October 19, 2010

Coastal Harvesters’ plan comes together: 
First a farmers’ market, now a community garden


In the two years since its inception, Coastal Harvester, Inc., has made great strides in reaching its goal of providing fresh local food to the Hatteras community.  Joanne Throne, Buxton resident and president of Coastal Harvesters, set out to accomplish this through the creation of a farmers market plus a community garden on the island, and the education of youngsters. 

Her dream was spurred on by other communities that enjoyed fresh, local food.

The bigger picture for Throne is one of viability, self-reliance, and ultimately jobs for Hatteras Island.

“It’s not just a farmers’ market,” Throne continues. “We need to keep it local and put the money back into the community.”

The organization’s vice president, Bernie Tetreault of Avon, adds the ecology factor to the scenario, stating that it makes no sense to ship food grown in eastern North Carolina to a distribution place in New York to only be trucked back to Hatteras.

Coastal Harvesters, Inc., which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, applied for and received a grant for $30,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture to develop a blueprint for rural, coastal communities to have access to fresh local produce and meats.  The grant money wasn’t received as a lump sum but is paid to the group as needed.  Reports with receipts have to be filed by the non-profit group, and then the money is paid as a reimbursement of bills already paid for by Coastal Harvesters.

With grant money lined up to support the project, the organizers decided to start with the farmer’s market because it required the least amount of knowledge and experience to put together.  The first farmer’s market was run as a demonstration on Thanksgiving, 2009 at the Fessenden Center in Buxton.  The inaugural event was successful and became the building block for the weekly markets that followed this summer. 

Finding the right location for the summer markets proved to be a tough obstacle to overcome.  Early on, the first site under consideration was in Avon across from the Post Office, but it couldn’t be used because of a zoning issue.  The newly named Burrus Field in Buxton was the first actual location used but scheduling conflicts quickly moved the market back to the Fessenden Center, which didn’t prove to be a good location because it was not visible enough from Highway 12, according to Tetreault.

The market then moved up to the land in front of Hatteras Realty in Avon, and it was there that the farmer’s market found a permanent home.  Tetreault says that Avon had more traffic and “if you get a group of people together on the side of the road, it in itself is an attraction.”

Even though it took a while to get it going, market organizers were pleased in the end as attendance grew steadily.  Crowds of 500 to 600 customers were shopping at the farmer’s market near summer’s end.

There was an average of a dozen vendors selling grass-raised beef, fresh honey, locally brewed root beer, sausage, and a variety of produce.  Most farmers drove upwards of two hours to get to Avon, coming from as far away as Englehart and Currituck.  A few local crafters also set-up displays at the market to sell their art, pottery, and jewelry.

In order to participate, vendors needed to become a lifetime member of Coastal Harvesters, which cost a one-time fee of $25, plus $10 for every show they participate in.

Joanne Throne said they ran the show as frugally as they could by borrowing tables and tents.

“We did well despite moving three times and not having fish to sell,” says Throne, who predicts that the farmers’ markets will be financially self supportive by 2011.  She is also working hard to be able to sell fresh fish and seafood at next year’s market.

Tetreault credits Throne with doing a wonderful job of recruiting vendors, most of which travel long distances to participate in the markets. 

The last farmer’s market of the year is scheduled for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving inside the Fessenden Center in Buxton.

With the summer shows behind them, Coastal Harvesters quickly got to work on phase two of its project, which was the creation of the community garden.  Tetreault describes the garden as a common cooperative where people will share the land plus contribute time and effort without any expectations.  There will also be sections where individuals can rent to grow produce for themselves.

“Many people on the island are knowledgeable about growing, but flooding is a problem,” Tetreault says. 

Coastal Harvesters needed a site on high ground, and the group was delighted when Cathy James donated the land behind Fox Watersports in Buxton.

The organization applied for a second grant from the Outer Banks Community Foundation and received $9,737 to start the garden.  The money is being used to clear the land and to buy top soil, fertilizer, a fence to protect the plants from destructive animals, and shed for storing tools. 

Only two pine trees needed to be cut down because they were in the middle of the garden area.  Steve Crum and Hatteras Tree Service contributed their services to the project at a greatly reduced rate.

Sixteen pre-cut raised plant beds are being donated by Carol Seaman.

Tetreault expects that planting will begin soon, and members will grow winter vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, and cabbage.  Money raised from the garden will stay in the garden fund as seed money.  Coastal Harvesters plans to contribute at least 10 percent of the produce directly to the local food pantry.

The third goal of the food group is to get the school involved with their project.  Throne feels that kids need to understand that food is just not something that is slapped on your plate.  They need to experience how different food tastes when it is fresh.

A ninth grader, Anna Carmen, has been selected to be the liaison between the Cape Hatteras Secondary School of Coastal Studies and the garden mission.

“She has a working knowledge of how things are grown,” Throne said.

Joanne Throne wants to see Hatteras as a better place, but at the moment, she sees the population on the island dying.  She watches as children grow up and leave the island because there is no local economy.  She hopes that the business of food will help stimulate local industry.

She also envisions putting construction people back to work by using green energy to refit homes to be environmentally friendly.

“We are so dependent on tourism that we will lose our independence if we don’t take a certain route,” says Throne.

To learn more, click on http://www.coastalharvesters.org/

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