11/18/07 — Ag Expo to educate on impact of farming

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Ag Expo to educate on impact of farming

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 18, 2007 2:00 AM

Hoping to bring more cohesion to Wayne County's agricultural community and to increase awareness about the role it plays throughout the county, members of the 2007 Karl M. Best Leadership Program are looking forward to the first annual Agricultural Expo, which will begin Monday at Wayne Community College.

"It's coming together," said Jennifer Johnson, applied animal science instructor at the college and one of the event's organizers. "I think it's going to be successful."

She explained the 20 members of the leadership program's first class provided the inspiration for the expo.

"Every session we had came down to ways to educate the public about agriculture. If everybody understood a little bit more about agriculture, it would make things a little smoother and easier," she said. "It's not just the farmers working in the fields. It's also agribusinesses.

"The purpose of this whole thing is to make the community aware of the impact agriculture has on Wayne County and how strong it is."

In fact, in Wayne County, agriculture is a $320-million-a-year industry -- its top economic driver, accounting for more than 20 percent of the county's gross receipts.

"The money that agriculture generates is amazing," Mrs. Johnson said.

But the expo -- and the leadership program -- are focused on more than just the total dollars generated by farming and agribusinesses.

Both also are trying to educate people about where their food comes from, what pressures are facing the agricultural community today and how farmers and others can respond to those.

On Monday, beginning at 9 a.m., county Manager Lee Smith will discuss land use and urbanization issues in the college's Moffatt Auditorium in the main building. He will be followed at 10:15 a.m. by county Cooperative Extension agriculture agent Kevin Johnson, who will address globalization and agriculture in a global economy.

On Tuesday, beginning at 10:15 a.m., Chris Coates with East Carolina Farm Credit will discuss loans for farmers, and at 11:15 a.m., Bryant Worley, chairman of the county Soil and Water Conservation Board will discuss conservation issues.

Then, on both days, there will be a trade show featuring about 20, mostly local agribusinesses and others interested in working with the agriculture community. It will be held in the atrium of the main building from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Among the exhibitors will be Aycock Tractors with several tractors and other pieces of equipment, as well as the N.C. Department of Agriculture's Got to be N.C. Big Cart -- a 13-foot tall, 15-foot long shopping cart with a Chevrolet 396 V-8 engine that's meant to represent the vast amount of agricultural products grown or produced in North Carolina.

Also available will be soil sampling kits and advice for homeowners interested in growing their own gardens.

Then, on Tuesday evening, the expo will end with the annual Farm-City Banquet, where the county's agricultural Hall of Fame inductees will be announced and the president of the state Grange Association will be the featured speaker.

And, Mrs. Johnson said, like the leadership program, the expo is something organizers want to do and grow every year.

"Hopefully we'll be able to build on what we do this year and make it better next year," she said.

Already they are working to put together a new 20-person class for the 2008 leadership program.

"(It is open to) anybody that would have any dealings with the agricultural community," she said. "We do want farmers involved because it is their livelihood, but agriculture affects a lot of people down the line."

Those interested in participating should contact either Kevin Johnson or Howard Scott with the county Cooperative Extension office at 731-1520, or Jack Kannan with the Wayne Community College Found-ation at 735-5151.

Mrs. Johnson explained that even with the program's success in 2007, they are still looking for people to stand and be forceful leaders in the agricultural community -- something Wayne County has lacked in the past.

"We want to give them some leadership skills to be able to lobby for their livelihood," Mrs. Johnson said. "The farmers and the rest of agricultural community have, in the past, kind of stayed to themselves," she said. "If it didn't affect them directly, they didn't feel like they needed to do anything about it.

"Now they realize that they're a group -- that it's not just one person out there by himself."