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Saturday January 22nd

N.C. State Fair brings renewed interest in local produce with Got To Be NC

Local eggplants and peppers are sold at the Chapel Hill Farmers Market on Oct. 26. The Got To Be NC Pavilion allows local farms to show, sample and sell their products at the N.C. State Fair.
Buy Photos Local eggplants and peppers are sold at the Chapel Hill Farmers Market on Oct. 26. The Got To Be NC Pavilion allows local farms to show, sample and sell their products at the N.C. State Fair.

This year, Penelope Morgan and her business, Gotta Be Penelopes, were part of an exhibit at the N.C. State Fair for the first time.

Morgan's business, which began in June 2019, specializes in producing different vegan and gluten-free pepper jellies and spreads.

Gotta Be Penelopes was part of the fair through Got To Be NC, an initiative run by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Got To Be NC, which was rebranded in 2005 from the original Goodness Grows in NC program, works with local growers and agricultural organizations to raise awareness and availability for North Carolina products.

Got To Be NC had a pavilion at the state fair, which ran from Oct. 14 to Oct. 24. The fair returned to Raleigh this year with a theme of "Worth the Wait" after a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19.

The Got To Be NC Pavilion was held in the Dorton Arena on the N.C. State Fairgrounds. The exhibit had a goal of highlighting products grown and manufactured within the state, such as Morgan's pepper jellies.

“Being there under the Got to Be NC program, there are a lot of people who support local (businesses)," Morgan said. "They would come through, and I just think being under that dome (at Dorton Arena) really helped us.”

Businesses that were selected to be a part of the Got To Be NC Pavilion had to submit applications and undergo a review process. Once selected, all vendors could show, sample and sell products in their booth space.

The exhibit also highlighted the marketing services provided through Got To Be NC.

“As far as the Got to Be NC program helping us out, they reach out constantly with tips and marketing strategies,” Morgan said.

N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said having the exhibit at the state fair played a crucial role in the program's ability to benefit businesses.

"As the largest event in the state, the state fair offers a unique platform to showcase North Carolina products and North Carolina agriculture," Troxler said.

Got To Be NC's core mission involves promoting and expanding the state's food, fiber and forestry industries — in total worth over $95 billion, according to its website.

Troxler said that because of the pandemic and the state's current supply chain issues, Got to Be NC products play a major role in the state’s economy.

Supply chain issues can cause shortages of food, which can lead to an increase in grocery store prices and can place strain on school districts. For example, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students recently reported having smaller portions of food at lunch, according to an Oct. 5 WCNC Charlotte article.

“Having access to local food is vitally important," Troxler said. "Got to Be NC branding and marketing efforts helped consumers find and identify local products, bridging the supply gap."

Ted Zoller, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, said Got to Be NC plays well into the general public’s renewed interest in shopping locally.

“There has been a general recognition about the ill-effects of non-organic and GMO types of approaches that have been used to develop food and you want to get back to organics, back to health," Zoller said. "We’ve seen a general trend in two factors, one is people really taking a hold of their own health and wanting to eat better, and the second factor is this farm-to-table movement.”

Zoller also said Got To Be NC helps farmers who typically face small profit margins. 

"(Farmers) work really really hard for very little," Zoller said. "I think that Got to Be NC is making the market that much more flexible, more adaptable, allowing small scale producers to remain in the market and to address specific needs that people want which on the consumer side is that we want to eat better food.”

Zoller — who comes from seven generations of dairy farmers — said his family has dealt with struggles within the industry.

“I’ve lived my life experience seeing people suffer because of the low prices of milk or the low prices of commodity food," Zoller said. "These types of products and programs help to rationalize the economics so the farmer is rewarded for their efforts. There is nothing greater than the person who takes it upon themselves to feed other people.”

Got To Be NC will hold a namesake festival in May 2022, but the dates have yet to be announced.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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