To support local farmers and supply UNC Pembroke students more locally grown produce, RainDai2, a local startup at the Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub, has opened a 2,500 cubic foot walk-in cooler less than a mile from campus.
The brainchild of Fred Formichella, UNCP alumnus and owner of RainDai2, the cooler aims to significantly increase local farm-to-market business.
The new storing facility is a welcome sight for local farmers, like Millard Locklear, who are grateful to partner with Sodexo–which manages the university’s dining facilities–and FreshPoint, a Raleigh-based produce distributor.
Located on the grounds of Southeastern Health on West Third Street, the oversized cooler–dubbed Produce Point–will soon be filled with strawberries, collards, okra, tomatoes, lettuce, sweet corn, broccoli, cabbage and more.
Farmers will store their produce in the cooler, before being collected by FreshPoint and delivered to campus.
“This cooler distribution center is an excellent idea,” said Locklear, who’s been selling produce to Sodexo for three years. “I lost 30 cases of collards last December when the delivery truck got held up from an accident on I-95.
“This will save a lot of time and money.”
Locklear is one of six local growers who are Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified, a requirement to sell to FreshPoint and Sodexo. GAP certification ensures fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.
Nine more farmers are expected to complete the training next year, according to Tom Hall, executive director of the Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub at UNCP.
“This new system will help our local farmers. And importantly, our students will have access to more locally grown produce,” Hall said.
In recent years, the availability of locally grown produce has increased from 2 percent to 20 percent on campus. According to Hall, UNCP ranks at the top among universities with the highest percentage of locally sourced produce.
Produce Point is the result of a collaborative effort between the Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub and several community partners including FreshPoint, Sodexo, Southeastern Health, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, NC IDEA, among others, including many local farmers.
“This represents a true, collaborative effort between farmers, foundations, corporations and private entities to generate real sales for the community and bring something back to life and that’s long overdue,” Formichella said.
An official opening was held Tuesday, May 29.
Ed Hunt, the Hub’s sustainability coordinator, is equally excited about the new cooler, calling it a “big marketing opportunity.
“Our local farmers have always been able to grow produce, but we didn’t have the buyers. Now, FreshPoint is bringing in these buyers for us. So as much as we can grow, they are going to purchase it.”
The new system will help strengthen partnerships between local farmers and Sodexo, engage more companies with the local community and introduce new agricultural technology to growers. The new cooler may provide opportunities for farmers to venture out into specialty crops like muskmelons, watermelon and asparagus. The cooler will also help extend the growing season.
Produce Point could become a model for other universities looking for ways to support local farmers. There are also plans to develop a farmers’ co-op which would allow farmers to pool their resources together.