About Growing Small Farms
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Growing Small Farms is the program of Debbie Roos, Agriculture Agent for the Chatham County Center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
From Bear Creek to Bynum, Silk Hope to Moncure, the Chatham County landscape is dotted with small farms. Farmers throughout the county are known for growing a great diversity of agricultural products, including vegetables, fruits, cut flowers, herbs, poultry, beef, pork, dairy products, and other goods. As one of the few counties in the state to actually experience an increase in the number of farms in the past decade, Chatham is also “growing small farms.”
Many of Chatham’s newer farms are owned by first-generation farmers attracted to the challenges and rewards of making a living from the land. Chatham has a large concentration of farms practicing organic and sustainable agriculture that strive to be environmentally responsible, economically viable, and socially just. In a time when the trend in conventional agriculture is towards fewer and larger farms and many of North Carolina’s “conventional” farmers are struggling, the sustainable and diverse agriculture practiced by Chatham’s small farms provides the best hope for keeping agriculture a viable part of the community.
Chatham’s proximity to upscale Triangle-area markets ensures a steady demand for the organic and sustainably-grown crops produced by area farmers. Four farmers’ markets in the county provide residents with ample opportunities to shop and interact with local growers throughout the long growing season. Many area farms offer opportunities for on-farm visits where visitors get the chance to make the connection between food and agriculture.
Small farms also provide many indirect benefits. They help maintain open space valued by people and wildlife. Visitors flock to Chatham for the beauty of its rural landscape. The challenge is to preserve this rural landscape in the face of development pressures from Raleigh and Chapel Hill. One way to preserve the rural landscape is to help keep farms in the county.
The Chatham County Center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension has long recognized the value and importance of the sustainable agriculture practiced by small farms in the area. In 1994, the Chatham County Center created a new county agent position to support the unique needs of these small farmers. Today, this position is fully funded by the Chatham County government, which recognizes the value of sustainable agriculture to the county. Chatham County Agricultural Extension Agent Debbie Roos works with farmers to promote increased awareness, understanding, and practice of sustainable agriculture through monthly educational workshops, a website, on-farm visits, and other consultation.
Roos developed the Growing Small Farms website in 2002 after a survey revealed that approximately 95% of local farmers regularly used the Internet. The site has since grown to over 500 pages and receives over 25,000 visitors each month. Growing Small Farms is also on Twitter and Facebook.
Farms don’t exist without consumers, so please take the time to get to know the farmers in your community and support their efforts to keep Chatham County green! Visit our farmers’ markets to purchase the freshest vegetables, fruits, meats, baked goods, and other products, all grown or made locally by the person selling it to you. The Buy Local Guide lists community supported agriculture farms, on-farm stands, pick-your-own farms, wineries, and more. Check out the local farm profiles and farm photos on this website for a glimpse of the diversity that allows Chatham’s farms to prosper.