Over the past six years, nearly 250 family farms have gotten a kick-start from NC AgVentures for their efforts to increase profits through new and innovative agricultural projects.

NC AgVentures is an NC State Extension grant program designed to strengthen families and communities that depend on agriculture. It awards grants to help farm operators and groups working with farmers carry out projects aimed at diversifying, expanding or implementing new production, marketing or distribution strategies.

Extension agents in participating counties are available to help farmers get their projects off the ground and running. With agricultural expertise and ties through NC State University to the nation’s land-grant university system, these agents have helped grant winners explore new opportunities, access local and university resources and enhance project success.

The program is supported by funding from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. William Upchurch, the commission’s executive director, says that NC AgVentures has been a successful partner and investment for the commission.

“One of our key missions is to help move North Carolina agriculture forward by supporting our farmers,” Upchurch says, “NC AgVentures, in conjunction with one of the strongest land-grant institutions in the United States, supports that mission by putting financial resources in the farmer’s hands so creativity and ingenuity can keep their operations viable.”

Jackie Miller, who coordinates AgVentures, says the grants have been “a shot in the arm” to family farmers with ideas and the need for a little capital to get started. Amid the stress of recent hurricanes and COVID, the program has been a positive community-building experience for participants.

“When our new grant recipients come together for their orientation, they want to meet the other farmers and hear about their projects,” Miller adds. “We even have past recipient reviewers who come back year after year just to hear farmers’ ideas and trends. It has been a way to tell the story of what is happening on family farms.”

Many grant winners represent a new generation of farmers, she says. “Some are young, and some are simply young at heart, leaving or retiring from other careers. Both are experimenting with new ways of farming, incorporating scientific and technical innovations to build a more efficient and sustainable farm operation.” 

Farmers and community groups from 46 counties are eligible for the grant. The counties are Alamance, Alexander, Alleghany, Anson, Ashe, Cabarrus, Caswell, Catawba, Chatham, Davidson, Davie, Durham, Edgecombe, Franklin, Forsyth, Gaston, Granville, Greene, Guilford, Halifax, Harnett, Iredell, Johnson, Lincoln, Martin, Mecklenburg, Nash, Northampton, Orange, Person, Pitt, Randolph, Rockingham, Rowan, Sampson, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Union, Vance, Wake, Wayne, Wilson, Wilkes, Warren and Yadkin.

For information about NC AgVentures and the impact it has on farms and communities, see agventures.ces.ncsu.edu/grant-program/. Another round of grants will be offered Oct. 15, 2021.

This year’s winners, listed below, are working on 62 projects, including turning tobacco greenhouses into eucalyptus greenhouses, setting up a website for beef orders and turning waste from Fraser firs and white pine foliage into oils for candles, soaps, cleaning and aromatherapy.

2020-21 Grant Winners

Agritourism

  • The Bennett Brothers farm in Northampton will renovate an existing hunting lodge to expand its usage for agritourism.
  • David White from Timberlake will convert one-half to one acre of farmed land into a private dog park and herding and agility course. The park will be near the farm stand and will increase traffic to the farm.
  • Gary Bradford from Lincolnton plans to install a septic system for public restrooms for his agritourism operation.
  • Mann and Nikkie Mullen from Bunn will renovate and upgrade and existing open shelter for function as an event building.

Aquaponics

  • Sumpter and Madison Smith from Westfield will add temperature control to their aquaponics greenhouse.

Dairy

  • Leigh Anne Wetmore from Mount Ulla will use the funds to purchase a bottler so the farm operation can expand their dairy products to include pints, half-gallons and gallons of pasteurized whole Jersey milk.
  • Kelsey Elizabeth Barefoot from Dunn will add milking equipment, milk storage and milk testing supplies to her growing micro-dairy operation.

Grain, Hemp, Seeds, and Row Crops

  • David and Cheryl Correll from Cleveland will streamline the potato harvesting and grading process to more profitably supply local wholesale/retail demand.
  • Chris Morgan from China Grove will erect a 50- by 90-foot building so he can unload and stack hay and straw using his Stackliner Hay Wagon.
  • Garrett Lee from Smithfield will modify a combine to create a mechanical harvester to cut, gather and convey high-value fluffy pollinator seed into towable silage wagons. The crops include mistflower, milkweeds, solidago, ironweeds and asters.

Landscaping Plants and Tree Farms

  • Kurt Weddington from China Grove will mechanize and increase the efficiency of a bagging process for potting soil as an additional revenue stream.
  • Sharon Day from Siler City will correct poor drainage to improve weed control in the tree- and shrub-growing area. This will increase production and reduce labor.
  • Arlene Smith from Benson will purchase coolers and freezers to store and sell locally sourced meat, dairy and produce from their nursery and produce farm store.
  • Kari Sanderson Hobbs from Four Oaks will convert two tobacco greenhouses into eucalyptus greenhouses to expand her wreath-making business on the family farm.

Livestock

  • Brandy Teague from Cleveland will purchase a walk-in freezer to store grass-fed beef for direct market sales.
  • Susan Proctor from Vale will convert dairy structures and pastures to support sheep and wool production.
  • Jeff Carpenter from Lawndale will construct a feeding and confinement structure for yearling cattle for freezer beef sales.
  • Tyler Lamm from Sims will setup a website to take orders and payments for the farms fresh local beef.
  • Joseph Ferrell from Coats will convert an older poultry house into a sheep operation.
  • Kim Barnes of Crumpler will transition a barn into a cattle handling facility to vaccinate, worm and care for cattle safely.
  • Bobby and Bronwyn Tucker of Siler City will purchase portable handling equipment, including a dual-purpose worktable and scale, so they can increase their herd.
  • Don E. Wimberly IV from Fuquay-Varina will install an 8- by 10-foot walk-in freezer to store and sell beef.
  • Nowell Family Farms in Lucama will purchase forage and hay equipment and supplies.
  • Jade Hughes of Mount Airy will purchase a sheep turn table with scale attachment, 18 concrete bunk feeders and automatic waterer.
  • Chad and Kathryn Unger of Burlington will procure and outfit a larger commercial truck or van to transport products to market and to customers.

Poultry

  • Brian and Sara Larson from La Grange will create infrastructure that allows increased poultry production, limit labor and provide access to community farms that wish to process and sell poultry.
  • Whitney Allen of Mebane will create an on-farm poultry processing area to efficiently process ducks as well as chickens and turkeys.
  • Gregory Ormond Jr. from Spring Hope will purchase a storage building with awning to hold a stationary poultry processing unit and chest freezer.
  • Derrick Jackson from Rougemont will purchase poultry process equipment for on-farm processing.

Value-Added Agriculture

  • The Baggett Family (Dale, Annie, Abigail and Sylvie) from Hurdle Mills will expand an existing barn to increase production of their value added products made with lavender and retail space.
  • Justin Riley from Laurel Springs will turn waste from Fraser firs and white pine foliage into oils that can be used in candle making, aromatherapy, cleaning or soap making.
  • Buster Johnson from Fuquay-Varina will increase square bale production to meet local market needs.
  • Randy Scott Shur from Mount Airy will set up a process for cider production using unsellable fruit from his peach, apple, and blackberry orchard.
  • Jason Byrd from Stoneville will purchase a wood splitter to increase firewood sales. With so many storms in the past few years there has been an abundance of damaged or fallen trees. Jason has used this as an opportunity to produce a value-added product rather than let it go to waste.
  • Sven MacAller from Chapel Hill will develop the infrastructure required to produce rolled oats and other flaked grains that are produced on the farm.
  • Samantha Winship from Winston-Salem will purchase a caterpillar tunnel, an extractor and harvesting equipment to increase sales for the Scotch Bonnet Infused Honey business.
  • Bill Walker from Olin will purchase an individual bale wrapper to produce haylage to feed his beef cattle and diversify into another area of the forage market by offering baling and wrapping services.
  • Samantha Gasson from Durham will purchase a dehydrator to make dog biscuits from hard-to-sell cuts from her pasture-raised hogs.
  • Carolyn Cheek from Warrenton will build a honey house with extraction equipment that will be used by multiple farmers in the area.

Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts and Flowers

  • Josh Beam from Lincolnton will expand his blackberry acreage with a new variety.
  • Amy Douglas from Taylorsville will purchase a merchandising cooler and freezers to expand her existing roadside market.
  • Thomas Porter from Concord will renovate a poultry house into a greenhouse
  • Justin and Holly Miller from Advance will build a 34- by 96-foot gothic high tunnel with thermostatically controlled ventilation to extend their season.
  • Clarenda Stanley from Liberty will establish an herb drying and processing facility.
  • Charles Dean Ingram from High Point will expand blackberry production to meet customer demand.
  • Patrick Brown from Henderson will build a refrigerated trailer designed to keep fruits and vegetables at ideal temperatures during transport.
  • Joyce Martin Bowden and Jeannette Martin Horn from Mount Olive will repair an existing high tunnel to produce fruit that will diversify their vegetable and flower production.
  • April Robertson from King will install a cooler at the farm roadside stand to help maintain the quality of the produce and extend the shelf-life.
  • Krystal Tyndall from Autryville will purchase a pump station with sand filtration to utilize drip irrigation on multiple vegetable crops.
  • Pamela Ross from Williamston will purchase low tunnels to protect her strawberries from weather problems such as excess rain.
  • Sandra Vergara from Durham will wire an outbuilding for electricity. It will be used as a farm stand to sell her dairy products as well as products from local farms.
  • Lee Sprinkle from Winston-Salem will restore and renovate a 40-year-old, 5-acre blueberry farm.
  • Ethel Britt from Mount Olive will increase and optimize the farm pecan processing operation by adding a bagging machine.
  • Timothy Jones of Halifax will build a multi-purpose trailer with cold storage to store and transport produce to markets and customers.
  • Tiffany Jackson from Snow Camp will upfit an existing seed house with equipment to expand her vegetable and flower nursery business.

Vineyards

  • Leslie Zimmerman from Trinity will expand her lower vineyard and create a remote picnic area to attract a diverse group of customers.
  • Rock of Ages Winery & Vineyard in Hurdle Mills will transition 9 acres of a vinifer vineyard into muscadine grapes.

Community Grants

  • Person County will purchase a portable cattle working corral system for producers to rent. Extension Agent Kim Woods will be the project manager.
  • Union County will purchase a mobile poultry processing unit. This unit will be available to rent for local poultry producers. Extension Agent Aaron Moore will be the project manager.
  • The Nash County Farmers Market will purchase a commercial sink and hand-washing station needed to complete a commercial kitchen in the existing Market concession kitchen. Maurine Brown is the project manager.
  • The Granville County Livestock Association will purchase and install automatic waters in the livestock arena pens. E. B. Harris is the project manager.
  • Rockingham County will install remote monitoring local weather stations for farmers to obtain important data to aid them on harvest times as well as planting, disease and insect management. Extension Agent Kathryn Homes will be the project manager.

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