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In Robeson County, you’ll find Millard and Connie Locklear tending to their fields of okra, sweet peas, carrots, and eggplant. The Locklears operate New Ground Farm, just a few miles outside of Pembroke’s town center. New Ground Farm, despite the name, has been in the Locklear family for over seven generations. 

“My mother taught me this trick,” says Connie, as she turns the bottom hem of her shirt into a pouch and stuffs freshly picked field peas into the fold. “You can pick more of them this way.”

The field peas in Connie’s hands have a long journey ahead of them. They’ll be picked up later that day to be inspected by FreshPoint, a food distributor based in Morrisville, North Carolina. After their stop at FreshPoint, they’ll go back to Robeson County to be prepared in the kitchens at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Distributors like FreshPoint help connect the dots between rural farmers and their communities. “Food is regulated for the benefit and the health of the consumer,” says Millard. “The mom-and-pop way we’ve done it over the last hundred years has changed, and distributors and community partnerships provide the scale, logistics, and food safety processes that make this work.” 

One of the biggest missions of UNC Pembroke is building community and giving back—supporting them and building relationships across the state, says Glenn Reynolds, UNC Pembroke area executive chef. “Getting involved with FreshPoint and Millard and Connie was our way at UNC Pembroke of holding true to that mission.” 

UNC Pembroke has been building partnerships with farmers in the area for two years, despite hurdles around handling the logistics and scale of the project. “We feed thousands each week—it’s not like we can just go out to the farmer’s market; we have to create a supply chain that works for our scale,” says Reynolds.

New Ground Farm was a part of the Rural Food Business Assistance Project, an initiative of the NC Rural Center’s Food and Community Development program in partnership with USDA Rural Business Development. The Rural Food Business Assistance Project provided direct technical training to agribusinesses and built regional networks to support local farmers, value-added processors, and food service businesses. 

They are also a part of the UNC Pembroke Thomas Entrepreneurship HUB, AgriVentures Sandhills Food Innovation project, in partnership with NC IDEA Foundation and the Rural Center. The AgriVentures Sandhills project provides outreach, training, strategic counseling, and mentorship to food and agribusiness entrepreneurs. 

“We changed the way we farm and how we get our produce to the community—we’ve been more directly engaged with them and we’ve had a lot of interest and participation from the students at the university,” says Millard. “It’s been a great opportunity to work closely with FreshPoint and the students at UNC Pembroke.”