ELLERBE, N.C. – There is now a place in Richmond County where farmers, consumers and distributors can meet to better serve the community with fresh food. Thursday morning, the Sandhills AGInnovation Center opened its doors for the first time to offer local residents a higher quality product.
Located at 1298 Crawford Road in Ellerbe, the AGInnovation Center held its blue ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday morning. A project four years in the making, residents from all over the state made their way to Ellerbe, the unofficial farming capital of Richmond County, to take part in the celebration.
Susan Kelly, who serves as the Richmond County Extension Director, served as Mistress of Ceremony, opening with a warm welcome to the grounds and expressions of recognition and gratitude for all community partners and staff members who played a part in the planning, building, and operating of the center.
“I look around and there are so many important people,” Kelly said. “There are so many folks here that we could recognize and I could not possibly note it all. But just know we really, really appreciate all of you.”
The lineup of speakers included Kenneth Robinette, Chairman of Richmond County Board of County Commissioners; Lee Berry, farmer, owner of the Berry Patch and Mayor of Ellerbe; Sheri Schwab, North Carolina Extension Director of County Operations; Dan Gerlach, President of Golden LEAF Foundation; and Senator Tom McInnis.
According to their website, the Sandhills AGInnovation Center has been designed to connect Sandhills region farmers to new markets and resources. The Center will include a wide range of equipment, facilities and services to expand markets and opportunities for farmers in the Sandhills.
“Richmond and Moore Counties see the Sandhills AGInnovation Center as a way to give existing and new farmers a hand up,” Robinette said. “It’s an advantage in today’s economy, and is a tool that can be used in a multi-county approach to sustainable farm production and distribution.”
The Richmond County Board of County Commissioners donated $150,000 to the creation of the facility. The Golden Leaf Foundation also helped the project, donating $475,000.
Gerlach, who has been president of the Golden Leaf Foundation for the last nine years, spoke of being a produce buyer while in college and farmers’ disdain for him because of price negotiations on their products.
“Adding value is what this AGInnovation Center is all about,” Gerlach said. “It’s all about making sure the farmer gets his or her fair share of that dollar.”
The ceremony concluded with remarks by Senator McInnis, an Ellerbe native, who spoke of the collaborative effort of the community by thanking the DeWitt family for their land contribution and for being a pillar in Richmond County’s agricultural successes.
“We stand on hallowed ground, this land was owned by the DeWitt family for many, many years,” McInnis began. “Mr. DeWitt farmed thousands of acres of land all the way to Candor. This land was bought and paid for by the sweat of a brow of agriculture. That’s the reason we’re here today.”
McInnis continued, “Without the support of the community, the facility will not survive and it is necessary. Failure is not an option. Eggs do not come from a machine at the backend of a Wal-Mart, nor does the Easter Bunny lay eggs. They come from a farmer.”
The attendees of the ceremony enjoyed local fruits and healthy snacks as they toured the facility and networked with other members of the agricultural industry. This was especially beneficial to new farmer, Tim Walton, 63 of Rockingham.
When asked, why he farms, Walton responded, “I like putting (crops) in the ground and watching it grow.”
With the help of the AGInnovation Center, Walton hopes that he can get his small, organic farm of crops (which include collards and peas) up and running by Oct. 1, 2017.
Agriculture is the number one industry in North Carolina, generating about $84 billion in revenue. The Sandhills AGInnovation Center will be managed under the direction of local farmer, Davon Goodwin. For more information, please contact Goodwin at (910) 997-8255.