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North Carolina's 'Produce Lady' promotion program gets boost

by Chip Carter | June 13, 2010
Leah Chester-Davis knew she needed to find some way to promote the North Carolina MarketReady educational and informational research program, a partnership of the North Carolina State University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension based in Kannapolis. She did not expect to discover a star.

But when Ms. Chester-Davis, coordinator of community outreach for the program, met Rockingham County Cooperative Extension Director Brenda Sutton -- now known state-wide as "The Produce Lady" -- at a meeting almost two years ago, it was serendipity of the first sort.

In December 2008, North Carolina MarketReady launched its first web site and a series of promotional videos -- starring Ms. Sutton -- aimed at helping farmers educate consumers about their products. To everyone's surprise, consumers and farmers alike started turning to Ms. Sutton for advice.

The program has grown dramatically since its inception, and will now have an opportunity to extend its outreach due to a just-announced $92,000 grant from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.

The MarketReady program is designed to enhance and integrate farmers' skills and knowledge in five key focus areas: agriculture enterprise development, business skills education, fresh produce safety, horticulture skills education and strengthening markets.

The new grant money will allow the program to build on Ms. Sutton's budding consumer popularity, adding additional resources to promote North Carolina- grown produce through on-line and printed materials, cooking demonstrations, videos and newsletters.

"The Produce Lady is all about promoting North Carolina-grown fruits, vegetables and other farm products," Ms. Chester-Davis said. "The Produce Lady has gained quite a following; many people visit farmers markets just to meet her. This grant will help us encourage even more consumers to buy from North Carolina farmers, which will benefit our communities, our economy and our health."