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Farming advocate helps preserve heritage by helping growers in Polk County

Patrick McClendon, right, has his pulse on local agriculture as the executive director of Growing Rural Opportunities. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Our Person of the Week helps give small farmers a fighting a chance while preserving a part of Western North Carolina's past.

Patrick McLendon is executive director of a non-profit called GRO, or Growing Rural Opportunities.

He says what you get at the Tryon Farmer's Market isn't just a business transaction. It's an experience.

"No one goes to the normal supermarket and is just ecstatic," he points out. "And because they're looking at you right in the eye, they're not gonna sell you something subpar."

"Boy do they look good!" Cass Eager said recently after sampling the peaches from Rollins Farm.

How sweet it is when the fruit of someone's labor tastes that good.

"Mmm. This is perfect!" Cass gushed. "Sweet, melt in your mouth. It's not pithy. It's not stringy, it's just fabulous."

"It makes me feel good," said farmer Gerald Rollins, who says McLendon is a vital part of the success of local agriculture. "I think he's doing a very good job. Patrick is somebody you can lean on for advice."

GRO runs the farmer's markets in Tryon and Columbus. The group also supports one in Saluda.

Patrick's passion food has no expiration date.

The Tryon Farmer's Market was previously at Harmon Field but has moved locations. It's now each at the Depot Plaza in Tryon on Thursday afternoons from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

"I knew that I wanted to do something to preserve our rural heritage," he explains.

Patrick says by cultivating economic opportunities today, he honors a rich tradition.

"The best way to preserve farmland, in a lot of ways, is to make those farmers economically sound and secure," he told us.

"We lost a lot of farmers in the '80s not because of desire or passion by the farmers," Patrick says. "But because those folks really couldn't continue to farm. "

GRO receives funding from the Polk County Community Foundation.

The county includes more than 24,000 acres of farmland.

President and CEO Elizabeth Nager says Patrick's a great advocate, even helping young farmers along the way.

"Patrick has a passion for his work," Nager said. "So he really has a pulse on what farmers need, and is helping to attract farmers to our community."

By supporting those growing needs, he also saves a way of life.

"Farming and agriculture is an important part of our mountain lifestyle," he stressed.

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