Like the freshly tilled earth of the farms it represents, New
River Organic Growers is continuing to nurture the needs of organic and conventional growers with
the creation of a centralized distribution center in Fleetwood.
Since its formation in 2000, NROG, a nonprofit farming cooperative, has assisted small-scale farmers with not only marketing and promoting their produce, but by also transporting the goods to buyers directly.
Currently, there are more than 55 farms providing produce, eggs, cheese and meat to the cooperative. Participating farms are located in Ashe, Watauga, Grayson (Va.), Wilkes, Alleghany, Burke and Yancey counties, according to a news release.
With a distribution facility, the co-op will no longer have to carry out remote pickups, as farmers will drop off their produce at the new sorting and shipping center, located at 9290 U.S. 221 South in Fleetwood.
A large commercial freezer will allow the co-op to store the farmers’ produce, as well as meat, and sell it when the demand in the market rises.
“Additional space and a cooler has been on our list for growth,” said Caleb Crowell, director of marketing for the co-op. “We can now store winter crops and can almost turn the cooler off and let it cellar. Our goal is to be able to sell year-round.”
NROG’s clientele includes restaurants, buyer’s clubs, retailers and wholesale buyers in Boone, Blowing Rock, Asheville, Morganton and Hickory.
In addition to sorting and shipping the produce, the co-op can assist farmers with maintaining positive relationships with consumers, so they can focus on what’s really important — growing and harvesting their crops.
“Being a farmer, it takes a lot of time making relationships with restaurants and retailers,” said Sally Thiel, NROG president. “That also means taking a lot of time off the farm.”
The nonprofit also keeps abreast of market trends, so members know which crops are in demand and, in turn, can help farmers maximize profit.
“With a lot of farmers, the big question is what to grow, and I can help them with that,” Crowell said.
What the co-op wants to avoid is the unwarranted waste of crop through overproduction, which Thiel said happens at times in the High Country. Such is the case with the surplus pumpkin crop in Ashe County that becomes obvious during late summer and early fall.
The co-op can assist farmers by informing them of market demand and help them convert the crop to something more suitable.
“We can help them diversify,” Thiel said.
A distribution facility also helps mainstream operations for the co-op.
“With a quarter of a million in sales last year and projections of $350,000 this year, we have to get more efficient to consistently meet our orders,” Crowell said.
By keeping better tabs on produce, NROG can also now hedge its bets with orders, in the event of sudden changes or other discrepancies.
“Since we are all such small farms, being able to organize and support each other and have the coop makes it easier for farms to survive,” Thiel said.
This year, NROG has expanded its growers to also include conventional farmers, instead of just organic growers, which requires special certification, Thiel said. “There’ also a demand for local produce,” she said.
Such specialization allows the co-op to fill certain niches, like heirloom tomatoes and other unique assortments. “It’s a product you can’t get anywhere else,” Crowell said.
Anyone interested in growing for or buying from NROG can contact Caleb Crowell at (828) 773-1588. For more information, visit http://www.newriverorganicgrowers.org.