— courtesy VGCC
Vance-Granville Community College’s Main Campus served as the host for a late-September gathering of community leaders from throughout the region interested in local food economies.
The meeting, entitled “Innovations in Economic Development through Local Foods,” was organized by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), a partnership of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and North Carolina State University. Laura Lauffer of CEFS said that the organization had conducted the same event at two other locations elsewhere in North Carolina before VGCC, but that this was their best-attended to date.
As she welcomed participants to the college, VGCC President Dr. Stelfanie Williams said, “We are excited about the opportunities ahead for this region of North Carolina, and we are happy to be a partner in economic, agricultural and environmental stewardship.”
The first part of the meeting consisted of presenters sharing innovative models related to entrepreneurship and supporting local farmers that could be replicated in other communities. First up was VGCC Small Business Center Director Tanya Weary, talking about the college’s “NC REAL Agricultural Entrepreneurship” program. Lauffer said that Weary and VGCC are “pioneers in leading agriculture business classes and promoting agriculture in the community college system.”
Weary told attendees that the Agricultural Entrepreneurship program, a seven-week, interactive course designed to strengthen the business savvy of community farmers and budding agricultural entrepreneurs, succeeded in part because of strong partnerships. She partnered with the VGCC Human Resources Development department, the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, the Vance County Regional Farmers Market, N.C. Cooperative Extension, local city and county governments, attorneys, banks and other businesses.
“We have worked with other community colleges to share our experience about how we started this, who our partners are and how we’ve been able to grow this,” Weary said. “We have served around 65 students since starting in late 2014, and that’s a real success for this area. We’re very pleased with it.”
She added that the course spurred VGCC to offer other agriculture-related programs. A new free, three-part workshop series, “Planting Your Marketing Seeds for Your Agricultural Business,” is scheduled for Tuesday evenings, Nov. 7-21. Carrie Harvey, the instructor, also taught many of the college’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship classes.
Other presenters included Ardis Crews of the Green Rural Redevelopment Organization; Henry Crews (a graduate of the first NC REAL Agricultural Entrepreneurship class at VGCC) and Jennifer Dietsche, discussing a Vidant Health initiative at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville; Jimbo Eason and John Kimber from Covington Vodka; Eric Hallman of the Piedmont Food and Agriculture Processing Center (PFAP); Mike Ortosky of Orange County Agriculture Economic Development; and Gabe Cummings of Warren County-based Working Landscapes. CEFS has produced a short video on Working Landscapes, which participants enjoyed watching during lunch.
The Harvest Restaurant of Oxford catered a lunch featuring local food for the meeting. After lunch, attendees heard presenters discuss statewide resources, including the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, the N.C. Department of Commerce, the N.C. Rural Center and CEFS projects.
The CEFS “Local Food Economies” initiative is part of the NC Growing Together (NCGT) project. NCGT is a five-year, USDA-funded project that aims to bring more locally-produced foods into mainstream markets, strengthening the economics of small to mid-sized farm and fishing operations and their communities. In addition to research, academic and extension components, NCGT also aims to create an enabling environment for farms and food businesses.
For more information on the VGCC Small Business Center, contact Tanya Weary at [email protected] or (252) 738-3240.