From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
This month’s celebration of the 149th edition of the N.C. State Fair serves as a reminder of how much agriculture has changed through the years. The first fair was only four days long and was designed to showcase agricultural advances and allow farmers to share information on production practices with one another.
While the State Fair is still a showcase for agricultural excellence, today’s broader agricultural mission focuses on helping the non-farming public understand where their food comes from.
What has remained unchanged though the years is ag’s significant influence on our economy.
Agriculture and agribusiness remains our No. 1 industry at $84 billion. I believe it will soon be a $100 billion industry as we look at ways to recruit and encourage the development of food manufacturing business in our state and grow agricultural opportunities along with it.
In September, I visited Blue Ridge Food Ventures on the campus of A-B Tech in Enka. This shared-use commercial kitchen and natural products facility officially opened in 2004, serving entrepreneurs in Western N.C.
In the 12 years since its opening, the facility has added more equipment and more packing capabilities, and continues to help food entrepreneurs, caterers, food truck operators and natural products producer take their ideas from concept to reality.
It is an impressive facility in its scope, mission and equipment capabilities. It accommodates small producers and larger ones. The perfect example of that range is the mixers they have, ranging in size from 5 quarts up to 60 quarts.
Other notable equipment includes apple peeler/slicer, dehydrators, juicer-pulper, grinders and mills, steam kettles, commercial ranges and ovens, a grill, tilt skillet, auger filler for dry products, vacuum sealer, label applicator, batch code printer, and walk in coolers and freezers.
BRFV also offers co-packing services to businesses that may have the product idea, but not the time to pack, or to established businesses that may need to ramp up production.
The beauty of a facility such as this, is that it lets people start producing a product without initially having to invest in buying expensive commercial equipment. This allows a small business to grow in a sustainable way, building business and developing a customer base. When they have an established foundation, they can go out on their own when it makes sense to do so. Food entrepreneurs rent work space by the hour and can even rent storage space for their product.
Blue Ridge Food Ventures is not the only shared-use facility in the state. Others exist in about every region of our state, offering similar opportunities to food entrepreneurs. I hope to visit more of them in the future.
We have tremendous agricultural resources in this state, perfect for turning into food and natural products.
Focusing efforts on attracting and growing food manufacturers here just makes good business sense to me, and I am excited that as a state we are working to accomplish this.
I hope the efforts we invest in today help transform agriculture into the $100 billion industry I know it can be.