Agriculture

Courtesy of Kamal Bell

Sankofa Farms was originally supposed to be a school garden in which middle school students could get away from the pressures of the classroom and get their hands dirty in the soil. After the proposal was rejected by the school’s principal, middle-school science teacher Kamal Bell made a much bigger investment in the idea.

News & Observer

Martha Mobley just cannot stay away from the farm. She grew up on a 1,000 acre livestock operation in Franklin County started by her grandfather in the early 1900s. Some of her earliest memories are of joining her father to deliver sows in a building still standing behind their house.

The IR-4 project focuses on specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, nuts and herbs.
Flickr user Josh Mazgelis

The national agricultural research program that works to get regulatory approval for conventional chemical and bio-pesticides will soon be housed at North Carolina State University.

Image of the Simmons family.
Courtesy of Melody Hunter-Pillion

The number of black farmers in the United States has dropped exponentially since the beginning of the 20th century.  2017 data from the Department of Agriculture shows African Americans make up less than 2 percent of the country’s 3.4 million farmers. That year, there were just over 2,000 black farmers in North Carolina.

A man rides a tractor on his farm.
Courtesy of Charity Moretz

In the summer, roadside stands full of seasonal produce and signs pointing to “pick-your-own berry” fields line North Carolina country roads. Hayrides and pumpkin patches are a fall staple. These farm activities make for a fun Saturday with the family or a bucolic addition to an Instagram grid. For many farmers, however, they are the legs they stand on. Agriculture is a big industry in North Carolina, yet an increasing number of small farms cannot afford to engage in only crop or livestock farming.

Wayne Lawrence / ProPublica

For generations, black landowners in the South relied on informal agreements, instead of wills, to keep property in the family. In a new article from investigative news outlet ProPublica, reporter Lizzie Presser investigated the story of a Carteret County family’s land loss and how African Americans across the country lost about 90% of their farmland between 1910 and 1997. Host Anita Rao talks with Lizzie Presser about the political, economic and emotional cost of black landholders losing their family property.

Okra is a seed-to-stem plant, meaning that every part of the organism is edible.
Peter Taylor

Writing off okra as a slimy pod is a great injustice, according to Chris Smith. The garden writer and seed saver is an okra aficionado who asserts that while the vegetable may have a unique texture, it is a surprisingly versatile piece of produce.

Picture of an imported red fire ant
Alex Wild / University of Texas

Imported red fire ants are known for building large mounds that get in the way of everything from lawn mowing to crop harvesting. They swarm aggressively when disturbed, and defend themselves with painful, venomous stings.

Courtesy of Noran Sanford

As a counselor in Laurinburg, North Carolina, Noran Sanford provided therapy to young people whose backgrounds weren’t too far removed from his own. These boys came from broken homes, struggled with poverty and addiction and lost family members to violence. But as he stood over yet another grave of a talented young man he had tried to help, Sanford knew he hadn’t done enough.

Mary Ankeny, Vice President of product development at Cotton Incorporated in Cary, NC.
James Morrison / For WUNC

Low cotton prices and a couple of bad weather years have unseated North Carolina as one of the leading cotton-producing states.

Laura Pellicer

For close to two decades, Richard Joyner fought to get away from the farms of Pitt County, North Carolina. He grew up in a family of sharecroppers and repeatedly witnessed racial and economic injustices. His family was never properly compensated for their labor, and his father was treated poorly by white land owners.

Later in his life, Joyner became the pastor for the small 300-person community of Conetoe, North Carolina. Within one year, 30 of his congregants died from health-related illnesses. He decided to return to farming to grow healthy food for his community.

Hemp plant
Steve p2008 / Flickr - Creative Commons

Cannabis has historically been a taboo subject in North Carolina, but this year, that may be beginning to change thanks to a new law supporting a pilot program for industrial hemp farming.

Eddie Wise on the day of his eviction from his family farm.
Courtesy John Biewen

Eddie Wise comes from a family of farmers who worked the land for three generations. He and his wife Dorothy had dreams of raising animals together, so they decided to start their own farm near Whitakers, North Carolina. 

Courtesy Rob Dunn

The banana is always in season and always available at the grocery store. A new book explores how the prevalence of the popular fruit is a model for the dangers of a food system that is increasingly dependent on fewer food staples.

“Never Out Of Season” (Little, Brown, and Company/2017) by biologist Rob Dunn, a professor in the department of applied ecology at North Carolina State University, walks readers through the precarious corporate food system and explains how diversity is crucial to crop survival.

Smithfield Foods promised to cut emissions.
humanesociety.org

Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, has promised to slash its carbon emissions.

So Good Pupusas

Chefs, writers, scholars and restaurateurs will gather over the next two days for the first annual Carolina Food Summit. By building community around food, they hope to change food policy. Host Frank Stasio speaks with Shorlette Ammons, community food systems outreach coordinator at NC A&T University; Inez Ribustello, co-owner of On the Square restaurant in Tarboro; and Cecilia Polanco of So Good Pupusas about the summit and their work in rural foodways and social justice.

NC State Awarded Grant For New Plant Sciences Initiative

Aug 19, 2016
Artist rendering of the new plant sciences building
NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

The Golden LEAF Foundation has awarded a $45 million grant to NC State to help the university build a new plant sciences building. Along with other contributions, the grant gets the university closer to the $160 million cost of construction.

Photo: Jim Rose, regional president of Yadkin Bank in Raleigh, speaks before a crowd at the launch of the Connect NC campaign
Jorge Valencia

Governor Pat McCrory made his first public speech for a bond referendum on Tuesday, urging North Carolina voters to approve $2 billion in borrowing for public service investments such as building new science education and research facilities on college campuses, new facilities for the National Guard, and sewage renovations in small towns.

Kelly Holden stands in front of his truck a few days after rain and flood waters damaged some of the fruit and vegetable crops on his 250 acres of land. His family has been farming in Brunwisck County since the 1750s.
Jeff Tiberii

Farmers across eastern North Carolina are assessing crop damage following heavy rains and flooding. Some growers have lost entire fields while others will wait weeks to determine what can be harvested. As local and state officials scurry to place a value on what was lost, members of the agriculture community say they’re glad the harm wasn’t worse.

Governor Pat McCrory addressed a gaggle of local officials and media members on Tuesday in Brunswick County. He says the main focus now is determining how to best help farmers in the eastern region of the state effected by weekend storms.
Jeff Tiberii

Many farmers in eastern North Carolina continue to assess crop damage following weekend storms. Flooded fields are expected to result in depleted peanut, sweet potato and cotton harvests this fall. Governor Pat McCrory expressed concern about the agriculture industry at a Tuesday briefing.

A picture of a flooded New Jersey pumpkin patch.
Jackie / Wikipedia

The worst of the stormy weather has passed. But Brian Long of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says the trouble is still ahead for farmers.

"Unfortunately, the impacts are on some of the crops that are major for North Carolina: Peanuts, sweet potatoes, cotton, tobacco, soybeans, in particular. And then you think about farmers, such as pumpkin farmers, that this is the time of year when their crop is in demand, and we're hearing some reports of pumpkins, you know, actually just floating in water in fields."

Coal-burning factories next to a marsh
Alan Cressler

Environmental scientists from the local, national and international levels will convene at North Carolina State University to discuss climate change and its impact on agriculture. A panel will discuss topics such as agricultural risk management and the economic impact of climate change to North Carolina and the southeast.

A picture of chickens.
woodley wonderworks / Wikipedia

The fall bird migration season has poultry producers concerned.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said avian flu is not dangerous to humans, but it is highly contagious among birds and can wipe out entire poultry flocks.

Image from a drone hovering in the air
NGAT at NC State

North Carolina is taking small steps toward opening up the skies for unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Department of Transportation has created a position to regulate the skies for recreation and commercial drone pilots and the state is creating new test that ensures pilots know the rules before they launch their planes into the skies.

Image of Ramon, who helps out with a Know Your Rights training session.
Ramon Zepeda

Foreign-born farmworkers are vital to the American food system. But while most of the produce that ends up on American plates is handpicked, the day-to-day lives of people laboring in the fields still remains more or less invisible. Ramón Zepeda is a 28-year-old working to change visibility of farmworkers.He grew up in a small farming community in Jalisco, Mexico. Most of his family members have spent time in the fields, and he has devoted his life to working in solidarity with underrepresented workers.

NC Poultry Industry Prepares For Bird Flu

Jun 11, 2015
chickens
Katie Brady / Wikimedia Commons

State agriculture officials are ramping up efforts to protect North Carolina's poultry industry against the avian flu.

The bird flu, called H5N2, is not a danger to humans, but has devastated poultry flocks in 21 states. Since its first appearance in December 2014 in British Columbia, the virus has killed nearly 50 million birds. The disease is spread by wild water fowl as they migrate across the continent. 

North Carolina is still free of the bird flu, but Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said that may change as wild birds begin their migration south in the fall.

Pat McCrory
Dave DeWitt

Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed two bills this week that stirred controversy as they passed through the state legislature. 

House Bill 405- dubbed by opponents as an "ag-gag" bill- would have allowed businesses to sue employees who secretly recorded animal abuse or other illegal activity. The bill applied to farms, along with businesses like restaurants and daycare centers.

The Haw River as seen from the Bynum Bridge with 15-501 in the distance
Keith Weston / WUNC

Depending on the perspective, the announcement that the Environmental Protection Agency was instituting a new, updated and clarified Clean Water Rule is either a cause for celebration in North Carolina or a cause for fear that it will choke the state's economy

What is most likely, of course, is that the rule will come under further partisan attacks.

A picture of strawberries.
BeccaG / Flickr

North Carolina's strawberry harvest is expected to be strong, even though a cold winter damaged some plants.

Don Nicholson is a regional agronomist for the state Department of Agriculture.

"We still had those extremely cold nights, and even though the plants are dormant, they still had some damage to the crown, which translates into some growers not having much fruit right now."

Nicholson says it hasn't resulted in a marked shortage.

"The Last Barn Dance" tells the story of North Carolina dairy farmer Randy Lewis.
Ted Richardson and Jason Arthurs

    

Randy Lewis' dairy farm has been a gathering place for the people of Eli Whitney, N.C., for more than 50 years.

His family's annual barn dances are living relics of simpler times in North Carolina's agricultural industry.

But the Great Recession forced farmers to find new ways to save those traditions. Many went out of business. Lewis and a handful of others stopped falling further into debt by bottling their own milk. But it remains to be seen whether cultural traditions like the barn dance will stay alive.

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