RALEIGH, NC –NC State Extension today announced that it is supporting the Vacationer Supported Agriculture (VSA) initiative again in 2020. The concept for VSA was developed by a team of specialists from NC State Extension and Tourism Extension as part of a 3-year USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant. VSA coordinates the sale of weekly fractions of farm production shares to vacationers over the summer tourism season. As illustrated in this short animation, NC State’s project team and county Extension partners coordinate groups of local farmers in the growing, packaging and delivery of bags of local produce to pick-up locations convenient to vacationers. This coordination is typically introduced to vacationers through local realty companies, but is being expanded in 2020 to include property owner associations and other channels as well.The VSA project was piloted in Ocean Isle Beach in 2018 and was expanded in 2019 to other Brunswick County beaches (Sunset Beach, Holden Beach, Oak Island, and Bald Head Island), as well as Wrightsville Beach and Surf City. The program experienced exponential growth as a result of the 2019 expansion and has been both regionally and nationally recognized as an innovative approach to direct to consumer farm sales. Efforts are underway now to expand VSA also to the Outer Banks. To order a VSA produce bag, go to:https://p1provisions.com/.
In 2020 due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,the VSA team is rolling out the program with appropriate safeguards against spread of the virus, including contactless delivery. Aggregators are being trained in food safety measures, and all customer pick-up sites will have hand sanitizer stations.The VSA project’s success is entirely dependent on the commitment of the people who aggregate the fresh product from local producers. Britt Davis, a graduate student at NC State who works on the VSA project, coordinates a lot of the details with the realties and aggregators from her home in Raleigh. But she gives credit for the program’s success to the VSA aggregators. In Brunswick County, the largest VSA market (known locally as “Vacation Vittles”) with over 30 participating farmers, the aggregator is a local job development authority, Men and Women United for Youth and Families.
Randolph Keaton is its executive director and all-around conductor of all operations for delivery days. In Britt’s words, “Randolph is an overall amazing human. He has made huge strides in innovative rural development and creating opportunities for youth, and we are so fortunate to be able to work with him again on this project.” Randolph and his team of Youth Ambassadors will be aggregating the local farm produce and delivering the first bags to Brunswick County beaches on May 30th.
Brian Knowles of Bear Ridge Farms is the official “Farmer Ambassador” of the VSA project. Not only does Brian aggregate product for the Surf City market, he also speaks to other farmers about his experiences with the project and has been instrumental in securing grant funding for necessary supplies, like coolers, insulated bags, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Brian will be aggregating local farm produce and delivering the first bags to Surf City and Wrightsville
Beach on May 30 th as well.