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West Piedmont commission survey aims to aid agribusiness

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The West Piedmont Planning District Commission is working to find local food producers and others connected to the agribusiness community.

Aaron Burdick, executive director of the WPPDC, said he hopes an online survey will help the commission “identify who we ought to be working with” when planning initiatives to benefit the agritourism community and/or growers’ marketing efforts.

He encouraged anyone who operates a business related to agriculture, agribusiness and agritourism (such as a person who operates a corn maze) to participate in an online survey titled “Local Food Guide Survey.”

The short survey has areas for owner/grower contact information, business name and address, phone number, email address and days/hours of operation.

Participants also are asked to select as many categories as are applicable to describe their operation, from a family farm, a community market, distributor, winery, agritourism, distributor, bed and breakfast/farm lodging and others.

Data collected from the surveys will be used in a number of ways, including identifying “who the producers are and what they are growing,” he said.

Participants also will receive free advertising, because “we will be posting information about their farm, farmer’s market, booth at the farmers market” or other endeavor onto an interactive Google map, Burdick said.

When that is completed, “if you were to look at a map of the district, you would be able to identify where” participants are physically located, their phone number, their website, their physical address (if participants want to include that) as well as information about their products, Burdick said.

If growers have a website, a hyperlink will be posted to that as well, he added.

Burdick explained that survey information also could be used to form cooperatives (co-ops) among interested growers to help increase buying power.

For instance, if a group of farmers need or want to buy apple trees, they may be able to order in bulk and save money, Burdick said.

The Extension Office in Rockingham County, N.C., has a “pretty good model in place” of a similar program, and Burdick said that because many of localities in the West Piedmont District border North Carolina areas, some local producers “here could be using that co-op.”

The commission also is considering other options that could be implemented locally, he said.

That could include, for example, developing a website to help market and distribute products, he said. He added that farmers often are unable to focus on that area because they are too busy with the operations part of their business.

A group of 10 or so farmers may want to partner to create a website, Burdick said. Then, as products are in season, customers could place orders online. That would make marketing, sales and distribution easier.

“We are trying to look at different ways to help farmers and offer another way to look at economic development,” Burdick said. “It’s not the same” endeavor as those undertaken by the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.

But, “we think it will complement their work” while helping producers, creating awareness and expanding capabilities, he said.

The commission has been working on the survey project with Field to Friends, a nonprofit agency with a mission of educating, cultivating and empowering “sustainable food communities by bringing recognition and opportunities for local food from the field to our friends,” according to its website.

“We’ve had real good feedback” on the project, and “people are really glad we are doing this” survey, Burdick said.

But participation has “not nearly as much as we’d like,” he said. When the survey project began, “our goal was by the end of the calendar year to have a solid inventory” of what is available in the region.

“But because of the logistics, we are probably looking at the spring to have a more complete inventory,” Burdick said.

It is not too late to participate, he said.

Hard copies of the survey are available at the commission, and several links to it are posted online at websites that include the WPPDC, at www.wppdc.org; Henry and Patrick counties at www.henrycountyva.gov and www.co.patrick.va.us.

 

 
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