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Getting to know familiar faces and fresh food

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Rosemary and Jim Lofts bring their food to your table through Feast Down East. Rosemary and Jim Lofts bring their food to your table through Feast Down East.

BEULAVILLE, NC (WECT) - When you choose your food, do you ask yourself where it comes from? If you buy from a partner of Feast Down East, the answer to that question will never be far from home.

Feast Down East is the shorter name for the Southeastern North Carolina Food Systems Program (SENCFS). Dr. Leslie Hossfeld of the University of North Carolina Wilmington co-founded it with Rev. Mac Legerton of the Center for Community Action in Lumberton back in 2006.

In recent years, the number of people it supports is growing just as fast as the local food it sources.

Just one of Feast Down East's many ventures is connecting local farmers with local chefs, and therefore helping consumers, as FDE so aptly puts it, cut the distance "between the farm and your fork."

Another perk to local food is being able to put a face on the people who nurture and grow it year round.

The owners of Triple J Ranch and Farm are North Carolina born and raised. Jim and Rosemary Lofts live in Beulaville now, but their roots stretch back to Wilmington.

"We met there at a church group, at Pine Valley Baptist Church," Rosemary said.

Not long after, they moved to her father's farm in Burgaw, but several more decades passed before the couple really dug into their inner farmers.

First, Jim was a teacher at New Hanover High School for 30 years.

"I taught the handicap students," Jim recalled. "Most of my teaching experience has been teaching exceptional children."

Meanwhile, Mary put in 32 years at Corning Incorporated, so when it came time to retire, finding a place to live with fresh air was key. Even Burgaw got a little too crowded for the couple.

"We decided it was too much like the city, so we moved back to the country," Rosemary said.

Now they have been in Duplin County for about ten years, but retirement for the Lofts sounds a lot like work for many others.

"We really haven't retired much, we're just doing something different," said Jim.

"We take a break in the summer when it's really too hot to grow anything in the hoop house," Rosemary added.

But meeting them, you get the distinct feeling if heat was not a factor they would still be out there growing. And they do it as much for themselves as for you, the consumer.

Even the entryway of their home is sprouting with life literally. Rosemary is growing a barrage of greens there, from pea shoots to sunflower greens. But the need for those plants she tends with love and a green thumb actually stems from popular demand.

"[The sprouts are] basically for restaurant people," Jim said. "The chefs want this type of product, and we started out by asking them what they wanted us to produce."

Now that is one question a buyer will never hear from a large farm. But for the Lofts, asking it is one of the driving forces behind their four-person, 100-odd acre farm.

"We try to grow as many of the specialty items as we can," said Rosemary.

Several types of tomatoes, varying shades of green sprouts, multi-colored potatoes, even the radishes are mixed. Rosemary's experimentation with her crops practically makes her a scientist.

She's even tapping into chicken breeding for the perfect flock of egg layers. You probably did not know this, but not all chickens are created equally.

"Some don't lay [sic] in the winter time, some lay in the summer time only, and we like them to lay year round," she explained. "Very few people have eggs right now because of the type of chickens they have." And that's where Rosemary's Punnett-esque mixing comes in. She mixes breeds to keep one of the oldest breakfast items in existence fresh in your kitchen.

And that says nothing for the extra care put into extracting and packing their eggs. They hand-inspect and package each one. It is a similar process for the produce, too.

"You could actually open her package and just go ahead and eat it," Jim said of Rosemary's handiwork. "She's very particular with packaging."

It is this attention to detail you will not find in your average food store, but thanks to programs like Feast Down East, farmers have more help successfully marketing their small-batch sales to a burgeoning niche market of fresh, local food.

And in this supportive system, the producers, distributors, chefs and consumers all get to reap the rewards.

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