by Nicole Sanchez, NC Cooperative Extension
Did you know that about a million species of insects have been identified worldwide, but that only about 5% of them qualify as pests of humans? As is often the case in other, non-insect circles, “bad guys” get all the press. And not entirely without reason – remember bubonic plague, the disease that killed a third of Europe’s population in the 1400’s? It was transmitted by the lowly flea. Malaria, still a concern in most developing countries, is carried by certain mosquitoes.
But how much do you know about lacewings, the predaceous larvae of which resemble tiny alligators hatched from small white eggs atop long, gossamer stalks on the backs of leaves? Have you met the big-eyed bug, a once common resident of cotton fields, which eats at least 67 species of other insects, but takes only shelter and a little moisture from your plants? How about the twice-stabbed lady beetle, a smaller, lesser-known cousin of our red-with-black-spots-ladies? More than an opportunity for entomologists to express a sense of humor while naming insects, this black–with-two red-spots ladybeetle
is a voracious eater of aphids and scales in trees and has demonstrated effective control of elongated hemlock scale, a problematic introduced pest.
Welcome to the other 95%! Perhaps you were already aware of the benefits provided by our more famous beneficial insects, like honeybees and butterflies. Perhaps you were already aware that pollinators also come in beetle and fly form. Perhaps, you have at some point noticed a rove beetle or carrion beetle and appreciated that it serves the same function, on a smaller scale, that vultures do on the roadside. Or do you focus only on the 5%?
A lifelong student of horticulture, my first foray into the world of pure botany illustrates an important point when it comes to insects. Roaming the campus on a plant ID walk, my professor noticed that I was saying the Latin names of many of the plants to myself as he named them. He pointed to a broadleaf herbaceous something and asked me what it was. “Sorry,” I said, “I know a lot of ornamentals. But I don’t know weeds.” I don’t remember what plant he asked me to ID, but I clearly remember his response: “ Over on this campus, young lady, we refer to those as native plants. It’s only a weed on the Ag campus.”
Ever since, I have been careful to label plants as weeds only when they are so located as to be “troublesome plants out of place”, as per definition. Similarly, “pest” is a label often applied unfairly to our insect friends. Fast forward five years to when I was the director of a well-known butterfly conservatory, taking a call from a frustrated would-be butterfly gardener. “I’ve planted every plant the books say I should”, she said. “I’m doing everything correctly. But I can’t seem to grow a butterfly garden because these (explicative) caterpillars keep eating up all the plants!”
Was the pest the caterpillars, or the caller who did not know her insect friends well enough to recognize them in their juvenile stage?
The world of our insect friends, once discovered, is fascinating, educational, perspective-changing, and at your fingertips. To see fantastic images of your insect friends (and those not so friendly to human enterprises), spend some time on the amazing website Bugwood, where you will find insect images by category. Hint – your insect friends include, but are not limited to, predators, parasites, parasitoids, and pollinators. Don’t let the “bad guys” get all the attention!
by Nicole Sanchez, NC Cooperative Extension
Many readers already understand the multitude of ways diversity makes us stronger. A diverse gene pool helps us avoid birth defects and disease. A diverse workforce contains a variety of skills, perspectives, experiences, and strengths that enable an organization to respond nimbly to challenges. A home garden with a diversity of plants and flowers is rarely wiped out by an insect or disease problem. Tennessee hosts a diverse selection of agricultural enterprises from poultry to mushrooms to nursery crops, fueling a robust agricultural industry in the state.
On the farm, diversity means many things. Farmers diversify crops so a single loss does not have to mean a loss of the farm, and because markets, products, and demand all change with time. Prudent, forward-thinking pest managers rely on a diversity of tactics rather than repeated applications of the same type of chemical, so that insects and diseases don’t develop resistance and render that chemical ineffective. Some farmers seek crop diversity to exit high input, high volume, high-cost production systems, associated with many field crops, which have become known as “technology treadmills.”
North Carolina, once home to tobacco, tobacco, and more tobacco, is becoming increasingly more diverse in both types of crops being produced and methods used to produce them. While no one crop has come close to attaining the economic importance of tobacco, a variety of crops are edging their way into the void. As this trend continues, the region, and its economy, will be strengthened by its ability to satisfy continually growing demands for safe, fresh, affordable foods.
Foods produced via large-scale methods are rapidly becoming more expensive, primarily because of increased fossil fuel costs. Transporting produce hundreds or thousands of miles is becoming cost prohibitive. In many cases, the energy used to produce and transport our foods far exceeds the energy actually provided by the food. Trends in agriculture are currently on a pendulum swing back to earlier practices – small farms with multiple crops, more intensively managed, selling to local and niche markets.
This diversification trend is of great importance, for different reasons to different audiences. For growers, small and medium enterprises are forced to diversify, find niches, and try unusual methods or crops in order to compete with large- scale agriculture. Variety and rotation of crops are associated with suppression of some types of plant pests and diseases. Direct selling produce to local consumers enables growers to retain a much larger portion of the produce dollar (80-90%, compared with about 9% for produce sold at big chains).
For consumers, increased variety and quality of locally sourced food, more readily accessible, is one result of diversification. Produce steadily loses flavor and nutrient content once harvested; produce that travels long distance to our tables is less flavorful and contains fewer nutrients, further tipping the energy equation in the wrong direction. For the environmentally minded, access to a variety of locally grown products provides an expanded food palette without an expanded carbon footprint.
When we consider all of today’s social and economic issues, it can be difficult to identify ways that we as individuals can make a difference. We want to conserve fossil fuels, have safe food, reduce our carbon footprint, live more healthily, support local economies. That is a pretty tall order! But one individual CAN make a difference in all these areas. Support local foods whenever possible or appropriate. Celebrate the seasons by enjoying the fruits and vegetables produced in your own geographic region, when they are in season. Agricultural diversity is a trend to be embraced!
by Nicole Sanchez, NC Cooperative Extension
Farmers’ markets continue to grow in popularity, making what was once commonplace new and trendy again. One recent addition to the farmers’ market options in NC opened with tremendous success last Saturday, June 4, at the Greene County Offices Complex in Snow Hill.
This year, the market is a tailgate-style venue in the parking lot of the county offices building, a prelude to the larger, more permanent market that will be located at the intersection of Highways 13 and 58 in Snow Hill. The permanent site, including several historic buildings donated for the project, is adjacent to the county’s recreation facility and was completely destroyed in the April 16th tornadoes that did so much damage in that area.
The storms, however, did not diminish interest in the market; they just forced a temporary move so that this year’s interim market does not interfere with efforts to restore the permanent site and prepare it for fall construction.
The tailgate market was busy from start at 8am to finish at noon, with steady traffic the entire time. Offerings included fresh eggs, honey, new potatoes, squash, carrots, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, and more. One vendor almost sold out the first hour and had to send for more produce! Another was super-patient with my four year old son as he carefully chose exactly the right combination of brown and green eggs to fill our carton.
I made a big pot of delicious potato and veggie soup from items I collected at the market, but apparently I didn’t make enough of it. Only two days later there was no soup left! So much for having soup to take to work for lunches.
Even more vendors have indicated that they will start participating next week. I hope to soon see more fruits at the market – there were no strawberries or blueberries this week – but I have been assured that blackberries and melons will make their appearances soon.
The permanent location will house much more than just a farmers’ market. There will be trial gardens, demonstration plots, an incubator kitchen with rentable space for processing foods, and educational opportunities for both growers and consumers. The April tornadoes created some challenges to the project, but the response to the market in terms of both vendors and customers clearly demonstrates that there is plenty of support for a farmers’ market in Greene County!
If you are close by, please check out the market, which will be open Saturdays from 8-12 all season long. You might want to get there early – demand is strong! If you are a potential vendor to the market, please contact the Green County Extension office for information on participating. Maybe you can help meet that demand.
by Nicole Sanchez, NC Cooperative Extension
In a recent post I asked readers to describe the barriers to eating local foods that they encounter. I really appreciate the responses! The barriers mentioned were all things that I was aware of and am thinking about (or attempting to implement) solutions for, but it was so helpful to hear these issues in the words of consumers! I am hopeful that sharing your words with the growers will help them see things with a different perspective.
One suggestion addressed several times was the need for a web presence. This can be a tough nut to crack – even many of the younger farmers who recognize the value of the internet and use it themselves, have a hard time finding time maintaining, developing, and updating a web site. Other, older growers may have difficulty understanding how a web presence may benefit them, or be unsure of where to get started. And during the growing season when they are working sunup to sundown and beyond, even the most computer-savvy grower is going to postpone website maintenance in favor of eating or sleeping.
Despite this, local foods do have a presence on the internet! North Carolina has multiple web sites that can help you find local foods in your area. Below, I have identified and briefly described several of the sites that you can use to locate local foods. Of course, you already know that you can also find information about local foods right here at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association site. However, I find that most growers only put their information on one or two sites, at most. I sure wish I had a web-savvy intern (or an endless supply of hours in the day) to help our growers be more consistent and active in promoting themselves on the web. Until then, please use the sites below. And, let the growers know you found out about them on the web, so they can better understand the value of this promotional tool to their enterprises.
NC Farm Fresh lists farms, farmers’ markets and roadside
stands by county, including maps and directions for many locations, with descriptions of the produce and season of availability.
Eat Well Guide/ Food Routes.org allows you to search by city, zip, or the product you are looking for. You can also check a trip route to search for local foods as you travel. Focus on organic and sustainable foods.
Local Harvest is searchable by product or location and includes produce, meats, CSA’s, farm stores, and online stores.
NC 10% includes links to multiple sites for
finding local foods and a place for individuals to commit to spending 10% of their food dollars on local produce.
Feast Down East Partnership provides access to listings of CSA and farmers markets, while also focusing on restaurants that promote local foods.
Green People provides search engines for CSA, vegan, organic, kosher, and health foods. Farmer’s market listing leads to the USDA page.
Real Time Farms. So far, this site does not include any NC growers. (I hope to change that!) The site is a good resource for those trying to better understand food sources.
Southern Living Travel lists farm stands and markets; great for when you are traveling to another area.
I hope that this list will help some of you connect with additional local growers in your area. I am including this list of web sites in my current newsletter sent to growers in the five counties I work in as an extension agent, suggesting that growers participate in as many of the sites as appropriate for their firms. If you find a new resource using one of these sites, please let the grower know how you found him!
by Nicole Sanchez
As a Cooperative Extension agent working with fruit and vegetable producers to aid them in production and marketing efforts, I am constantly thinking about how to promote local foods. Today, I would like to ask blog readers to answer the question, what are your barriers to eating local? Please post a comment to explain what types of efforts or initiatives you perceive as being most helpful in helping you access more fresh fruits and vegetables. While the comments of those in the industry are relevant, this time I am seeking input from consumers, not producers. If you are interested in eating local, please share your thoughts so we can best aid our local food producers in meeting your needs. THANKS for your support of local growers.
by Nicole Sanchez
Another April Saturday, another plethora of choices for family activities in eastern NC. We chose the Master Gardeners’ plant sale at the Lenoir County Extension Center, where they sure weren’t kidding when they said to get there early to enjoy a good plant selection. Thankfully our small kids enjoy plants and gardening, so it wasn’t hard to get them there early. We picked up tomato, pepper, herb, and ornamental plants for our garden, and some for friends. These plants were grown by the Master Gardeners and help them support their efforts in the community. There was an impressive selection of plants, including many old fashioned gardening favorites, and most were of quality comparable to that of a reputable garden center.
(For those who read my first post, which included a lengthy portion about how it is too early for tomatoes, all I can say is, try explaining it to my four year old. He’s got gardening in his blood, and is at the age where encouraging his interest is more important than providing the ideal conditions for a particular plant. )
The Lenoir County Farmer’s Market, nestled in downtown Kinston near the Neuse Nature Center, was also a hive of activity. The Lenoir County Extension team lined up live music, free hot dogs and ice cream, and a panel of local growers, dignitaries, and friends of the market to welcome both vendors and consumers.
The threat of an incoming storm did little to deter the steady stream of visitors, who lined up to purchase strawberries, bedding and herb plants, collards and greens, cabbages, sweet potatoes and more. Spice and barbeque sauce vendors added a little variety. The Lenoir County Farmer’s Market will is open every Saturday from 9-5 and on Tuesdays from 9-6, though when we got there last Saturday at 9 am, sales were already in full swing. I hear that different vendors participate on Tuesdays than Saturdays. To get the latest information on happenings at the Lenoir County Farmers’ Market, email Lenoir County Extension Director Tammy Kelly to be included in email updates about the market and its activities.
I have often heard people reflect on farmers’ markets that price is a deterring factor. Some folks have the impression that foods at farmers’ markets are more expensive, and I am sure that is sometimes true. But I have been pleasantly surprised at each of my buying trips, where prices seemed reasonable, and the quality was excellent.
While the market was steadily busy for the entire two hours our family was there, from my perspective there continues to be room for growth. I would have liked to have purchased fresh parsley and cilantro, which can be grown here this time of year, and I missed some of the other winter vegetables, like parsnips, that I love so much. At the Kinston market, I think several more vendors could take advantage of this location without negatively impacting the sales of the vendors already participating.
Our selection and availability of local foods in the counties I work in as an extension agent is truly impressive, but there appears from my perspective to be room for growth. North Carolina has climate and soils conducive to growing a wide variety of food crops. As agriculture in the state continues to transition away from tobacco dependence, foods are poised to fill the gaps. If you are considering trying to raise food or herb crops or sale, don’t forget to take advantage of your local extension service to help you get started on the right path.
by Nicole Sanchez
All across eastern NC, seasonal farmers’ markets are waking up for the season. I just left the grand opening of the Onslow County Farmer’s Market, where the heavy traffic so early on a cloudy, windy, cool April morning was impressive. Vendors were conducting a brisk business in fresh produce, baked goods, snacks, garden and bedding plants, goat’s milk cheese and beauty products, and locally raised meats. There was even live flounder, part of an aquaculture project geared towards helping local producers gain access to new technologies in raising seafood.
There was an abundance of strawberries, which are apparently rather early this season, and many types of greens as is typical for the cooler months. I chose a healthy bag of mixed baby greens for $3 and a head of leaf lettuce for $1. Fresh spinach at $2.50 a pound was reasonably priced, so spinach and collards rounded out my greens purchases. Spreadable goat cheese made in Wayne County was a special treat. I saw onions, Asian vegetables, and radishes for sale, as well as local honey. Non-food items included several types of soaps, jewelry, and sewn items.
I was impressed in particular by one grower, whom I met for the first time. Rhonda works a full time job during the week, and participates in the Onslow Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. Her selection of greens was incredible: several types of mustard and turnip greens, collards, mixed lettuces, and I think pok choi as well. It all looked so beautiful! I left the market at 10am, but I’m willing to bet she sold out of most of her beautiful produce long before the market closed at 1:30.
My only reservation about the whole experience was the number of people taking home greenhouse raised tomato plants. I, too, have spring fever and am itching to get those plants in the ground. But the truth of the matter is, it’s just not time yet! Tomatoes do NOT like to be cold! Do all these well-meaning, tomato-loving people realize this?
Several of the growers I work with as an extension agent offer plants for sale, though my main focus is producers of fruits and vegetables for consumption. Without exception, those who offer vegetable plants have been commenting recently about being pressured for their tomato plants. An experienced and dedicated consumer can coddle an early tomato plant, keeping it warm at night if planted outdoors, or providing an alternative light source if it’s being kept in the warm indoors. But even with special treatment, the growth of these plants can be stunted by cool night temperatures and cool soil, often to the extent that a plant set out much later will outperform the earlier transplant.
So why do local providers have their tomato plants out already? Partly to service the dedicated few willing to invest now in a plant’s comfort for early tomatoes later. But mostly because Lowe’s and Walmart do! The local guy can either play ball or lose the sale. He cares a lot more about your success with your plant, but he may not have the time to give you suggestions about care for it amid the hustle and bustle of a busy farmers’ market. In many cases, both the local grower and the big box store will have to sell a second plant later in the season, when the early one fails.
Hopefully, the novice tomato grower will not be disheartened by their lack of success. Understanding the seasonality of both vegetable plants and the foods they produce is key to successful gardening and to understanding the local foods market.
But seasonality is a story for another blog. For now, let ‘s enjoy the season of spring and the bounty of fresh new produce it heralds. This bounty was clearly evident at the opening of the Onslow County Farmer’s Market.