By LARRY DALE
Daily Courier Staff Writer
RUTHERFORDTON, NC – What do tractors and the Internet have in common? More than you might think. Both can help Rutherford County farmers make money. Foothills Connect is working to give farmers here a market in Charlotte for their products, via the Internet. Tim Will, executive director of Foothills Connect, realized that there is a natural connection between chefs in downtown Charlotte and county farmers. In talking with his cousin, a chef in Charlotte, Will came to see that the chefs need fresh foods and the farmers need to sell their produce at the best possible prices. The restaurant industry, Will said, is hamstrung by the transportation industry. Because a large proportion of the fruits and vegetables consumed travel an average of 1,500 miles to market, the definition of “fresh” was redefined to mean produce that may be two weeks old. That realization prompted Will, a self-described high-tech guy, to turn to the Internet for a way to link nearby urban Charlotte with rural Rutherford County.
The result is www.FarmersFreshMarket.org, a Web site whereby Charlotte chefs and Rutherford County farmers can communicate with each other with the goal of selling county produce. The Internet will provide the necessary connection for conducting transactions.
Foothills Connect would maintain the site and help with Paypal, credit card and bank transfers to make transactions possible. In fact, the link to Charlotte has definitely been established already. Will said a Charlotte establishment this week called in an order for farm-fresh produce and regional cheese for a convention of 1,600 people at the first of May.
Will said that selling to a ready-made downtown Charlotte market is a good deal now that promises to become much better in the near future.
Some 10,000 people dwell in downtown Charlotte now, Will said, with the prospect that 110,000 will reside downtown by 2012. Chefs say they can’t get enough fresh food now, Will noted, so the outlook is very bright for farmers who can tap into that market.
The effort to connect farmers and chefs is a natural for Foothills Connect, which is a major link in the effort to bring broadband Internet to Rutherford County. Foothills Connect stresses infrastructure for the future so that Rutherford County can be a part of the worldwide connected economy.
Foothills Connect also is a business incubator, and currently is home to a number of start-up businesses. The effort to link farmers with the restaurant industry may boost business starts, too, by giving Rutherford County residents an opportunity to transport the food to Charlotte.
Will said that presently 80 percent of Rutherford County’s farming involves livestock, and there also will be a chance for the county’s livestock producers to reach that same Charlotte market. Rutherford County has a slaughterhouse, Will noted, so meeting United States Department of Agriculture standards need not be an issue. Again, transportation is the key. “Somebody needs to step up” and meet the trucking need, Will said.
Stepping up has been a large part of Will’s career. In addition to finding solutions for corporations trying to move into the Internet world, Will has experience as a Peace Corps worker, having gone to Fiji in the wake of Typhoon Meli, and as a teacher. He came to Rutherford County expecting to be a teacher. A job at Foothills Connect was intended to be a short-term stay until his return to teaching. But he realized he was “committed” to the Foothills Connect mission, and has stayed to help propel Rutherford County into the connected economy.
For more information about the agricultural endeavor, contact Will at 828-288-1650 or online at twill@FoothillsConnect.com
Foothills Connect is located at 146 N. Main St. in Rutherfordton, NC
Contact Dale: email@example.com