08/03/11 — Duplin Cooperative Extension gets enthusiastic new director

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Duplin Cooperative Extension gets enthusiastic new director

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on August 3, 2011 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Born and raised on her family's farm in Bladen County, Duplin County's new Cooperative Extension director, Wanda Clay, has always been a "country girl."

And the lessons she learned early on the farm -- that faith, work ethic and education are the most important things in life --inspired her to keep working with agriculture years later.

"It was just something I knew I was going to do," Ms. Clay said, adding that she is a third-generation Extension agent.

Ms. Clay took over as Extension director in March after Ed Emory stepped down. Though she has worked in the Extension office as the family and consumer sciences agent for 16 years, Ms. Clay said she knows she still has some "big shoes to fill."

But as long as she has her supportive staff and she's doing what she loves, Ms. Clay said she can live up to expectations.

"I'm a country girl," she said. "I love the farm life, so it's really comfortable for me. It's not foreign to me. It's really exciting."

Ms. Clay also said she feels the pressure of being in charge of agriculture in a county where farming is the backbone of the economy and a historic way of life.

She said Duplin County had 1,159 farms in 2007, the last available statistic, and those farms brought in almost $900 million in cash receipts in 2009.

"It's sort of like an ease, not stress, because you know you've got a staff that's equipped to do the job," Ms. Clay said. "I really feel good about it because we're really blessed in Duplin County. We have top agents."

And those agents have become something like Ms. Clay's family.

Using her experience as a mother of two, Ms. Clay said she's able to relate to all her staff, including the young interns and the seasoned veterans.

"Being able to be a parent ... I'm able to use that human relations part to sort of relate to staff," she said. "You have seasoned agents that bring a lot of knowledge and wisdom. Then you have these younger agents that have all this ambition and all this skill.

"I think it's important that they understand I'm interested in them, I believe in them."

Ms. Clay's own children attend North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where her daughter is majoring in animal science and her son is majoring in technology and graphic design.

Ms. Clay also attended N.C. A&T, where she received her degree in family and consumer science and agriculture and environmental science. She also has a degree in vocational education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.

Her next step, she said, is to keep strengthening relationships with local farmers.

"The agriculture agents have been instrumental in exposing me," Ms. Clay said. "I haven't been in this post very long, but I'm looking forward to going out with (farmers)."

And serving those farmers is what she looks forward to most.

"It's a servant role," Ms. Clay said. "It's bigger than me. You're able to serve humanity and actually able to give back."