“Dirt to shirt” — a home-grown organic cotton company
Eric Henry, president of TS Designs, produces tee-shirts made with cotton grown organically right here in North Carolina. Eric is an entrepreneur with a social conscience – he supports several local farm, food and energy initiatives, always thinking and acting creatively about how to make a more sustainable community. This interview is reprinted from a great guide called, “How to Advocate Locally to Support Sustainable Food & Farms: A Brief How-To Manual,” available free from (CFSA), another mover and shaker in our foodshed. Plenty of information and inspiration here. Thanks, Eric and CFSA.
Eric Henry is well known in North Carolina for his dedication to sustainability. In 2009, he won the Sustainable Champion Award from Sustainable North Carolina. He adheres to the triple bottom line business philosophy (people, planet, profits). His apparel company, TS Designs, even has its own organic farm.
Eric also founded the Burlington Biodiesel Co-op, and runs his own car on biodiesel or vegetable oil. He devotes a lot of time to furthering the sustainable agriculture agenda in his county: He serves on various community organizations and local government boards, as well as on the Board of Directors for , a co-op grocery in Alamance. Eric is a true champion for system-wide change towards sustainability. Market
CFSA: How did you become knowledgeable about sustainable agriculture so that you could be an effective advocate?
Eric: Through my apparel business I learned about the importance of a local and transparent supply chain. This made me want to learn more about sustainability and local agriculture. I began to educate myself on sustainable issues through research and by connecting myself to people of the same mindset. I am a member of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and attend their annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference; working with them has proven to be a great way to stay up to date on sustainable agriculture issues. I also regularly talk to sustainable farmers whom I know.
CFSA: How did you find out who held the power in Alamance, so that you could determine how to make changes in your local food system?
Eric: I have lived in Alamance County for over 50 years and I’m involved in a lot of civic groups ranging from Elon University to the Chamber of Commerce. I also met with the County Manager and other members of local government as a way to gauge who in county government were sympathetic to sustainable agriculture. I go to lots of local community meetings to keep up with what is going on.
CFSA: How did you prioritize the projects that you have undertaken?
Eric: Alamance already had a farmland protection plan and a good group of organic farmers. We were ready to go to the next level. I personally put in a lot of time working on getting Company Shops Market off the ground.
I wanted to help to build a local living community and I thought that linking local farmers to local consumers via a retail store was ambitious, but doable. Another project that I took on was creating a large organic garden at TS Designs. This created a way for me to share sustainable agricultural practices with customers of our shirts and healthy eating information with our employees.
CFSA: How did you negotiate with those in power to affect the changes that you wanted to see happen around sustainable agriculture in Alamance?
Eric: When we were organizing the Company Shops Market we had to do a lot of negotiating with local government and others as we worked to locate the shop in downtown Burlington. I had to convince officials that this was something that was going to be good for the downtown area and would be good for local businesses. We had to be forceful in our negotiations and eventually convinced decision-makers that this would be great for local business, farmers and consumers.
One thing we did was invite in another county manager, one who is sympathetic to local food, and introduce him to our manager. That helped build trust. Also we invited Michael Shuman, a national economic development consultant, to talk with local folks about local food economies.
CFSA: Looking back, can you talk about some successes and failures, as well as reflect on anything that you may have done differently in your efforts to promote sustainable agriculture?
Eric: The biggest success was establishing Company Shops Market and creating a place that connects citizens to local foods. Our challenge is still that sustainable, local agriculture is a very small part of our local food system. We need to do a better job of selling local food as economic development and job creation. We need more allies and to continue to educate the broader community about this goal.
Entry filed under: Activists, Sustainable Farming, Sustainable Food, Whole Food/ Locavore Eateries. Tags: Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Local food, Sustainability, Sustainable agriculture, sustainable farm.