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