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February 19, 2009

2009 marks 100 years of 4-H

Human 4-H clover
4-H'ers at State Congress marked the Centennial creating a human clover at Carter-Finley Stadium. (Mark Dearmon photo)

It all began in 1909 in Hertford County with the first official “corn club.” That’s the year North Carolina A&M College (now N.C. State University) became the first land-grant college in the nation to enter into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct farm demonstrations — presentations of new agricultural techniques and ideas. The agreement specified that demonstrations were also to be presented to “organized clubs of farmers’ boys,” according to Memories of 4-H by L.R. Harrill.

From these beginnings, Harrill says “the 4-H movement” grew out of the corn clubs for boys and canning clubs for girls. But within a few years, the girls joined the boys in the corn and pig clubs and in 4-H events, showing off their best produce and animals.

Read more from Perspectives magazine

Posted by Natalie at 08:45 AM

February 18, 2009

Extension director's kindness will be missed

To many of the employees at the Davidson County Cooperative Extension Service, Robert Lopp was more than a boss - he was a friend who will be greatly missed after he retires Feb. 26.
Read more in The (Davidson County) Dispatch

Posted by Dave at 04:19 PM

February 17, 2009

Strong demand for Bogue Sound watermelons

Bogue Sound watermelon (Photos by Suzanne Stanard)

Bogue Sound watermelon production is taking off faster than the juice that rolls down your chin when you bite into a slice.

In 2007, the total number of Bogue Sound watermelons produced rose by 35 percent over the previous year. The melons are now available, for the first time, in major grocery chains throughout North Carolina and across the United States. And the Bogue Sound Watermelon Growers' Association, a co-op formed just three years ago, recently won $400,000 in grants to fund a new storage and distribution facility.

Times are good, says Carteret County farmer and co-op president Billy Guthrie, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

"Demand is strong and our yield per acre is up," he says. "We’ve even begun shipping into Canada. But in order to become even more successful, we need more farmers to get involved."

Any watermelon grower whose land drains directly or indirectly into North Carolina’s Bogue Sound is eligible to join the co-op, which has 20 members right now.

"Big and small farmers are working with each other ... everybody helps," says Ray Harris, Cooperative Extension director in Carteret County. "This effort has pulled farmers together more than anything I’ve seen in this area in the last 35 years."

Sherry Guthrie, Billy wife and business partner, agrees. "The number of farms that went under in 2006 is astounding," she says. "We want to keep families on the farm, and we also want to get more young farmers involved."

Terri and Jeff Collins with Ray Harris
Extension's Ray Harris (right) touches base with watermelon growers Terri and Jeff Collins.

One such farmer is Jeff Collins. He and his wife Terri run a 25-acre family farm that produces tobacco, corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, sod, and of course, Bogue Sound watermelons. Collins says they made more money off watermelons last year than on tobacco and plan to expand their watermelon acreage next year.

"We've got a good product," he says. "Everybody wants it. We've sent them all the way to Quebec and a lot to New York. It's the best melon you'll taste."

A warehouse on the Collinses farm has served as a collection and distribution center for Bogue Sound Watermelon co-op farmers to use. While they won't need to take advantage of the new facility being developed, the couple believes it could be a boon for the co-op.

"We've been friends with Billy Guthrie for a long time, and we've talked about this for four to five years," Terri Collins says. "It's a good feeling to see it working."

Two grants – $300,000 from the North Carolina Rural Center and $100,000 from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – will fund the new facility. It will meet a critical need by providing farmers with a central location to sort, grade and store the increasing volume of melons. With refrigeration and ice-making equipment, Harris says, the facility eventually could be used to process other types of produce.

At press time, the cooperative was scouting locations for the new facility. Harris says they hope to begin operation by summer.

Harris has played a key role in establishing the cooperative and fueling the growth of the Bogue Sound Watermelon enterprise, connecting Guthrie and the co-op with opportunities for marketing, distribution and grant funding.

"We've had some bumps in the road and growing pains, but that's to be expected," Harris says.

Guthrie says the concept for the organization is simple. "Once you've established that reputation of integrity and quality, and you remain constant, you'll grow."

With a product that literally tips the sweetness scales, the Bogue Sound Watermelon Growers Association has nowhere to go but up.

--S. Stanard

Posted by Suzanne at 02:17 PM

February 12, 2009

Registration open for Small Farms Conference

Enough food crises have occurred in the past 10 years for even the most casual grower to be on point about how food is produced and harvested. With each report of bad meat, tainted spinach or suspect
tomatoes, comes a renewed focus on how food gets from the field to the table, and it is that journey that frames the thrust for the
23rd Annual Small Farms week.

“Farm to Fork” is the theme of this year’s Small Farms Week, set for March 22 to 28 and sponsored by The Cooperative Extension Program at N.C. A&T. The experts who will work with farmers during the Small
Farms Week activities include food, nutrition and farm experts from Cooperative Extension as well as faculty with the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. Both departments are part of the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at A&T.

Presenters will discuss ways farmers can improve their farming and handling practices with a safer food supply as the goal, and the potential to attract more business as further incentive. Dr. M.
Ray McKinnie, administrator of The Cooperative Extension Program, says farmers who adapt to standards for how produce is developed in the
field and to what happens to it after it’s harvested, can likely expand their market.

For more information on the conference, and to register, visit the site: www.ag.ncat.edu/onthemove/OTM02-09.pdf.

Posted by Natalie at 03:46 PM

February 11, 2009

Professor wages unrelenting war against erosion, water pollution

Rich McLaughlin (Rebecca Kirkland photo)

For those science warriors who introduce new methods to control water pollution, it’s a battle of sorts out there, and it’s raging.

And a soil scientist in North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is on the front lines.

Research shows that the top polluter of our state’s waterways is sediment -- any particles that water can move and eventually deposit -- and the resultant turbidity that wash down from construction sites, farms and eroding stream banks. Not phosphorus, not nitrogen, but sediment, which can contain both of those pollutants and many more.

“Our lakes and streams typically turn brown after rains, illustrating that sediment and turbidity pollution is the biggest challenge to water quality,” says Dr. Rich McLaughlin, associate professor and Extension specialist in the college’s Soil Science Department.

“Sediment,” he says, “is the most common pollutant affecting North Carolina’s waterways, impacting a range of aquatic organisms, reducing reservoir capacity and hurting their aesthetic value. In many areas, the major source can be construction sites, including roadway projects, which have erosion rates a hundred times greater than farmland.

“In fact,” McLaughlin notes, “the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed rules that require runoff from many construction sites to be treated so they are nearly free of turbidity before release.”

The 200-page EPA draft document that proposes those rules, including a new minimum water-quality standard for construction sites of 30 acres or more, comprises some of McLaughlin’s research, such as his development of a technique that uses polyacrylamide (PAM) to rapidly settle clay particles by bonding with them. PAM is a water-soluble, synthetic polymer commonly used in various water treatment processes, including municipal water supplies and wastewater, and as a food processing aid.

While current stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) effectively handle larger sediment particles, they usually aren’t as effective at trapping smaller silt, clay and organic particles, McLaughlin says.

“Speed is essential when you are trying to clean a deluge of stormwater before it leaves a construction site and flows into the watershed,” he says in a recent Soil Science Department newsletter. “PAMs are now used on less than 5 percent of North Carolina’s construction sites each year, but we hope to increase their use to 100 percent by teaching methods to all practitioners in the state.”

McLaughlin works at the Sediment and Erosion Control Research and Education Facility at N.C. State University’s Lake Wheeler Field Laboratory. With funding from the North Carolina Sedimentation Control Commission, McLaughlin developed the facility along with colleague Dr. Greg Jennings, Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department professor and Extension specialist. They, with Extension associates Jan Patterson and Scott King, also developed required certification courses for state Department of Transportation contractors and engineers involved in erosion and sediment control practices. Patterson and King teach most of the workshops.

Opening new fronts on the war on erosion, after developing new techniques at Lake Wheeler, McLaughlin and his research team apply them to construction projects around the state.

In a recent project with DOT in western North Carolina, his team demonstrated how to bring turbidity down to levels acceptable for sensitive trout stream waters. Study sites included two road paving projects near Lenoir in Caldwell County and one north of Boone in Watauga County, where researchers compared new erosion control techniques to “standard” DOT erosion control designs: mostly rock checks and small sediment-trapping basins.

Each study site included the installation of a drainage ditch adjacent to the road, where DOT had placed control measures to reduce the sediment amount discharged from the site.

“We portioned these ditches into experimental sections, each one hydrologically distinct from the others by the periodic placement of drainage culverts that run under the road, discharging stormwater off the project site,” McLaughlin says.

The study evaluated two things: how well alternative new “check dams,” composed of cylindrical fiber or plastic mesh bags filled with either straw or coconut-husk “coir” fibers slowed stormwater flow, and the effectiveness of adding granular PAM to these new BMPs.

PAM can be manufactured in a variety of charged forms to be cationic, anionic or non-ionic (neutral), but each is intended to increase the particle binding that occurs in treated water. This significantly increases the sedimentation rate by increasing the sediment particles’ sizes.

“Most applications involve the anionic PAM because it is non-toxic to aquatic organisms, so in this study we used anionic APS 705, which has been approved for stormwater treatment by the N.C. Division of Water Quality,” he says.

The study results indicate a significant advantage in using the new sediment control systems, particularly those with PAM added.

“Overall,” McLaughlin says, “we can capture 99 percent of the sediment with all the systems in place except PAM, but turbidity will still be high. Add the PAM in the right way and the turbidity can also be reduced by more than 90 percent.”

McLaughlin recommends that the new sediment BMPs be more widely used by the DOT on similar roadway improvement projects, particularly in areas adjacent to sensitive habitat waters.

DOT listened to McLaughlin’s reports from the field and lab. The department is starting to use the fiber check dam system instead of rock in ditches. The proven combination of fiber dams and PAM is likely to be applicable to other construction sites, and could lead to significant reductions in stormwater impacts on adjacent streams and lakes, he says.

Also, based in part on one of McLaughlin’s research projects, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources now uses his porous baffled skimmer sediment basin design as its new standard of practice. And a current state Department of Transportation project near High Point has effectively employed all of McLaughlin’s approaches.

How much does it cost to deploy these new techniques?

While it’s not easy to compare cost estimates per device among the various BMPs, the new BMPs are not significantly more expensive than standard BMPs, based on overall average costs, McLaughlin says.

“The differences for each project,” he says, “would likely be less than a few hundred dollars, very small in comparison to the total project costs.

“It also appears that the new BMPs are a reasonable substitute to the standard BMPs with regards to their overall water storage volume capacity,” McLaughlin adds, “as their calculated storage volumes for the project sites were equal to or exceeded those of the standard BMPs.

“We’re working with some large developers interested in using this strategy,” McLaughlin says in the newsletter. “I believe it could have a profound impact in North Carolina because it makes good environmental and business sense.”

And that means significant advances in the scientific war on water pollution.

For sedimentation and turbidity fact sheets by McLaughlin and his team, go here:

-- Art Latham

Posted by Art at 11:05 AM

Counts' legacy is substantial

Sue Counts, who recently staged and hosted a “green retirement party” in Watauga County, believes Cooperative Extension is not only about demonstrating research-based information applications to improve peoples’ lives. It’s also about constructing community coalitions to launch learning projects derived from that research.

Read the story here:

Posted by Art at 10:45 AM

February 05, 2009

Workshop will address youth safety on farms

farm safety image

At the Farm Safety 4 Just Kids Workshop March 12, Extension agents and others can learn how to make training programs come alive on farm safety and health programs for children, youth and families. Hear and share success stories. Discover resources. Learn the latest on ATV, pesticide and farm machinery safety.

The workshop will be held at the Johnston County Cooperative Extension Center in Smithfield, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration is free, and lunch will be provided.

For more information and to register, visit the Web site:

Registration deadline is Feb. 27. The workshop is sponsored by Farm Safety 4 Just Kids, N.C. Agromedicine Institute, USDA Risk Management Agency, N.C. Farm Bureau, N.C. Cooperative Extension and AgriSafe-North Carolina.

Posted by Natalie at 08:44 AM

CEFS workshop focuses on high-tunnel production

There will be a workshop covering research findings in high-tunnel greenhouse production on Tuesday, Feb. 17, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) near Goldsboro. Topics on the agenda include updated guidelines for insect, nutrient, disease and water management. There will also be discussions of crop selection and budgeting. For information, or to register, visit www.cefs.ncsu.edu/calendar2009.htm#hightunnel.

Read more news from ag e dispatch

Posted by Natalie at 08:35 AM

February 03, 2009

CEFS to host summit on building local food economies

summit flower

The Center for Environmental Farming Systems will host the 2009 Farm to Fork Summit March 2-3 at McKimmon Center in Raleigh. The day and a half conference will explore the outcomes of six regional meetings held last fall, and Working Issues Teams will provide input about “game changer” and “local tool box” ideas. The goal of the summit is to help produce a Statewide Action Plan for Building a Local Food Economy.

Working Issues Teams will report in the areas of:
* Expanding institutional, retail and food service markets for small and medium-sized farms
* Farm-to-school programming
* Public health and food access disparities
* Direct markets
* New and transitioning farmers support
* Community gardens and farms
* Land use and local government initiatives
* Youth and social networking
* Consumer outreach and marketing
* Processing and other physical infrastructure
* Formalizing the initiative: Foundations and baselines

Registration is $35 and can be completed online by visiting the Web site: ncsustainablefood.wordpress.com/summit/. A limited number of scholarships are available.

The Farm to Fork statewide initiative is funded in part by Golden Leaf Foundation, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the Ag Advancement Consortium and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Summit sponsorship support is provided by the Carolina Farm Credit and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

Posted by Natalie at 01:57 PM

February 02, 2009

Terra Madre: Extension professionals attend Slow Food International conference

Leah and Natalie at Terra Madre
Leah Chester-Davis and Natalie Hampton participate in a workshop at Terra Madre. Headphones allowed participants to hear presentations translated. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Hampton)

Fast food, slow food, local food. What does it all mean? Here in North Carolina, consumers have shown much interest in local food. Across the state, there are many examples of ways that North Carolina Cooperative Extension agents and specialists are helping to bring consumers and producers together through farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture and other marketing strategies.

In October, three Cooperative Extension professionals from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences decided to take a global look at the issue of local food by attending Terra Madre, the world conference of Slow Food International in Turin, Italy.

Leah Chester-Davis, Extension communications specialist and coordinator of communications and community outreach with the program for Value-Added and Alternative Agriculture in Kannapolis; David Kendall, Extension agent from Madison County; and I, Natalie Hampton, news editor and media specialist in Communication Services, were the Extension participants. With nearly 40 members, North Carolina had one of the larger delegations from the United States. More than 700 delegates represented the United States, making it the largest visiting delegation.

Slow Food is a fairly young organization, founded by Carlo Petrini in response to a plan to open a McDonald’s restaurant in a historic area of Rome, Italy. Petrini, who still leads Slow Food, spoke at N.C. State University in 2007 as the Sustainable Agriculture lecturer.

The mantra of Slow Food is providing food that is “good, clean and fair” through a partnership of producers, consumers and chefs. The 2,000 delegates attending this year’s conference included producers, chefs, educators and students. The three of us were among the educators’ group of the U.S. delegation. Observers and other attendees brought the conference attendance to 6,000 to 7,000 people.

The five-day conference provided delegates opportunities to interact with others around the globe involved in work related to food. Where else can you talk with a vanilla bean grower from Madagascar while waiting in line for dinner? And since waiting in line with the other delegates was a regular activity, many interesting conversations took place.

“What impressed me was the genius and the wherewithal to pull off such a diverse global gathering of people who share a common interest: local foods and sustainability. The opportunity to meet and talk with people from around the world was quite inspirational,” Chester-Davis said.

Just weeks before I left for Terra Madre, I saw a documentary, Black Gold, about a fair trade coffee cooperative in Ethiopia. While waiting in line one day at Terra Madre, I realized that I was standing behind the Ethiopian delegation, and I wondered if they were coffee growers. I soon recognized that Tadesse Meskela, the head of the cooperative featured in the documentary, was among the Ethiopian group.

I talked with him about the documentary, and he showed me his Black Gold button. Later in the week, I had the chance to speak with Meskela and his colleagues, who were very excited to meet someone from a U.S. university. I’ve since received an email from a prospective graduate student in his group, who is interested in finding a communications program.

David Kendall at Terra Madre
David Kendall, center, talks with other delegates, including author Patricia Klindienst, left. (Photo courtesy of Leah Chester-Davis)

Among the U.S. educators’ group were a number of authors, including Patricia Klindienst of Connecticut, author of The Earth Knows My Name, winner of a 2007 American Book Award. The book is about food, culture and sustainability in the gardens of ethnic Americans. After Leah convinced Patricia to hand out her card on our bus to the conference one day, other authors in the group felt empowered to hand out their book promotions. Two authors have written a book on food in New York City, and another writer, a baker, has written a book on baking bread.

Terra Madre took place only two weeks before the U.S. presidential election, and there was great interest among the delegates. Delegates from around the world mentioned the election, their knowledge of the candidates and their hopes for relationships with a new administration.

“I gained a much broader understanding of the importance of our decisions and policies here in the United States. Our decisions impact the world,” Chester-Davis said. “It seemed that most of the delegates I met, when they learned I was from the United States, asked me about the elections.”

Though neither Leah nor I had ever met David Kendall of Madison County before, he was one of the first people we met in Turin. On the first day of the conference, I went outside our quarters to find out when the bus was coming. David came up and asked where I was from. When I replied, “North Carolina,” he said, “Oh, me too. I work with North Carolina Cooperative Extension.” Such a small world!

Kendall said that he learned new ways that North Carolina’s small farmers can use to develop niche market products and marketing strategies. “Associative marketing is becoming almost mandatory to compete with industrial farming and large-scale production,” he said. “I am already planning how I can re-invent all my programs in the context of sustainable agriculture principles learned at Terra Madre.”

“Terra Madre’s commitment to small, sustainable farming cannot be described in words or captured images: You had to be there,” Kendall said.

Chester-Davis said she wants to incorporate the experience into her work helping promote consumer education related to local food through the Value-Added Web site -- www.ncvalueadded.org. She recently shared news of the conference as part of a panel discussion in her hometown of Davidson. And she’s trying to get word to other Extension colleagues about the value of attending Terra Madre.

“I love this quote from St. Augustine: ‘The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page,’ ” she said. “So many of our Extension colleagues would find this conference quite valuable, I'm telling everyone they must apply in two years. Slow Foods pays most expenses, except for travel. Apply for scholarships, apply to be a delegate and go!"

Posted by Natalie at 02:35 PM