is the fourth year the marketing center has offered fresh, locally-grown produce to both the public and area businesses and institutions, and during last season more than 70 farmers participated, selling about 60 different products through Pilot Mountain Pride.
While Draughn said things have been bigger and better this year, he doesn’t have any idea of the dollar figures brought in yet.
“We haven’t completely ended the distribution season, but we’ve certainly been busy and are on pace to do more this year than last,” he said.
This year, staples like tomatoes and green beans have been top sellers, but this year’s first-time offering of blackberries has also taken off.
“We’ve had a lot of variety this year, and for the first time, we’ve been able to offer eggplants, sweet banana peppers and things like acorn squash for the first time thanks to our farmers,” Draughn said. “I think they’re starting to get into it and are starting to add different things to what they sell.
“I hope it continues to expand, and I don’t see why it couldn’t be a lot bigger next year,” he added.
Draughn attributes this expansion to interest among the public in eating healthier.
“People are starting to think about the benefits of eating locally-grown food,” he said. “I think the increased business goes back to what we’re trying to do here — allowing both businesses and individual members of the public to buy fresh produce.
“The word is getting out there and we’ve sold a lot of produce this year with just average citizens coming in to buy for their dinner table,” Draughn added.
The Pilot Mountain Pride director said that while numbers aren’t available, there is one way he can be certain the center has been busier.
“I used to be able to come in at eight in the morning, take an hour for lunch and get off by five in the afternoon,” he said. “This year I’m coming in before the sun comes up on some days and there isn’t time for lunch.
“I can tell by the way I feel that business has been way up,” Draughn added with a laugh. “Hopefully that’s because the public now realizes we’re here and are taking advantage of what we’re doing, and I hope that continues and grows.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.