To meet the produce standards for Lowes Foods and other commercial buyers, PMP decided to have all its growers receive training in GAPs – good agricultural practices. GAPs training focuses on strategies that growers can use to ensure that their produce is safe for consumers to eat.

Agricultural Extension Agent Joanna Radford helps arrange the GAPs training for growers. Beyond the training lies GAP certification, where a third-party auditor visits a farm to check on how GAP strategies are being implemented.

Produce growers have to plant crops in succession, so the crop is ready to harvest at intervals, not all at once. Access to labor for harvesting produce is another big issue, Radford said.

Growers struggle with weed and pest management, particularly whether to rely on conventional controls or try new strategies like growing under plastic.

Grower Tony Cave agrees that transitioning from tobacco to produce is a challenge. “I’ve farmed all my life, but this produce farming is a whole new thing,” he said recently while showing his potato crop to Radford and Bryan Cave. “Everything is brand new here.”

Tony Cave is experimenting with a new tractor that will create plastic-covered rows, complete with drip tape for irrigation. He will try it in his home garden this year, hoping to use it for commercial crops next year. He hopes the equipment — though expensive — will help him to better manage weeds and provide water for thirsty plants.

“You’re pretty much limited by how much you can afford to lose,” Tony Cave said.

In spite of the newness and challenges, Tony Cave is committed to Pilot Mountain Pride as both a board member and grower for the organization. “We’re in the second year, and it’s already mind-boggling what we’ve done. Who knows what’s in store for this year?”

Bryan Cave said, “Pilot Mountain Pride has re-energized this community. It’s given Pilot Mountain a lot of hope.”