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Home Grown Goodness | By Kelly Twedell


Even city slickers can have eggs from the farm, grass-fed beef free of hormones, fresh milk and locally-grown organic fruits and veggies. One Lillington couple has launched a farm cooperative to provide just that. Deliveries cover a swath of southeastern North Carolina from as far south as Hope Mills to Wake Forest and Durham. Joe and Vicki Allen, along with partner Chris Lewis, launched their dream business two years ago from their garage. Since then, Carolina Grown has increased to 550 customers, working closely with eight North Carolina farms and up to 15 for seasonal items. Food comes packaged in sturdy, ice-packed Styrofoam shipping coolers to ensure freshness en route or to be left on a front porch and picked up during the next delivery cycle. On a recent Saturday morning, there were 55 stops on the Fayetteville route. “The toughest challenge of the business has been teaching local people to eat local, seasonal food,” Joe Allen said. “Before I started the business, I was a steak and baked potato type of guy, and I could eat that every night of the week. Since starting the business, I have learned to love foods I never had heard of before like kohlrabi, purple Cherokee tomatoes and fresh herbs. It has really opened my eyes to a new world of food.” Indeed, eating fresh has never been easier. Carolina Grown introduces a new menu each week based on seasonal availability and the size container customers choose: small, medium or large. A small order recently included eggs, chocolate milk in an old-fashioned glass jar, savory blueberry jam, local honey, sweet pickled baby beets, jalapeno pepper sausage, ham, oversized North Carolina peaches, hearty farm-grown tomatoes in reds and yellows and a watermelon redder than any spotted recently at the grocery store. Allen says farmers must complete a rigorous selection process. “After picking a farmer with good credentials, we set up an initial fact-exchanging session,” he said. “We also try their meat or produce. Touring the farm is also a necessary step in selecting farmers for our service. Our ranchers all go through USDA-certified butchers, and the USDA also tours the farms to be sure that they are abiding by humane handling practices.” West Produce is one of Carolina Grown’s regular suppliers. Owner Tommy West has been in the business 58 years; he and his wife, Jean, say their passion is running the third-generation farm. The couple is in the process of qualifying as a Century Farm, the only one in Harnett County. West Produce prides itself on high standards and qualifies as a certified grower for its ratings in safety, quality of food, presentation and work ethic. This fall, the Wests hope to invite customers to pick pumpkins straight from the field and take an educational hayride while they’re there. Carolina Grown has recently added meat to its offerings thanks to another supplier, the Baldwin Family Farm in Yanceyville. The Charolais cattle farm is spread over about 800 acres north of Chapel Hill. The Baldwins chose the Charolais breed almost 40 years ago for their lean meat. Baldwin Charolais beef is free of preservatives and vacuum-sealed and flash frozen at a custom USDA-inspected plant. Since its start in 1969, Baldwin Family Farms has been dedicated to producing all-natural, grass-fed, antibiotic-free beef thanks to a unique form of winter and summer grazing that allows them to keep their cows in the fields year-round. More and more Americans are searching out organic fruits and vegetables and grass-fed meats. Organic fruits and vegetables now represent 11.4 percent of all U.S. fruit and vegetable sales, according to the Organic Trade Association. And research has shown that grass-fed beef contains less fat, is free of hormones and is higher in some nutrients. Carolina Grown brings all of it – North Carolina meat, produce and even milk in an old-fashioned jar – straight to the doorstep. “The most rewarding part of our business is knowing we are helping farmers stay on their land doing what they have been doing for generations,” Allen said. “We also are more than just a business, we are trying to be good stewards in the community and believe in giving back.”