From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
The National Restaurant Association recently released its 2014 Culinary Forecast, including its Top 5 Trends, and the top two are locally sourced meats and seafood at No. 1, and locally grown produce at No. 2. Both of these trends reflect what we are experiencing, and bode well for North Carolina agriculture.
Consumer interest in local products has never seemed stronger and, like the restaurant association, I believe it will continue to be a significant focus for consumers.
Thanks to support from the N.C. General Assembly, our Got to Be NC Agriculture marketing efforts are helping consumers find retailers and restaurants that carry local commodities and food products, and also helping them find local products on the food aisles and on menus. I am proud that you can see more and more of the green and yellow Got to Be NC signs hanging across the state.
Our Marketing Division has been helping grocery stores source more local commodities, which has been a positive for farmers. We have also been working to promote and support restaurants that feature local products on their menus through such promotions as Dig Into Local and the Competitive Dining Series. For more and more of these businesses today, the local products they carry or serve have become a sort of calling card as consumers specifically seek out this experience.
I hope that each new convert to the buy-local movement discovers what is at the root of this movement – that locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses and beverages taste better and are fresher.
Rounding out the association’s Top 5 list is environmental sustainability at No. 3, healthful kid’s meals at No. 4 and gluten-free cuisine at No. 5.
As a grandparent of four, I have a strong interest in healthy kids’ meals. I believe that if we help youngsters develop a taste for local and healthy fruits, vegetables and meats, we hopefully set them on the course for a lifetime love affair with health eating.
Our Farm to School program is focused on getting local commodities in the school lunch program, and with good success. In the spring, you will find fresh strawberries on the cafeteria line, in the summer slices of watermelon, and in the fall, you will find greens and apples. These are just a few of the popular offerings.
In 2014, new federal regulations are requiring schools to incorporate more orange vegetables into meals.
As the top producer of sweet potatoes in the United States, these new rules are likely to create even more demand for these vegetables.
The Farm to School program had a record year for the 2012-2013 school year, topping $1 million in sales for the second year in a row. We appreciate the support of the participating school systems, child nutrition directors and farmers for making this program a success.
We have a lot to be proud of in terms of North Carolina agriculture. It remains our top industry with more than $77 billion in economic impact. It employs a fifth of our workforce, or some 642,000 jobs. That is far from an “industry in decline,” as I often hear people say.
I believe North Carolina agriculture will be a $100 billion industry soon, and trends such as these along with a growing consumer base, only reinforce this belief.
We can each do our part. Look for North Carolina products in your grocery store, frequent restaurants featuring local fare and support your local farmers markets. Let’s make 2014 a $100 billion year for North Carolina agriculture!