Carolina Alumni Review 29
James Sharp’s family has been farm- ing for five generations. On a spring afternoon in Wilson County, the 36-year-old owner of Fresh-Pik
Produce, which grows fruits and vegetables that eventually will be eaten by
students at Carolina, stopped his pickup
truck in a field and hopped out. Workers
in dusty jeans and baseball caps had just
wrapped up a morning planting the season’s cabbage crop, and Sharp was there to
survey their toil.
“We’re several weeks behind schedule,”
Sharp had lamented earlier that day. Now
he was seeing the lag for the first time,
scanning rows of tilled soil. He wanted
green heads to be burgeoning like giant
flowers. Instead he saw tiny, sporadic leaves
protruding out of a sea of brown. “In a
normal season, we would have planted
them in the first weeks of March,” he said.
But this season has been anything but
normal. An unusually long and cold win-
ter, coupled with on-again, off-again rains
that kept the soil too soggy to till, delayed
this year’s planting until almost April. The
setback could cut into Sharp’s bottom line.
He will have less time to harvest and market the crop before the weather heats up
and exposes it to rot.
“We’ll pull them out of the field as fast
as possible,” he said.
Sharp’s farm is one of many that feed
a local food movement that has grown
from its seedlings in farmers market stands
to include campus dining halls. Student
concerns about the social, economic and
environmental consequences of mega-food
production has caused Carolina Dining
Services contractor Aramark to revamp its
menu in favor of small farms that use sustainable agricultural practices.
Sharp’s issue with the cabbage demon-
strates one of the biggest challenges facing
Carolina Dining. As it tries to overhaul its
procurement practices, forces outside the
control of, well, anyone, limit how far this
revolution can go. Weather, climate and
seasonality of foods determine what farm-
ers can harvest and even what profits come
back to them. And getting enough food
to meet the demand of 30,000 students at
a price they can afford means CDS must
engage in a constant balancing act between
fiscal feasibility and sustainability.
“The challenge that we’ve got is it’s
tough to get produce between Nov. 1 and
March 15,” said Scott Weir, CDS’s resident
district manager. “There’s just not enough
stuff coming out of the ground.”
Mother Nature’s reach extends to live-
stock, too. Johnny Rogers and his wife,
Sharon, know. At their 300-acre ranch an
hour-and-a-half drive from Chapel Hill,
the couple raises beef for 1. 5.0., a retail
restaurant in Lenoir Hall that uses ingredi-
ents from within 150 miles of campus.
But the Rogerses have been worried
about the longer winter season squeezing
profits. Cold weather means they must
supplement their cattle’s grass diet with expensive hay, and that cost isn’t passed along
to the consumer.
“We try to grow grass during the fall
and stockpile it. But we had a dry fall last
Inside a delivery truck from FreshPoint, Carolina Dining’s principal produce distributor. UNC told FreshPoint it wanted more fruits and vegetables
from North Carolina farms. The company has increased local produce purchases 20 percent in each of the past five years.