Both the military and agriculture have a huge impact on the economy of North Carolina and leaders from both sectors are seeking ways the two can work together.
This year’s Ag Development Forum held Feb. 5 during the Southern Farm Show in Raleigh focused on partnerships between agriculture and military and included presentations by military food buyers who offered advice on how farmers can sell what they produce to the state’s seven military installations.
In North Carolina, the Marines are promoting the purchase of local food as part of an effort to manage potential encroachment near Marine Corps training areas, according to George Miller, Food and Fuel for the Forces program manager.
The goal of Food and Fuel for the Forces is to preserve military compatible land uses, sustain rural communities and support existing crop, livestock, poultry and fishing industries while developing biofuel and biofeed industries, Miller said.
“We work to make farmers aware of the gaps in food supplies in the military mess halls and commissaries that may be a market opportunity for those farmers, “Miller said, adding that the various institutions are actively seeking local suppliers for fruits and vegetables.
Foster-Caviness is a food service distributor that does business with North Carolina’s military bases. Sales Manager Steve Johnson said buying local produce from local farms is a major goal of the company. “The farm needs to be a seven hour drive from our nearest distribution center. Local farms need to be inspected annually by an approved third party safety organization,” Johnson explained.
Bridget Bennett, supervisory category manager of produce at Defense Commissary Agency in Fort Lee, Va., said her agency is actively seeking farmers in North Carolina and Virginia to supply food to military commissaries.
“We seek out local produce to any extent possible during the growing season and the quality and food safety of those products is important,” she said.
During the forum, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler stressed the importance of farmers providing air space and training space for the state’s Marine and Air Force bases. “Agriculture is very compatible with the military,” Troxler said. “The ability to offer private land for training to the military is important.”
Troxler held a question and answer discussion with Col. Andrew Bernard, 4th fighter wing commander at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro; and Col. Yori Escalante, acting commander, Marine Corps Installations East at Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville. Both Escalante and Bernard stressed the need for air space and the ability to fly in rural areas of North Carolina.
“Knowing that are agricultural partners are allowing us to do this is a huge benefit to us at Camp LeJeune,” Escalante said. “We need the ability to train around those air spaces. It’s important to increase awareness for the need of viable training areas and opportunity to practice the tactics, techniques and maneuvers that we need to hone in order to succeed. People near a military installation need to be aware of the importance of having a place to do that.”
Bernard said military and agriculture already have a strong and solid partnership in North Carolina. “The relationship is already there and the communication is already there,” he said. “Because of this, we can work through anything. Finding mutual agreements is a way to move forward.”
Bernard said ongoing communication is key.
“When we walk through an airport in uniform, it’s neat because people stop us and say thank you for what you do. If you’re in the agricultural business, you’re not wearing a uniform in the airport, but on behalf of us in the military, thank you for what you do for us.”