In the rural community of Conetoe, North Carolina, residents are taking aim at the lack of access to healthy and nutritious food and its youth are leading the charge. In the predominately African American town, more than 60 youth participants of Conetoe Family Life Center (CFLC) have a direct role in the health and welfare of their community.
Conetoe Family Life Center was established in 2007 by Reverend Richard Joyner, a 2010 CNN Hero, to address persistent poverty and lack of access to healthy foods for the predominantly African American rural town of Conetoe, North Carolina. As a result of CFLC’s efforts, the community has seen a dramatic decrease in negative health determinants.
CFLC’s initial farm started as a 2-acre garden and has now blossomed into a 25-acre community farm. Youth participants, ages 4 to 18, get homework help in the free afterschool and summer day camp programs, while actively engaging in the planting, harvesting, and selling, of their produce and honey.
On December 16, 2016, USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships hosted 27 youth and chaperones from Conetoe Family Life Center (CFLC) at the USDA complex in Washington, D.C. The purpose of this visit was to highlight the many educational and career opportunities available through USDA and provide a forum for CFLC youth to engage with USDA leadership and share the successes they have experienced through the program.
A key component of the visit included a presentation for the staff and youth of CFLC. The presentation included remarks from Audrey Rowe, Administrator of Food and Nutrition Service and a program overview by the 17 students from CFLC’s Bee Program, who ranged from 10 – 15 years old.
The Conetoe Family Life Center “bee bus” serves as a key element of CFLC’s youth development programs. The recycled school bus-turned-honey bee-hive helps ensure better crop cultivation while providing the students with leadership and entrepreneurial skills. The children have managed the project from the start – learning the science behind building hives, painting the bus to attract the bees back, and harvesting honey to sell at Farmers Markets around the region with proceeds going to education scholarships.
After their presentation, students engaged with USDA leadership and staff on a variety of issues and topics including, 1890’s National Scholars Program, ARS – Bee Research Lab, and NRCS Earth Team Volunteers and Pathways Internships. Each topic area is designed to expose CFLC youth with opportunities for further engagement with USDA including future careers.
Additionally, students participated in a comprehensive USDA complex tour that includes the Creative Media and Broadcast Center, Secretary’s Office and People’s Garden Apiary. Additionally students received take-home educational materials including hand-outs and fun giveaways.
Conetoe Family Life Center has been the recipient of various USDA support, including GroupGAP certification, NRCS technical assistance and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program.