Author: Jessie Holmes
Even as the year winds down and the holidays approach, Davis Farms Sandy Creek in Warrenton is busy as ever harvesting frost-hardy greens like kale and bok choy, while planting cover crops to help prepare the soil for the next season. Turn back the clock 100 years and you might see a similar scene, as well as Larry Davis’s ancestors.
“Farming is in my blood,” says Davis, owner and operator of Davis Farms Sandy Creek. “Everything that I am is because of the things that I learned on the farm, as far as responsibility, commitment, and patience.”
Davis says the farm has been passed down for generations. But he didn’t immediately go into the family business. After a long corporate career in telecommunications in New York City and Baltimore, he later returned to the farm to help his aging cousin. What started as a “favor” turned into permanent ownership in 2014.
“I guess the farm bug bit me,” says Davis.
Today his family’s legacy not only supplies fresh produce to customers around Warren County, but also helps fight food insecurity throughout the region. Davis Farms Sandy Creek is part of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s (CFSA) FarmsSHARE program, which means a portion of what they grow ends up in food boxes for people in need. In exchange, FarmsSHARE guarantees a fair price for their products, providing an additional revenue stream without the cost of marketing or distribution.
“It is a very hard lift for small farmers to get their product to market,” says Davis. “They're able to get our food to people that we would never know or have access to.”
FarmsSHARE Expands Through American Rescue Plan Grant
FarmsSHARE wouldn’t exist without the COVID-19 pandemic, and it may not have continued to grow without the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). CFSA launched FarmsSHARE in 2020 as a temporary food assistance program for laid-off hospitality workers, and as a way to support local farms that lost revenue when restaurants closed. At the time, FarmsSHARE was funded primarily through a donation from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. But as the pandemic persisted, the General Assembly and Governor Roy Cooper awarded CFSA a $2 million grant from the State’s ARPA Funds. The grant was administered by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, with support from the North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office.
“The American Rescue Plan funds came in to supplement and expand the program, really doubling the amount of produce and proteins that we could purchase,” says CFSA Executive Director Roland McReynolds.
FarmsSHARE expanded in 2022, and now includes 280 small farms around the state, with many operated by Black, Indigenous, or other farmers of color. McReynolds says farms that participate typically see a 10 to 20% increase in their income.
“We feel like it is a model for how small farms in this state can continue to contribute to North Carolina's health and well-being and grow our local food system,” says McReynolds.
Food Hubs Connect Farms to Communities in Need
If farms are the soul of FarmsSHARE, food hubs are the heart. CFSA allocates funds to 16 food hubs which order and purchase food from local farmers. The food hubs then collect and pack the products in food boxes and distribute them to community organizations for households in need. Davis Farms Sandy Creek works with Farmers Foodshare in Durham, one of the first food hubs to join FarmsSHARE. Executive Director Kelly Crane emphasizes the significance of being able to help small farms plan ahead in what can be a volatile market.
“They can count on that revenue coming in,” says Crane. “So, when they’re growing that crop, they know it’s already sold.”
She also sees the benefit to those who receive the food boxes, packed to the brim with fruits, vegetables, meat, and eggs – products that other food assistance programs can’t always provide.
“We get people all the time who tell us that we are one of the only sources of fresh produce, much less local produce that they can get,” says Crane.
Sustaining FarmsSHARE Beyond the Pandemic
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recently awarded FarmsSHARE an additional $7.58 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement (LFPA).
“Agriculture is our state's number one industry,” says Beth Pugh Farrell, an Agriculture Program Specialist with NCDA&CS. “The reason that we're able to remain number one is because of the relationships and partnerships developed across the industry, and that includes with our partners at Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.”
Farrell says her agency worked closely with CFSA while administering the American Rescue Plan grant in 2022 and saw firsthand the value of FarmsSHARE in promoting local agriculture. The additional LFPA funds will enable the program to grow and serve even more farms through 2025. Davis Farms Sandy Creek intends to grow with them.
“When the State reaches out and reaches down to small farms like us, it’s like a lifeline,” says Davis. “It’s really a breath of fresh air.”