Warren County Extension Director and Family Consumer Science Agent Crystal M. Smith was a featured guest on a statewide podcast to talk about innovative programs to combat food insecurity.
Smith appeared on CountyCast, a podcast series created by the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. She and her Pitt County counterpart Leigh Guth spoke to host Amber Harris in the first episode of Season 3 of CountyCast. One goal of the broadcast is to highlight how counties leverage available resources to solve problems and how to tailor solutions to meet the needs of the communities they serve.
Smith said her job requires her to do a little bit of everything, but she most enjoys programming and youth development, as well as nutrition programs. Since the pandemic, her role has included working with a partner to lead the county food coordination effort. She and her co-facilitator were able to create a network of local farmers, businesses and restaurants to create a family meal program.
Smith said 200 families got meals through the program, which provided weekend meals when the school district’s food distribution didn’t operate. The service proved so beneficial to the community that county government decided to keep funding it when the grant period expired.
“It was a true highlight to meet those needs,” Smith said of the project. What she learned, though, was that although providing weekend meals “looked ideal on paper,” the logistics proved less than ideal. “We put it out to the community to ask for extra help,” she added, and the community came through in fine fashion. “The consistent commitment has been a real ‘feel-good,’” Smith said.
Another innovative program that has “sprouted” during the pandemic is the Backyard Ag program. Partnering with neighboring counties’ extension agents, Smith says, is a response from residents who say “Hey, we want to go back to the basics of growing our own food – how do we do it? The online class met weekly and had an average of 41 participants that learned different aspects of backyard agriculture from livestock agents, field crops agents and horticulture agents. The highest attendance was 75, Smith said. “And on Dec. 2, we started taking it to the next level,” she added, as the class continues to garner interest.