LAURINBURG — For Bonnie Kelley, the recent Scotland County Farm Tour 2018 was more like a food tour.
At almost every point on the six-hour journey, Kelley made a purchase with a local producer. A brief rundown of her buys included cucumbers, tomatoes, honey bee candy, strawberries, peas and fresh eggs.
Organizers of the first ever farm tour said Kelley did just what they wanted participants to do — both see and sample what the county has to offer.
“The goal was to raise awareness of local food production and to highlight some of the establishments we have here the county that produce local food,” said Randy Wood, County extension director. “It is really two-fold. We want to encourage citizens to buy local to keep that money in the local economy and also increase awareness about what is raised here.”
The sold-out tour organized by Scotland Grows, a newly created local food council working to help Scotland County residents improve access to food grown and produced in the area. The food council is the brainchild of Noran Sanford of Growing Change and Shannon Newton, an agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
The tour began at the St. Andrews University Community Garden where there was a discussion of the garden there as well as the Laurinburg Presbyterian Church Community Garden and the Partners In Ministry Community Garden.
The tour included stops at the Morris Plant Farm on Old Maxton Road; Quality Produce on Johns Road in Laurinburg; Wagram Apiary Beekeepers on Main Street, Laurinburg. At each stop of the tour, a local farmer/producer provided a background on their business.
“It was better than I expected,” said Dr. Anna Duncan of Laurinburg. “I didn’t know about all of these place, but I do now. I learned so much.”
The project ended with a visit to Cypress Bends and a complimentary lunch there. Products were available for purchase along the way.
“This was awesome,” said County Commissioner Carol McColl, a tour participant. “To see these gems that we think are hidden, but are really not was wonderful. These place are all right here at our finger tips.”
The farm tour was funded in part by a $5,000 grant from NC State University and NC A&T State University with a matching grant from the Scotland Tourism Authority.
Organizers expressed surprise at how quickly the tour reached capacity — 50 participants.
“We were not sure how this was going to be received as the first farm tour, but we have maxed out at 50 people which is great,” Sanford said. “I think we have stumble upon a tradition.”
According to Sanford, the goal of the tour was to begin connecting local residents to local growers.
“It is the same reason we founded the local food council, Scotland Grows,” he said.
There are about a dozen members on the food council, including St. Andrews professors, agri-business people, longtime farmers, new growers foodies and interested residents.
The council wants to host additional tours. There is also talk about hosting dinners that connect local growers to local chefs.
“We want to celebrate the cultural uniqueness of our area,” Sanford said. “We have a lot to showcase … everything from barbecue to the Morris Collard to the tradition of tomatoes.
“Our goal is to create a community dinner table that is welcoming to all.”
The group also plans to develop a local food production guide that will feature all of the local food businesses in the Scotland County area. it should be ready by summer.
Thomas Munford, who plans to start his own small farm, said the trip was a great way to hear about new agricultural techniques.
“This tour was pretty cool,” Munford said. “They need to do stuff like this more often.”
Reach Scott Witten at 910-506-3023