BY HENRY GARGAN
Wake County is known for its technology companies and urbanizing communities, but elected leaders want to boost a lower-profile economic driver: farming.
Using language familiar to the Triangle’s start-up culture – words like “incubation” and “entrepreneurship” – Wake commissioners want to provide opportunities for the next generation of farmers as land continues to become more scarce. One idea is for farmers to lease county-owned farmland to grow fruits and vegetables that could end up in school lunches or at local farmers markets.
Officials are in talks with the nonprofit Triangle Land Conservancy about using a portion of the 405-acre Walnut Hill property south of Knightdale for county-backed agricultural uses. Wake paid $1.6 million to help the Conservancy acquire and preserve the land in 2013.
Sig Hutchinson, chairman of the commissioners, said he envisioned the county leasing 4- to 10-acre plots to “agri-entrepreneurs.”
“The real prohibitive piece of getting started in farming is the cost of the land,” he said. “So if you can provide this land at no or low cost, it gives the farmer a real leg up in terms of a business model.”
Farming used to play a bigger role in the Triangle, but a five-county region that includes Wake has lost about 15 percent of its farmland since 1997. About one-fourth of the Triangle is now made up of agricultural land.