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Ag center introduces TradePost program

Carol Lynn Jackson, PolkFresh TradePost Project, and Lynn Sprague, Polk County agricultural economic development director, receive a WNC Ag Options grant award from Bill Teague, NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission acting chairman, Jan. 19 at N.C. State’s Mountains Horticultural Extension Center in Mills River. (photo submitted)

Jackson, ag center to lead four grant projects totaling more than $58k
Carol Lynn Jackson of Saluda  and the Mill Spring Agricultural Development Center under the direction of Lynn Sprague have received four grant awards, one federal and three regional, that combine to promote Polk County growers, value-added producers and local food artisans.
The grants will support a new program called “The PolkFreshTradePost Project.” Co-managed by Jackson and the ag center, the PolkFresh project will brand Polk County as a regional multi-market, agricultural resource and distribution system.
Sprague, Jackson and other project supporters are collaborating with growers, meat producers, value-added makers, food artisans, viticulture, farmland preservation, county planners and the Polk County Agricultural Extension office while creating methods to enhance agricultural economic development with branding, creating markets for and distributing PolkFresh products.
Methods of branding and distribution include:
• Development of the PolkFresh logo for multi-media use.
• Development of website and social networking, packaging tailgate display and other marketing tools.
• Calling on all area restaurants and grocers with a “Buy 10 Percent Local” appeal.
• Cultivating relationships with similar markets along the corridors into Asheville, Greenville-Spartanburg and Charlotte.
Two of the largest objectives are the creation of the PolkFreshTrade Post store, a cooperative farm and heritage crafts retail space and an information hub for farming and agri-tourism development, and the development of a regional  distribution system taking PolkFresh products to more regional agricultural economic clusters in the southeast.
The projects’ initiatives found support from four sources:
• Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), which provided $5,000 matching funds for market tool development.
• Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), which provided $10,000 for building stronger alignment between sustainable agriculture and community development strategies in the South.
• WNC Agricultural Options Community Grant, $19,000 for enhancing existing farm ventures particularly by addressing processing, packaging, marketing and other distribution needs; Randy and Megan Smith of Smith’s Sweet Grass Farm in Polk County also received a $6,000 WNC Ag Options grant for an all-natural pastured poultry project.
• The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, which provided $24,000 to help establish the former Mill Spring School as a resource center for agricultural and other heritage-related businesses.
“The regional funders have been watching what we are doing in Polk County and they have really come forward to support our efforts. In terms of the big project, these are small grants, but put together with donated materials and volunteers, these grants are very significant,” said Lynn Sprague.
Jackson, owner of Manna Cabanna, an organic local foods market and year-round CSA in Saluda and project manager of PolkFresh TradePost, said, “Polk County’s agricultural development and farmland preservation is an increasingly important concept for its economic development.… We are experiencing amazing unilateral support across the community with local and regional grant opportunities leveraging that support. The PolkFresh TradePost Project is a call out to the old and the young: It is a great time to be a farmer in Polk County.”