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April 21, 2010

State Action Guide on local foods now available

“From Farm to Fork: A Guide to Building North Carolina’s Sustainable Local Food Economy” has just been issued by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems. The guide provides goals and strategies that will put North Carolina on the fast track to achieving a sustainable local and regional food system. With its diverse agricultural economy, superior educational system and adaptable workforce, North Carolina is well positioned to lead the nation in this effort.

Building the state’s sustainable local food economy will stimulate economic development and job creation, bolster the viability of local farms and fisheries and help address diet-related health problems, according to CEFS, a partnership between N.C. State University, N.C. A&T State University and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. CEFS’s mission is to develop and promote food and farming systems that protect the environment, strengthen local communities and provide economic opportunities in North Carolina and beyond.

The guide is the result of a year-long “Farm to Fork” initiative spearheaded by CEFS to take an in-depth look at where and how our food is produced and processed. The initiative involved the active participation of well over 1,000 North Carolinians, and included people and organizations working in the fields of agriculture, commercial fishing, community organizing, education, faith, finance, public policy, state and local government and youth outreach.

“Y’all are red hot,” declared Gov. Beverly Perdue while addressing the more than 400 participants at the CEFS’ May 2009 Farm to Fork Summit. “You are beginning to change the tide, directing the links between local agriculture, jobs and the economy. “Finally, people across the state and the country are beginning to realize you are red hot,” Perdue said.

The guide identifies nine challenges North Carolina must address to succeed and recommends a variety of actions that can be implemented at the state and local levels, starting with 11 “game-changers” that are actionable within two years and statewide in scope. One major game changer—the establishment of a statewide food policy advisory council to engage decision makers in strategic food-systems planning and implementation—has already been accomplished. Other game changers moving forward support:

• Expanding local market opportunities by developing a model farm-to-institution program (Fort Braggs’ “Feed the Forces” program);

• Increasing consumer education and outreach (the 10% Campaign, funded by the Golden LEAF Foundation);

• Addressing public health and food access disparities by expanding and strengthening N.C.’s SNAP-ED program; and

• Promoting farm-to-school programming through the development of a model farm-to-school pre-service teacher instruction program.

According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, North Carolinians spend about $35 billion a year on food. If individuals spent just 10 percent, or $1.05 per day, of their existing food dollars on local foods, approximately $3.5 billion would be available in the local economy, directly benefiting farmers and food-related businesses. Greater spending locally can also increase the economic activity at the regional and community level, which can translate into jobs.

Financial support for the Farm to Fork initiative came from the Golden LEAF Foundation, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, North Carolina Rural Center – Agriculture Advancement Consortium and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Posted by Natalie at 03:17 PM

April 13, 2010

Nine NC producers receive cost-share awards

Parker and Whitmire in milking parlor
Richard Parker, left, cost share recipient, and Brittany Whitmire, NCVACS program coordinator, look over the technology in place at the milking parlor of Parker’s organic dairy. (Courtesy of Megan Brame)

Nine value-added producers in North Carolina just received a financial boost as recipients of the N.C. Value-Added Cost Share NCVACS) award. The NCVACS program, administered by N.C. MarketReady, has announced the 2009 cost share awards, which are funded by the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. The NCVACS program provides financial support, through matching funds, to producers who are applying for the USDA Value-Added Producer Grant VAPG), a nationally competitive program.

“The nine recipients represent a diverse array of value-added enterprises and are geographically scattered throughout the state,” said Brittany Whitmire, NCVACS program coordinator. The award recipients fell into three categories of cost share funding for grant writing and feasibility assessment.

Read more from Perspectives Latest News

Posted by Natalie at 08:17 AM

NC A&T University is lead university on 4-H science experiment

N.C. A&T State University has been selected as the leading university for this year's 4-H National Science Experiment, which focuses on water quality and climate change.

Using a three-tiered experiment model, the experiment engages youth of all ages to learn at the simplest level how carbon dioxide can affect aquatic animals, plants and other living organisms in lakes, streams, rivers and oceans. These activities help facilitators lead discussions to help youth better understand climate change.

The experiment is designed to help youth take the activities and connect back to their lives by measuring their own carbon footprint, their family's footprint, and estimate energy savings by looking at gas and electric bills.

To read more, visit 4hlists.org/t/3927328/1166472/772/0/ 4-H.org to find the full news release about this year's experiment. The final experiment materials will be available to the 4-H community in late May.

Posted by Natalie at 08:12 AM

New bulletin focuses on small-acreage crops

Specialty Crops in North Carolina, a new technical bulletin released by the N.C. Agricultural Research Service, documents production statewide and by county for 153 small-acreage crops grown in North Carolina. The bulletin is available online from the Department of Horticultural Science at N.C. State University: www.cals.ncsu.edu/hort_sci/extension/tb-327.pdf

This overview of North Carolina’s specialty crops includes data on 93 vegetables, 14 fruits and nuts, 36 culinary herbs, and 10 miscellaneous crops. Crop maps depict each crop’s distribution in North Carolina, and county tables list the crops grown in each of the state’s 100 counties by acreage and crop type.

Prepared by Roger Batts, field research director at N.C. State’s IR-4 Research Center, Specialty Crops in North Carolina summarizes data collected in a 2007 survey of Cooperative Extension agents developed by Batts and eight specialists in the Department of Horticulture. Survey responses from 70 counties were supplemented with data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Field Service Agency in Raleigh.

The bulletin includes a copy of the survey used to collect the data, along with a summary of the IR-4 pesticide registration procedure for minor crops.

Crops defined as “minor crops” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency include food and ornamental crops that involve small acreage yet account for more than $43 billion in annual production nationwide.

Posted by Natalie at 08:09 AM

April 08, 2010

Lisa Childers is new Cumberland director

Lisa Childers, director of North Carolina Cooperative Extension programs in Harnett County, has been named to direct the Cooperative Extension program in Cumberland County.

Childers' appointment as Cumberland Extension director was announced by Dr. Joe Zublena, acting director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at North Carolina State University, and James Martin, Cumberland County manager. She succeeds George Autry, who retired Oct. 1 after serving as Cumberland Extension director for 24 years.

Childers became Harnett County Extension director in September 2008. Before that, she was a family and consumer sciences agent, joining Extension in Harnett County in 1999. She holds a master's degree in extension education from North Carolina State University.

"Lisa will be a great asset to the Cumberland County extension team," said Clinton McRae, director for extension's south central district, which includes Cumberland County. "Lisa is a native of Cumberland County, and she is familiar with the needs of the county. I am excited about the energy and enthusiasm Lisa will bring to the Cumberland County extension team."

McRae added, "I have worked closely with Lisa for several years, and I have found her to be a visionary leader with a strong work ethic. Lisa's greatest asset is her love for helping other people to succeed. The Cooperative Extension staff and Cumberland County citizens will be pleased with Lisa's leadership."

Posted by Dave at 08:02 AM

April 07, 2010

Hopping into a new crop

Rob Austin of NCSU and Chris Davis, head brewer at Fullsteam, plant hop rhizomes at the Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory in Raleigh.
Rob Austin (left) of NCSU and Chris Davis, head brewer at Fullsteam Brewery, plant hop rhizomes at the Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory in Raleigh. (Becky Kirkland photo)

When Van Burnette wanted a drought-resistant crop to try on his 6-acre farm near Black Mountain, he decided on hops. The problem is, no one really knows much about how the essential beer ingredient will grow in North Carolina, much less whether burgeoning interest in local beers and home brewing will translate into a sustainable market.

N.C. State University specialists are out to change that, cooperating with Burnette and a few other pioneering North Carolina hops growers to figure out viable production, post-harvest and marketing options.

At the university’s field laboratory off Lake Wheeler Road in Raleigh, Rob Austin and Dr. Deanna Osmond, of the Department of Soil Science, planted a quarter-acre experimental hop yard recently.

And from the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River, horticulture specialist Dr. Jeanine Davis is monitoring conditions at four mountain farms where hops are being grown.

Some of the key questions the scientists will be asking: Can new varieties and better production practices ease the disease pressures that pushed the East Coast hops industry to Oregon and Washington decades ago? What types of nutrients and soils do the fast-growing plants need? And do local conditions impart flavors and aromas that beer producers will be interested in buying?

Austin, a geographic information specialist, has some experience with hops: He’s a home brewer, and for eight years he’s been growing a few plants along a fence in his backyard in Apex.

But, he points out, there’s a big difference between growing something in your backyard and growing it on a scale that makes it a worthwhile commercial endeavor.

Hops are climbing perennials that on most farms are grown on expensive 20-foot trellis systems, he explains. The up-front costs that such systems require aren’t immediately recouped because, as with winegrapes, hops take about three years to be fully established.

Also, cost-effective mass production requires large acreage and specialized machinery for harvesting the flowers (or cones, as they are called), drying them and turning them into pellets. Such machinery is used in Oregon and Washington, which currently have the national hops market sown up.

But a few years ago there was a national hops shortage, which raised the price of hops -– and the hopes of growers looking for alternative crops. Austin says the Raleigh home brew store he bought hops from even went as far as to limit the amount of hops a customer could buy. That led him to wonder if North Carolina farmers might be able to help fill the gap.

Davis says scores of growers had similar ideas.

“When it comes to interest in growing hops, people are coming out of the woodwork. We had 100 people on a hops tour we had last year,” Davis says. “But we need to stress this is very risky. We know very little about it. And we have real concerns.”

She, Austin and Burnette think that North Carolina is unlikely to become a major hops producer. The major hops-growing region is drier than North Carolina, and this makes them concerned about the damage that diseases such as downy mildew and powdery mildew could cause. But they are hopeful that new, more resilient hops varieties and advances in disease control might make it easier to avoid devastating losses.

vanburnette.jpg
Van Burnette started growing hops in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Van Burnette)

Burnette is looking forward to being involved in the N.C. State hops research project, which is funded by a one-year grant from Golden LEAF, a foundation that supports research into economic alternatives for tobacco-dependent communities.

Burnette’s farm has been in his family for 150 years, and he’s hopeful that niche markets for crops like hops and blueberries and associated tourism will prove economically sustainable.

A Western North Carolina AgOptions grant from North Carolina Cooperative Extension enabled him to set up his hop yard, and he’s hopeful that the grant-funded research project will led to reliable production recommendations.

“The hops project can’t do anything but benefit me and the rest of us growers,” he says. “I know that I found it frustrating -– and so did the other growers -– that there’s not enough known about hops. … I mean, how do you know what hops need as far as the soil? And how are we going to take care of these pests and diseases? And how are we going to know for sure what kind of pests and diseases we have?”

In spite of so many production challenges and questions, he and others think the growing local food movement and the interest in specialty and regional beers could mean that buyers are willing to pay a premium for locally produced hops with special qualities.

In Burnette’s case, a small brewery that’s less than 5 miles from his farm bought all the hops he was able to produce last year. This year, he plans to sell most of what he produces to that brewery, but he’s also planning a second “you-pick” harvest for home brewers.

Interest in North Carolina hops production has been highest in the mountains, perhaps because Asheville has a growing reputation as a center for microbrewery. It’s been called “Brewtopia” and named the East Coast’s “Beer City, USA.”

In the Piedmont, interest is gaining momentum. For example, Sean Wilson is weeks away from opening Fullsteam, a Durham brewery. The company’s tagline -- “plow-to-pint beer from the beautiful South” -- emphasizes local connections.

“Our goal is to try to … be the bridge that connects consumers who want local with farmers,” he says.

Already, the beer maker is buying all the rhubarb it can find locally, and the company is looking into purchasing locally processed sweet potato puree.

When it comes to locally produced hops, Wilson is cautiously enthusiastic.

“We would like nothing more than for our flagship beer, which we call Carolina Common, to use North Carolina-grown hops, at least in part of the process if not for the entire thing,” he says. But, he adds, “beer is an art and a science, and for us to rely on a hop provider, there has to be a fair amount of science involved. … They have to meet exacting standards to make quality, consistent beer.

“And we have to be practical when we look at our flagship beer,” he says. “Like any business, we have to be attuned to our raw ingredient costs, and that’s where the challenge is: There’s an opportunity, but it’s a challenge.”

-D. Shore

Posted by deeshore at 02:29 PM

Christine Smith recognized by N.C. Medical Journal

Christine Smith

Christine Smith, family and consumer sciences agent with Cooperative Extension in Wayne County, has been recognized by the N.C. Medical Journal’s “Tarheel Footprints in Health Care” for her nutrition and wellness efforts for the people of Wayne County. She was featured in an article in the January/February journal issue.

The article states, "As a family and consumer sciences agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County, Smith is committed to excellence in programming and to helping citizens improve their health and well-being. She develops and implements programs in nutrition, wellness, food preservation and family resource management. She is very visible and active in the community providing educational opportunities,both informal and formal, for citizens to learn about incorporating healthy foods and physical activity into their daily lifestyle."

Read more from the N.C. Medical Journal

Posted by Natalie at 02:16 PM

Agent workshop focuses on rainwater harvesting

Cooperative Extension agents are invited to a train-the-trainer Rain Water Harvesting and Rain Garden Workshop, June 8-9, Gaston County center of N.C. Cooperative Extension in Dallas, N.C.

Many communities across the South are now required to control stormwater and to educate citizens on controlling stormwater coming from their property. As a result, rainwater harvesting systems and rain gardens continue to grow in popularity as best management practice (BMPs) to conserve water and help control and treat stormwater runoff. These systems help reduce the use of drinking water for irrigation, toilet flushing and vehicle washing, and reduce nitrogen and phosphorus in surface waters.

This train-the-trainer workshop is designed for Extension agents who are considering installing, demonstrating, designing and teaching community stake-holders about water harvesting systems and rain gardens to improve water quality and conserve drinking water.

Trainers will provide an overview of water harvesting systems and rain gardens, their components, guidelines and suggestions for selecting the most appropriate type and size of system, pump sizing, construction and installation recommendations.

After the short classroom session, agents will get a chance to put what they learned to work immediately by installing a rain water harvesting system and rain garden at the Gaston County Extension Center.

Agents will receive a notebook containing all workshop materials and
presentations on hard-copy and CD, so they can return to their counties and put the information to work immediately. A workshop agenda is available at the Web site link above, as well as the online registration form. There is no cost to attend, but we ask participants to preregister at the Web site.

The workshop is sponsored in part by USDA-NIFA, N.C. Extension Watershed Education Network (WEN), Gaston County, Gaston County Cooperative Extension and Catawba River Watershed District Program.

Any questions regarding the program may be directed to Mitch Woodward at mwoodward@wakegov.com. For questions regarding registration, please send an email to bae_training@ncsu.edu.

Posted by Natalie at 01:58 PM