Small farms play a vital role in supporting the competitiveness and sustainability of United States rural and farm economies and in protecting and enhancing its natural resource base and the environment. These numerous and diverse small-scale operations provide a nursery for the development of new enterprises and marketing systems and a replenishment of the farming population.
Agriculture is the leading industry in Robeson County. Many county residents think of large-scale contract hog or poultry farms or large row crop farms when farming is mentioned, but the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s “2012 Census of Agriculture” shows that small-scale farms make up 88 percent of all farms nationwide and 87 percent in North Carolina. Many of these farms consist of small-scale agriculture, including fruit and vegetable production; small-scale livestock production, including goats, pastured pork, and pastured poultry; forestry production; and aquaculture.
There are approximately 43,000 small-scale farmers statewide, and in honor of their accomplishments, pioneering work, and technological advancements, the state of North Carolina recognizes the week of March 25 to March 31 as North Carolina Small Farms Week. The theme for the 32nd snnual North Carolina Small Farms Week is “Small Farms, Big Impacts.”
Last year, Lucius and Vera Epps of Epps Farms in Maxton were named the 2017 North Carolina Small Farmers of the Year. Southeastern North Carolina has a rich history in producing North Carolina Small Farmers of the Year. Including the Epps, there have been seven Small Farmers of the Year from Southeastern North Carolina. Past winners from Robeson County include the late Burnice Blanks (2001) of the Moss Neck Community and Ellery and Amy Locklear (2003) of Locklear Farms in Pembroke.
To honor the Epps, the kickoff for the week will take place here in Robeson County on March 26 at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center on U.S. 74 East in Lumberton. The program will begin with registration at 9 a.m. Activities include a panel discussion, a complimentary lunch, and a tour of three farms in Robeson County. RSVP is required to attend the event.
Other events will be held at various sites throughout the state. The highlight of the week is the annual Small Farmers Recognition Luncheon, which is held March 28, on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. At the luncheon, the 2018 North Carolina Small Farmer of the Year will be named. Other activities in Greensboro include breakout sessions, educational forums, and a high-tunnel demonstration at the N.C. A&T University Farm.
To register for any of the events being held statewide for Small Farms Week, visit http://www.ncat.edu/caes/sfw/index.html by Wednesday. For accommodations for people with disabilities for the kickoff event, contact Cooperative Extension at 910-671-3276 no later than March 19.
Nelson Brownlee is an Area Farm Management agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center. He can be reached at 910-671-3276, or by email at Nelson_Brownlee@ncsu.edu.