Last week, the Cooperative Extension Program at N.C. A&T State University celebrated its 32nd annual Small Farms Week. The event celebrates the contributions of small-scale producers in North Carolina who generate $250,000 or less annually in agricultural gross sales. This year’s theme was “Small Farms, Big Impact.”
That statement is certainly true in North Carolina. Small farms are major contributors to North Carolina’s $85 billion agriculture and agribusiness industry. They make up nearly 90 percent of the state’s total farms.
Those contributions come from thousands of farms and include farmers that grow enough vegetables to sell at a roadside stand, family-owned and operated organic farms, local nurseries, small-scale aquaculture, and others.
The efforts of these small businesses do not go unnoticed. Each year Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T State University honors a small farmer for their contributions to North Carolina agriculture. This year’s winner was Ronald W. Simmons, Jr. of Master Blend Family Farms.
Located near Kenansville in Duplin County, Master Blend practices niche-pork production, allowing small farmers to get premium prices by raising pigs outdoors with all-natural feed. The farm also includes an on-site general store that sells pork and a variety of other locally grown products.
Simmons said he started raising hogs in 2012 he noticed a need in his community. “America is becoming more aware and concerned about what it’s consuming and what it’s feeding its kids. We decided to raise the animals without growth hormones and steroids in the pasture because we saw an opportunity.”
In fact, the community is at the heart of what Master Blend Family Farms does each day. Simmons even made it part of his business model to ensure that children in his community get exposure to agriculture through farm visits, FFA and 4-H activities.
According to James Hartsfield, an area farm management agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension in Duplin and Sampson counties, “Ronald Simmons has worked thoughtfully and creatively. He’s always searching for new ideas and innovations. He sets a good example for other small farmers, and he’s willing to share the secrets of his success with other farmers so they can be more successful. Ronald, his family and his whole team at the farm are a great inspiration.”