Farming has been a major aspect of Western North Carolina’s rich culture for thousands of years. During the settlement period, families in the western part of the state grew crops like corn, tobacco, and a variety of grains as their primary source of income. To this day, some families still rely on their crops as a large portion of their income. However, farmers need to be able to properly wash, package, and preserve their produce before shipping it out to places like grocery stores and restaurants, but the proper equipment to perform these tasks is very expensive. Instead of having to spend thousands of dollars on all the necessary equipment, the farmer simply takes his produce to a food hub, a facility that gathers and distributes produce, like Toe River Aggregation Center Training Organization Regional (TRACTOR).
TRACTOR, founded in 2012, is a Non-Profit organization located in Burnsville, NC and serves seven Western North Carolina counties as well as a few farms in East Tennessee. TRACTOR currently offers many services to its local growers like washing stations, packaging equipment, cold storage, and rental equipment for the planting and harvesting of the crops. TRACTOR has also recently gained access to a twenty-five acre plot of land with which they plan to allow farmers to expand their operations. With this land, farmers will help pay the lease of the land at affordable rates and will also be responsible for the cost of their plots. Recently, TRACTOR has purchased a new building to host their services that is twice the size of their old facility. The building was once a sock factory, but sat abandoned for many years after its closing. “The building was in structurally in good condition, but some of the cosmetic aspects were in rough shape,” said Tres Magner, who helped with the TRACTOR project through Yancy County Cooperative Extension. “The lights were one of our main problems with the building.” The pre-existing lights inside the building were left over from the sock factory and were not in good working condition. Southwestern NC RC&D Council helped TRACTOR to get a $6,000 TVA Ag Energy Grant to replace the old lights with more efficient LED lights. “These new LED lights make such a remarkable difference!” said Robin Smith, director of TRACTOR, “They don’t emit any heat like normal bulbs do. That extra heat can really damage the produce.”
TRACTOR celebrated their opening day for the new facility on July 11th, 2017. This new facility will now give farmers more space and equipment to properly prepare their produce to be distributed to different markets. “It really gives the farmers a sense of pride when they can walk into Ingles and see their products sitting on the shelves,” said Magner. For more information about TRACTOR and its mission, watch the video above, provided by the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina (CFWNC). More information is also provided on TRACTOR’s website that can be accessed at http://tractorfoodandfarms.com.