Our 2019 Local Food Heroes exemplify the transformative impact that individuals and small groups can make in local communities and beyond. They inspire and humble us.
Their life and work reflect the theme of our Annual Sustainable Agriculture Lecturer Dr. Monica White, whose research investigates communities of color and grassroots organizations engaged in the development of sustainable, community food systems as a strategy to respond to issues of hunger and food inaccessibility.
We honor our 2019 Local Food Heroes and thank them for everything they bring to North Carolina’s local food system!
A native of Alamance County, LaShauna Austria is working for health and healing through connection to land and farming - for her family, for folks in her community, and in her work at Benevolence Farm.
LaShauna is the Executive Director of Benevolence Farm, a non-profit in Alamance County that provides an opportunity for women leaving prison to live and work on a farm where they grow food, nourish themselves, and foster community.
LaShauna also runs a small business called Kindred Seedlings, selling seed starts for vegetables and herbs. Later this year LaShauna will move her family to a small farm in Alamance County and begin growing on a larger scale. She is a great example of what is working to re-create a food system that builds health, wealth and wellness.
LaShauna has also found time to engage with and support the Alamance Food Collaborative, a local food council working to improve how food is grown, sold, and consumed for Alamance County residents. LaShauna has offered her skills, expertise, and experience to shape and expand the perspective of food ways in the county, and has aligned with an expansion of goal-setting and solution-building that acknowledges and incorporates the ways that food realities and experiences are different across lines of race and zip code.
Her work is taking root to build a stronger, more resilient local food system in her native Alamance County, and to raise platforms for more growers and consumers of color to lead the conversations and decisions about what that food system looks like. We are proud to call LaShauna a Local Food Hero!
Michael Banner is a dedicated and outspoken community leader and local food advocate. He has been a vocal proponent of urban agriculture, and gave a number of compelling public statements during the City of Winston-Salem’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance hearings in 2015, undoubtedly nudging it along to its official ratification. Since 2015, Banner has been working with Forsyth Foodworks, a county-level food policy council, crafting a multifaceted community wealth-building initiative for his neighborhood through urban farming.
Michael, a father of three (soon-to-be four), graduated in the inaugural class of Forsyth County’s Urban Farm School as a certified urban farmer. He is an Action Team Leader within Forsyth Foodworks and a member of their Advisory Council. Michael is an active member of the Urban Food Policy Council, having served as the first Chair of the City of Winston-Salem’s new mayoral-appointed Urban Food Policy Council, and on the Board of Directors of Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods asset-based community development organization.
Michael is also working with the City of Winston-Salem and Simon G. Atkins Community Development Corporation to secure two vacant lots for urban farming, and joined the inaugural multi-county Piedmont Triad Regional Food Council. He is participating in Forsyth Tech Community College’s Small Business Center’s Business Launch Challenge program, and secured a mentorship with Malik Yakini (of D-Town Farm in Detroit, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, and the National Black Food & Justice Alliance) through the Food Systems Leadership Network. He is contributing a profile in the Winston-Salem Portrait Project as a recognized community leader, and is securing financial support from the Winston-Salem Foundation for local urban agriculture initiatives. We are proud to call Michael a Local Food Hero!
Ardis and Henry Crews are the founders of GRRO, the Green Rural Redevelopment Organization. GRRO is a regional farming project and urban redevelopment program that creates community farms and access to healthy food. The Crews have also collaborated with Vidant Health to offer a mobile refrigerated farmers’ market and an “Apple-A-Day CSA” at rural hospitals in Northeastern North Carolina. Ardis and Henry are always eager to share their model, and travel around the state encouraging other communities and individuals in their efforts to grow healthy food with an eye towards youth education, community and personal health, and economic development.
GRRO’s original community garden has grown into an entrepreneurial Micro Market Farm featuring hydroponics, aquaponics, honey bees, chickens, and three greenhouses to extend the growing season. The City Council became aware of everything that was going on and were so impressed with the beautification of the area that they asked GRRO to take over 15 abandoned lots and transition them to USDA Certified Organic and USDA GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) Certified so that produce can be sold to local schools.
Sustainable growing practices soon became the focus of GRRO with an emphasis on educating community members on their importance. The Micro Market Farm School took the model to the next level, giving people a structured environment for learning while working and growing in a real-life setting on the only USDA Certified Organic and USDA GAP Certified farms in the county.
We are thrilled to call Ardis and Henry Crews Local Food Heroes!
Davon Goodwin grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but has rooted himself in North Carolina for over a decade now, consistently evidencing his dual commitment to agriculture and community. Davon holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where he studied biology with a concentration in botany. While in college, Davon enlisted in the Army Reserve; he served in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he earned a Purple Heart after he was wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED).
Since 2012, Davon has been working with Growing Change, a nonprofit organization that is transforming former North Carolina prisons into therapeutic farms and community centers where youth and veterans serve in leadership roles. Through Growing Change, Davon has served as a teacher and mentor to youth who have themselves been impacted by the juvenile justice system. He has helped support Growing Change’s youth as they have become statewide leaders in CEFS’ Food Youth Initiative, a network of young people doing food justice work in their communities across North Carolina, as well as leaders nationally, sharing out this revolutionary model for community change.
Currently, Davon is the manager of the Sandhills Ag Innovation Center, a food hub in Ellerbe, North Carolina that is working to reinvigorate the local sustainable farm economy and support the next generation of farmers. He also owns and operates OTL Farms, a 42-acre sustainable farm located in Laurinburg, NC where he grows muscadine grapes and raises livestock. Davon was a 2017 Stone Barns Exchange Fellow, a group working at the intersections of climate change, food and agriculture. Davon Goodwin is a driver of change, and truly a Local Food Hero!
Randolph Keaton is a local food hero, lifting up the wisdom of communities and youth across Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus Counties, and living out his values around local food, economic development, and youth opportunities related to healthy food and community wellness.
Randolph is the Executive Director of Men and Women United for Youth and Families, a non-profit organization located in Delco, North Carolina, whose mission is to promote education, resource awareness and to provide services to assist in creating independent and self–sufficient youth and families.
He is also an advisor to Youth Ambassadors for a Better Community, a youth food council that grew out of the organization. The group of middle- and high-school youth from rural Bladen and Columbus Counties began as a youth leadership development group and evolved following the interests of the youth. “They are really interested in environmental justice work and finding employment,” says Keaton. “If you look around the community at what provides employment and engagement opportunities, food is a huge one for us. This is a very rural area with a history in agriculture,” he adds.
In addition to his work with the youth and families in Bladen and Columbus Counties, Randolph serves on the board of Feast Down East, a food aggregator with a focus on uplifting the work of people of color and minority farmers in a 12-county region in Southeastern North Carolina. Randolph is a strategist and connector working to build the food system and local food supply chain and economic opportunities connected to food and agriculture across this part of the state. We are proud to call Randolph a Local Food Hero!
The Piedmont Progressive Farmers Group is a nonprofit cooperative of farmers. Their mission is “to promote sustainable and diverse farming through education, training, technical assistance, and marketing in order to enhance the overall operation of disadvantaged farmers of the Piedmont region.”
The co-op formed in 2016 and has hosted group outreach programs and classes, such as GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) food safety training, as well as individual sessions. Co-op farms must meet certification standards to ensure healthy and quality products.
Being part of the co-op helps the small farms market their goods, the board looks for opportunities, and the farmers can market as a group with a larger supply and more versatile offerings. Currently, co-op farmers produce eggs, beef, goat meat, mutton, and vegetables. It’s a small group but is steadily growing. “We try to produce the best product we can,” says Sam Crisp, board vice president. We are proud to call the Piedmont Progressive Farmers Group Local Food Heroes!
Julius Tillery with his father and grandfather.
Photo credit: Donn Young
Julius Tillery is a fifth-generation farmer, business owner, and non-profit organizer who has supported black farmers in North Carolina for many years. Julius continues to innovate in production practices and marketing strategies to increase opportunities for farmers and landowners.
Julius grew up on a 125-acre farm in Rich Square, NC, in Northampton County, and continues to help run the farm today. He has worked with RAFI-USA, National Capital Investment Fund/Farmers of Color Initiative, The Conservation Fund, and the Black Family Land Trust. His work has included supporting the establishment of farmers’ markets and food cooperatives, training small-scale farmers in business planning, connecting limited-resource farmers with low-income consumers, creating community gardens, and supporting job growth in the food system.
Through the company he founded, Black Cotton (blackcotton.us), Julius is expanding markets and finding new end-uses for North Carolina-grown cotton from his farm and from many other cotton farms in rural NC. He is also using his company to bring awareness to the issues that black landowners and black farmers are experiencing. We are proud to call Julius a Local Food Hero!
Lovay Wallace-Singleton is a veteran from an active military family and the founder and heart of the Veterans Employment Base Camp and Organic Garden (VEBCOG). VEBCOG is an Eastern-North-Carolina-based non‐profit organization that assists disabled and homeless veterans to acquire transitional employment, education, and rehabilitation with the goal of permanent employment and rehabilitation care. Located in the Duffyfield community, which is a racially and ethnically diverse, low-to-moderate-income area of New Bern, NC, the garden benefits veterans in the program and also provides access to fresh, nutritious, and affordable food for community members.
Lovay engages and energizes volunteers, board members, event committees, alumni, partnering organizations, and funders. She is responsible for overseeing the administration, programs and strategic direction of VEBCOG and VEBCOG Children’s Garden. Wallace-Singleton frames VEBCOG’s work as having a triple bottom line to positively shift her community’s local economy, social needs, and environmental issues.
Her success at VEBCOG is measured in individual outcomes—veterans engaged in the program as therapy for their PTSD symptoms have been reporting positive results for years—and in the dedication she has engendered in the community that sustains this project. Lovay is also part of a United States Department of Agriculture grant project, the proposed program consisting of three years of farmer training on the 12.5 acre farm that belongs to the Onslow County Farmer’s Market as well as the 1.5 acre farm that belongs to VEBCOG in Craven County. It will provide direct training for 50-to-75 veterans annually from Cherry Point and New River air stations, as well as Camp Lejeune.
In the face of the September storm last year, the garden was severely damaged, but nothing can slow Lovay Wallace-Singleton down. She is the epitome of a Local Food Hero!
Chester Williams is a Local Food Hero doing exciting work to uplift the youth and communities in Halifax County and the Roanoke Valley in Northeastern North Carolina, creating opportunities for the youth to shape a healthier world in their own communities and beyond.
Chester leads A Better Chance A Better Community (ABC2), an organization which provides resources and opportunities for the Town of Enfield and citizens across the Roanoke Valley Area. ABC2's main purpose is to offer alternative educational supplements for at-risk students and students with special needs, after-school opportunities, and leadership/self-esteem building in a community center setting.
Chester, whose official title is “Founder/Chief Empowerment Officer”, also supports the ABC2 World Changers, the youth of ABC2. Together they created a large Community Garden to provide fresh seasonal produce for the Enfield Farmer's Market. Proceeds from farm sales go directly to scholarships and training programs for the youth and teens in the community, continuing a loop of investment and commitment that is evident in all Williams’ efforts. The World Changers also host Teen Unity Summits, bringing together young people to highlight social issues impacting teens today, as well as cooking classes with younger children and their families.
A visionary and a tireless optimist, Williams stands beside his World Changers and helps facilitate the vision they have for a powerful and just future. Williams sees the community garden as a vehicle for everything from self-esteem building to financial literacy and service learning. He partners with numerous organizations and agencies and also serves on numerous committees and boards—the Halifax Community College Foundation Board, Southeastern Halifax Coalition, and iCreate Art Initiative, to name a few—as he believes collective engagement and partnership are key to a vibrant and healthy community. We are proud to call Chester a Local Food Hero!