July 2018: NC Growing Together is catalyzing ties between food and farm businesses, educators, Cooperative Extension staff, and Small Business Centers (SBC) across the state to build business support and education for a thriving local food economy. On July 12, SBC directors, Extension staff, and educators from the Sustainable Agriculture Program at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) met at Tenita Solanto’s Green Panda Farms microgreens business in Siler City.

“There are hundreds of underutilized buildings in the Sanford, NC area, and farmers who are seeking to diversify to the ‘next big thing,'” says Terri Brown, SBC Director in Lee County. “I wanted to visit Tenita’s site to explore her model and see if a new training program could be developed on this model of indoor production.”

Tenita is a retired Navy veteran eager to promote the health benefits of eating microgreens. In addition to growing custom microgreen mixes for her clients, her current markets include the Raleigh Midtown Farmer’s market, individual subscription holders, and the Durham Co-op Market. Tenita met Leila Wolfrum, Durham Co-op Market’s General Manager, at NCGT’s Grower-Buyer Event held each year at CFSA’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference. She was just getting started and Leila’s advice and support helped her launch her business. Tenita conducts in-store tastings at the Co-op, building awareness of her products and evaluating consumer response to new microgreen products, as well as a new line of salad dressings.

Tenita’s two-year old startup also provides an instructive case study for potential entrepreneurs. “I will be bringing my students to this site,” noted CCCC’s director of Sustainable Agriculture, Robin Kohanowich. “It’s good for them to hear entrepreneurial start up stories, and to think outside the box.”

For more information on NCGT’s work with Small Business Centers and Community Colleges, or to request assistance setting up local meetings, contact Laura Lauffer, NCGT Extension and Outreach Program Manager & Local Foods Extension Associate: lwlauffe@ncsu.edu.

This article originally appeared in the July 2018 NC Growing Together Newsletter.