Mill Spring Farm Store: Where friends gather

Published 10:00 pm Saturday, October 31, 2015

Reda Harvey (Photo by Mark Schmerling)

Reda Harvey (Photo by Mark Schmerling)

Life in Our Foothills, November 2015
By Mark Schmerling

Polk County’s farm store at the old school building in Mill Spring (now known as the Mill Spring Ag Center) not only supplies fresh local produce, meats and pottery, natural cleaning products, and hand carved wooden products, it’s also a great place to meet and make friends.

Reda Harvey knows. Harvey, who took over the store’s operations two years ago in September 2013, had lived in Columbus for 14 years, but her out-of town restaurant managing career, hampered her ability to become a fully connected part of the community in which she lived.

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A restaurant manager for 37 years, “I was always connected with food in some way,” Harvey remarked. “I did want to know the community that I lived in. I wanted to be part of the community. I love where I live, and always have.”

Before Harvey’s arrival at the county’s agriculture store, the idea there was to distribute locally grown food and other items, to help local farmers and the overall community.

The store’s expansive list of offerings includes locally raised produce. Some is organic in nature, but not labeled as such. Some is certified organic; some is conventionally raised.

Chemical-free products cannot always be labeled organic, but for those without official designation, Harvey says they use the word ‘sustainable,’ not organic, because of certification, which can be expensive and time-consuming to obtain for farmers.

Meats include beef, pork and lamb — all grass-fed and raised without hormones or antibiotics — and chicken and turkey, raised free-range and hormone-free. Fresh locally raised trout is also available.

Patrons will also find Old Mule locally produced sauces, Warhorse natural cleaning products, knives by Ron Robbins with his hand carved and fitted handles, organic fertilizer offerings, and a large selection of Sow True organic seeds, including a large selection of seeds for cool weather crops. Organic food items include an assortment of locally grown dried beans. The store is also a dealer for Seven Springs organic farm supplies.

“We’re the gathering place,” Harvey said of the store. “It’s great to meet people. I’ve developed so many friends. The community has been so supportive of me. The people who work here are supportive and caring when you need them. We have become a family in that respect.”

The Agriculture Center also houses the Polk County Agriculture Development office, the county Soil and Water Conservation office, YeTees Screenprinting (Kevin Rogers), Patrick McClendon, director of the Mill Spring Agriculture Center, and Foothills Wireless (Eric Bradley’s cellular business).

Demand for locally raised food has increased, Harvey noted. Many consumers have grown to favor local products raised or produced with integrity. Freshness and greatly reduced transportation costs are among the incentives.

“When you improve the quality of your food, you eat less,” Harvey remarked. “You have a greater choice in your food consumption than you do in most everything else in life. You have a choice in what you put in your body.”

While supply can’t always meet demand, “If it’s local meats, I can usually have it in a couple of days,” Harvey noted. Other items can usually be obtained in about one week.

“I’m thrilled to have a new product in house,” Harvey remarked about locally grown and ground whole wheat flour. Another new offering is low-temperature pasteurized, non-homogenized milk from grassfed cows. “That’s as close to raw (milk) that I can sell legally in North Carolina,” Harvey said. She now carries other dairy products from the same farm.

Working hard to provide more choices for consumers, Harvey wants local residents to visit the store.

“I want more of the community to come out and see it. “One of my great joys is to see people run into their friends and neighbors here.” Other chances for residents and visitors to do that are at the Winter Market at the store held on the second Saturdays of December, January and February, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Before renting the agriculture store, Harvey noted that she was a consumer and then a

vendor. She produced some food bars that superficially resembled more commercial and recognized products, but without the ingredients used by large-scale manufacturers to ensure longer shelf life, and with more nutrition. She did not name the bars, but the first to people to sample them provided the name. Each commented, “Wow!” upon eating a bar. Hence the name Wow! Bars.

The store has no other employees, but, said Harvey, “I have volunteers who come and help out. Some vendors volunteer their time. That gives them a chance to interact with the community and promote their products.”

One of those vendor/volunteers, Melissa Weinstein, commented that Harvey is much too modest about her contributions to the store. “I know the improvement,” Weinstein emphasized. “I really like that she is here.”