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Connecting Health, Faith and Agriculture: How One Community is Using Agriculture to Support Community Health

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.

Taking Action for School Nutrition Success

Developing a school menu of healthy, student-approved meals is challenging, make no mistake about it.  But it is achievable with the right support and resources.  That’s why the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and the Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN) have partnered to create the Team Up for School Nutrition Success (Team Up) initiative.

Team Up provides school nutrition professionals the opportunity to network and learn best practices from their peers.  Those who have developed tips and tricks to create delicious school menus, increase participation, practice food safety and manage financially-sound program budgets. And with the help and guidance of peer mentors, Team Up attendees can turn their ideas into goals by creating focused action plans for their district.

USDA Helps Eastern North Carolina Recover after Matthew

When Hurricane Matthew hit last month, disaster struck as high flood waters devastated communities up and down the East Coast. Agricultural producers in Eastern North Carolina were hit especially hard and suffered devastating losses to crops, livestock, and property.

Secretary Vilsack recently designated 39 counties in North Carolina as primary natural disaster areas, in addition to 15 contiguous counties. This week, I traveled to the state to visit some of the communities that were affected. I saw a peanut farm littered with uprooted plants and cracked shells. I met with an organic tobacco producer whose top soil had completely washed away. I visited a sweet potato and soybean farm that suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses. We drove by washed out roads and gutted homes with waterlogged furniture piled high on the side of the road.

Stronger Economies Together: Helping Rural Counties Excel through Regional Approaches

Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs) play a unique role in USDA's service to rural America. They link the research and educational outreach capacity of the nation's public universities with communities, local decision makers, entrepreneurs, families, and farmers and ranchers to help address a wide range of development issues.  USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) provides core funding for RRDCs and integrated research, education, and extension activities.

By Rachel Welborn, project manager with the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University

How can rural communities compete in an ever-expanding global market?

Rural counties across the country are finding innovative ways to capitalize on their local strengths.  Through a guided process, more than 400 counties in 38 states are discovering new ways to work together to grow their economies.

USDA Borlaug Fellow Helps Farmers in His Native Country

Issah Sugri of Ghana is helping his nation feed itself and improve its farmers’ efficiency thanks to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program. The Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program, funded by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), is a six to 12 week training program that pairs up-and-coming researchers from selected countries with mentors from a U.S. land-grant institution or government agency. Sugri, one of 36 FAS Borlaug Fellows in 2012, was assigned to the University of Florida with the specific goal of reducing post-harvest losses of tomatoes by better understanding climate-relevant, low-tech methods of extending shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables.

When he returned to Ghana, Sugri put his fellowship training to immediate use. Collaborating with fellow researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (CSIR-SARI), based in Bawku, Ghana, he published fact sheets for local farmers describing optimal harvest and storage conditions. Sugri even included his mobile phone number so he could accept field questions and provide clarification.  He also worked with extension agents to train producers on post-harvest loss avoidance techniques and their economic benefits. At Sugri’s urging, SARI hired a dedicated food scientist to focus additional research on the topic.

REAP: Working Well in North Carolina

USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP as we call it, is one of the flagship programs found in the energy title of the Farm Bill. Through REAP, USDA helps rural agricultural producers and small businesses improve their financial bottom line through increased energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy sources.

We wanted to share two great examples of this investment and development in North Carolina. In Mt. Airy, NC, local lenders took advantage of REAP’s loan guarantees to finance O2 Energies and build a solar farm that can provide up to 20% of the power needed by the community.

Seizing the TechHire Opportunity in Rural America

Cross-posted from the WhiteHouse.gov blog:

There’s an exciting trend underway across the country. More and more, major companies are leaving offshore hubs and turning to rural communities in America for high-quality IT talent. In addition to a narrowing wage gap and higher quality of work in these rural areas, the employee attrition rate in rural areas of the U.S. is less than half the rate typically seen in offshore locations.

The Obama Administration has supported the growth of IT jobs in rural America with unprecedented investments in rural broadband and other key infrastructure, and through innovative efforts like the White House TechHire Initiative, a multi-sector initiative and call to action to rapidly train Americans with the skills they need for well-paying, open tech jobs.

Email Alerts for Changing Climate Impacts on Drought, Pests, Livestock Heat Stress, El Niño, and More

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers that are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA's Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.

If you’re a farmer, rancher or working land manager in the southeastern United States, the USDA Southeast Regional Climate Hub (SERCH) can be a valuable resource in delivering timely and applicable climate information and tools.  Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, on the campus of North Carolina State University, SERCH is led by the Forest Service.  The mission is to increase the resilience of working lands – agriculture, forest, and grazing lands – to climate change and variability through adaptive management.  SERCH assesses the vulnerability of key southeastern resources to climate changes; connects with Land Grant Universities, extension professionals, and other technical assistance providers to understand the needs of southeastern land managers; develops new or amends existing tools to support the emerging climate needs of land managers; and delivers climate-smart information through established networks.

See How Clean Rural Energy is Growing North Carolina, and the Nation

In the last fiscal year, USDA Rural Development invested over $240 million in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects across the nation. Through our Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) we have changed the face of clean energy in our rural communities by promoting energy efficiency in rural small businesses and agricultural operations and the development of renewable energy sources in and around these small communities.

The renewable energy component has expanded both small and large-scale clean energy development in a number of sectors including geothermal, solar, wind, hydropower, and biofuels. Utilizing resources already available in our rural areas whether it's sun and wind, or water and agricultural waste, USDA in partnership with local lenders has been able to provide the financial underpinnings to grow hundreds of renewable energy projects.

Gigabit Comes to Rural Western North Carolina

At the foot of Mount Mitchell, highest peak east of the Mississippi River, sits the quiet town of Burnsville, North Carolina. People come and go from the textile factory, hikers visit to climb the mountain, and a colorful art scene adds flavor to the community. But in 2009 in the wake of the stock market crash, unemployment in the county rose to 11.9 percent. Burnsville’s problems were compounded by the lack of broadband Internet outside of the town-center, which limited its potential growth.

When USDA announced broadband funding as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Burnsville-based Country Cablevision saw an opportunity to expand and upgrade their existing Internet service in Mitchell and Yancey Counties.