More information about Farm to Fork 2020 local food heroes coming soon!
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!
Tony Kleese has been actively involved in the development of local and organic food systems since 1989, primarily in the southeastern US and Caribbean. As a farmer, educator, and activist, he rarely wears one of these “hats” at a time. He has had tremendous influence in North Carolina and beyond both personally and professionally.
In his early years farming in Franklin County, he invited people to his farm to work and learn. His passion for growing and selling food organically is contagious! By sharing organic principles on his farms, and through teaching hundreds of workshops on organic farming, he has inspired many new farmers and gardeners over the last 30 years.
He helped develop and manage Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s organic certification program, before the advent of the USDA’s program. He then helped develop the USDA's National Organic Program, in the late 90s, as the Coordinator of the Organic Trade Association's Organic Certifier's Council.
He has provided leadership and served in distinguished roles with many organizations that are focused on developing the local and organic food systems in North Carolina. He was the first coordinator of the Sustainable Farming Program at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro, NC, served as Executive Director for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and is a founding member of Eastern Carolina Organics.
Tony is leading a technical support program in partnership with the Source Farm Project in Jamaica to help the island nation develop a local and organic food system.
Those who know or have met Tony know the intense passion that drives his work. It is this passion and drive that has resulted in tremendous progress toward his vision of a southeastern local and organic food system. He has been a teacher and mentor to an entire generation of farmers, students, activists, and food system change-makers. He is a Local Food Hero in North Carolina and beyond.
Tony was presented with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's Lifetime Achievement Award in February 2018. Tony courageously battled cancer and passed away on March 17, 2018. One way to honor Tony's memory is to support the non-profit he founded in 2017: The People’s Seed. The mission is to redesign the funding and decision-making systems for seed and plant development to focus on farmer success, food security, nutrition, and protecting the environment. To visit the People’s Seed website, please go to: www.thepeoplesseed.org.
Meal Service Program Manager, Child Care Services Association
For the past eighteen years, Robert Cates has been running the Child Care Services Association’s Nutrition Service Program, catering meals to child care centers in Orange and Chatham Counties. CCSA’s Nutrition program has been in operation for almost three decades, and in recent years has expanded to kitchens serving child care centers in Durham and Wake counties.
While the organization has always focused on providing well balanced, nutritious meals to preschool children, what that entails has evolved over time. Changes Robert and his team have implemented include removing trans fats and high fructose corn syrup, and more recently, introducing locally sourced products into the menus.
He started with pasture-raised beef, and partnering with Cane Creek Farms led Robert to reconnect with farmers at the Carrboro Farmers Market, many of whom he had purchased from during his 26 years in the Chapel Hill restaurant business. This led to CCSA being one of the first customers for Farmer Foodshare’s Wholesale Market.
In the past few years, in addition to sourcing from Farmer Foodshare and Firsthand Foods, CCSA has purchased meat, fruits and vegetables from over a dozen local farms. Thanks to Robert, five days a week nearly 500 preschool children in Orange County are eating locally prepared meals made with food grown in our community.
Bonner Center for Community Service and Learning at Guilford College & Mobile Oasis Farmers Market
Audrey Waggoner works in the Bonner Center for Community Service and Learning at Guilford College. She has a passion for mentoring student leadership development in community and food justice. Her dedication has gone not only to supporting food accessibility, but to building skills and tools of accountability amongst students as they work to strengthen their relationships within the Greensboro community.
Audrey has worked diligently to show how service is an important tool for positive social change in our food system. From volunteering at the Permaculture Guild and working to support gardens in spaces such as the Interactive Resource Center, to advising volunteers of the Food Justice Club in their efforts to raise access to local, healthy foods, Audrey Waggoner goes beyond expectations to build platforms of food accessibility for communities in Greensboro.
Audrey co-convened the past two FOODSTORM conferences, student-planned gatherings of food systems workers from all over the state, purposed to provide opportunity for building community and resources around food accessibility. She has also spearheaded resource development for the Mobile Oasis Market, which takes fresh produce into communities with low access to healthy foods.
Audrey attended the University of South Carolina, UNC-Greensboro and was a CEFS Apprentice at NCA&T.
A Safe Place
Mrs. Kimberly Shaw is the owner and operator of A Safe Place (ASP). Mrs. Shaw started as a family child care home in August 1997 and the business has been growing ever since. It now includes two full-time five star, NAEYC-accredited centers dedicated to providing quality childcare to families that would otherwise not be able to afford it.
A Safe Place has N.C. Pre-K classrooms and are Community Partners with Early Head Start providing activities that create opportunities for children to learn about themselves in a safe and healthy environment. ASP provides a loving atmosphere that supports the development of self-esteem and self-confidence, and provides good models and tools to be successful in life.
ASP is located in a food desert and has continued to work to create access to fresh, healthy foods and activities for the community. This urban mini-farm is currently a POD (Preventing Obesity by Design), F2CC (Farm to Child Care) and Shape NC location in Wake County to teach the children and families involved about growing food, eating healthier and maintaining active lives both at the school and at home.
Mrs. Shaw currently serves on the boards of Wake County Smart Start, Child Care Services Association and The Early Education Coalition. In 2014 Mrs. Shaw received The Dorothy B. Graham Child Care Leadership Award. In 2015 and 2017 A Safe Place received the City of Raleigh Urban Agriculture Award. In 2017 Mrs. Shaw served as a Statewide Mentor for the Farm to Early Care and Education Initiative.
NC Cooperative Extension
Vincent Webb is from Elm City, NC, just outside of Rocky Mount. After getting a nutrition degree at UNC-Greensboro and serving in the Navy Reserves for 6 1/2 years (plus two more since), he volunteered with FoodCorps NC and served in his own home community with the Down East Partnership for Children, teaching kids about cooking food, gardening, and building a local team around supporting farm-to-school work.
He has gone on to take a job with NC Cooperative Extension back in Guilford County where he had built a community during college. There, Vincent brings his skills and passion for farm-to-school to his Family and Consumer Sciences position, where he manages the teaching kitchen and offers Safe Plate trainings to support local food entrepreneurs with food safety knowledge.
He has also taken the NC Cooperative Extension Master Food Volunteer training program, which allows him to teach volunteers for NC Cooperative Extension how to educate about and support local foods efforts. Vincent goes above and beyond, he cares and he connects, he's invested in NC and his local community, and he's one of our local food heroes.
So Good Pupusas & Pupusas For Education
Cecilia Polanco is the founder of a social justice food truck based in Durham, NC, called So Good Pupusas. So Good Pupusas sells Pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish. The food truck works in partnership with the non-profit Pupusas for Education, by donating a percentage of its profits to support immigrants in funding 4-year degrees and certification programs. Cecelia has also been involved in supporting young people in food systems by co-founding a youth program dedicated to supporting professional development and food systems learning amongst youth of color.
Cecilia has dedicated great passion in her initiatives to provide opportunities for immigrants to have access to higher education. At just 22 years old, she came up with the idea for So Good Pupusas as a way to celebrate her Salvadorean roots, provide delicious food for communities, and serve a need that is far too often overlooked or unknown.
Cecilia serves on the board for the Helius Foundation and N.C. SLI, and has been a Summer Fellow with Frontline Solutions and the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation. She is passionate about working with Latinx and immigrant communities and making higher education more accessible and affordable. She believes that business can be a force for good, and that pupusas can change the world.
We are excited to honor NC farmers who are impacting the overall health and well-being of our young people through their efforts marketing to institutions (not an easy feat!). This is our way of showing appreciation for all the work they do to create a more equitable food system for all people. Providing fresh foods to our youth and the institutions committed to serving them healthy, nutritious, locally sourced food helps them thrive! The passion and commitment of these Local Food Heroes, does not go unnoticed! Congrats to all of our CEFS Farm to Fork Local Food Heroes.
Robert has been dedicated to helping build the farm to child care system from day one. He has worked with many of the child care centers in wake county to provide fresh local produce for the center and also created opportunities like CSA boxes and onsite farmer’s markets for families to receive the produce as well. Robert has been essential in determining details about how child care programs can be a whole new market for small local farmers.
The son of farmers, Robert Jones, a fourth generation African-American farmer, grew up on the farm that has been in his family since the early 20th century. In the early days, his family planted corn, soy and tobacco with tobacco as the main cash crop. For much of his life, Robert worked to get away from the farm and entered the technology industry, working for both IBM and Progress Energy for many years. He lived in Durham with his wife and two daughters for years. When Robert retired, he decided to return to the family farm. He worked at the Breeze Farm in Hillsborough for several years to gain farming skills. Today, he lives down the street from the 8 acres where he is currently farming. Farmer Jones grows a wide variety of vegetables and a few fruits, including melons. He focuses on sweet potatoes, collard greens, peppers, tomatoes and most any other farmers’ market vegetable you may want to eat. Buying from Jones Farm, Child care facilities may purchase produce directly from Farmer Jones or through the Wake POP market or at Western Wake Farmers’ Market in Cary. Farmer Jones welcomes field trips from child care facilities at the farm in Greene County, where children can also see a few pigs and some cows. In addition to selling to child care centers and farmers markets, Farmer Jones has an eight month CSA with drop off sites determined based on his customers’ locations. Everything Robert Jones does is about reaching out to people about meeting their needs, doing things he believes matters, and simply making a difference in his community.
Susie has always been a great supporter of farm-to-school. She has supplied some our schools with her delicious berries in the past and we always hope each year that we can make that happen. There is a small window of time, late May to early June, that the berries are available, so it is a challenge and she does everything she can to make things work. Feast Down East also sells her berries to UNCW and grocers and our restaurants. Susie is definitely a local food hero.
In 1997, Susie Newberry and her husband, Al, noticed an abandoned blueberry farm for sale in Pender County. With farming experience, but little knowledge about blueberries, the couple did some research and decided to give it a go, moving from Wilmington to Burgaw to live and work on their new farm. The Newberrys started working on their farm little by little, steadily plowing and replanting new blueberry bushes. “The sandy loamy soil was perfectly suited for blueberries; hardly anything else will grow there at all”, Susie says. Much of the farm remains wooded, and their home sits on part of the land. Susie feels that blueberries are a challenging crop to grow. The season is very short and very intense, lasting from only two to five weeks, depending on the weather. Newberry’s Blueberries currently sells the majority of their crop wholesale, to American Blueberries. They also sell some berries through Feast Down East, for farm to school when they can, and to several small health food stores in Wilmington, including Tidal Creek Cooperative Food Market and Lovey’s.
I've had the pleasure of working with Victor since 2011, both through Working Landscapes and the Warren County Economic Development Commission. He is a forward-thinking farmer and community leader. Victor has been instrumental to the advancement of agriculture in Warren County and the region, from growing the high school ag program to helping launch Working Landscapes' Chopped Produce Initiative. Victor had the idea that Warren County greens should be chopped and bagged for schools region-wide, and now it is a reality!
Victor Hunt is a Warren County native and has been farming in the area since 1978. Over the years, Victor has raised everything from hogs to tobacco to small grains. Currently he grows vegetables and raises beef cattle. Hunt Farm is truly a family affair. His uncle has mentored Victor since his days as a young farmer. Victor’s mother, siblings, and nieces all participate in the planting and harvest of his fall and spring vegetable crop.
Victor’s favorite crop to grow is collard greens – aligning with his favorite time of year. Hunt Farm is one of the first produce farms in the region to be USDA GAP certified, receiving the certification specifically to provide collard greens and cabbage for school children through the Chopped Produce Initiative at Warrenton non-profit Working Landscapes. Victor was also instrumental in establishing this farm to school initiative with other farmers in the area.
Victor is also a Warren County Commissioner and a member of the Warren County Cattlemen’s Association. With his leadership positions in county government and in the community, Victor advocates for the importance of investing in agricultural projects in the county and for the preservation of local farm land.
When approached about working to provide local fresh produce for young children and their families, Brian said yes without any hesitation. Willing to do what was needed Brian bought into a dream of having a pop up farmers market at child care centers. Not only does he provide the produce but he explains to families various ways to prepare the vegetable. It is exciting to see the family return and talk about eating a new and different vegetable. Brian’s immense knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious and is making a difference for young children and their families- healthy eating of fresh local produce is becoming a reality!
Ashe County Farmer Brian Chatham grew up in the high country of North Carolina, and his enterprise High Mountain Farms is dedicated not only to growing and selling delicious produce, but to engaging and serving his community. Brian and his partner Sonya are part of CEFS NC Farm to Childcare Initiative, joining the Wilkes County Partnership for Children and their team to help create sustainable pathways that will provide young children and families with local food in childcare centers and at home.
Working with local community partners, they hold a pop-up market at a childcare center, providing access to fresh foods for families and for the center chef to use in meals and snacks. Brian also volunteers his expertise to the childcare center staff by helping to develop gardens at child care centers. The initiative is expanding this summer with three other daycares in Wilkes county purchasing fresh vegetables to serve in their centers as well. Brian and Sonya are so excited about this project that they are expanding the idea into Ashe County where they will be providing fresh veggies and a monthly pop up market to a child care center there as well. They both have a passion for providing fresh, healthy food for children to eat and enjoy. Their dream is that we inspire in this generation of children the importance of being good stewards of the land. Their motto: We Farm. You Eat.
Jeff and Lisa Bender work as a team with Bender Farms. They are both very committed to their community and are champions of agriculture in general. Adding produce to their tobacco farm as a new enterprise was a huge change for the farm, and the Benders tackled this head on. Jeff Bender is very innovative and not afraid to try new things. The Benders have been extremely instrumental in efforts to grow a local food economy in Warren County, working closely with Working Landscapes to supply local produce to local school systems in the region.
Bender Farms is a diversified row crop and produce farming operation utilizing about 400 acres of land in Warren County to grow flue-cured tobacco, soybeans, produce, wheat, and corn. Jeff Bender grew up on a tobacco farm. He attended North Carolina State University where he met his wife, Lisa. Right out of college, Jeff and Lisa ran a dairy operation for about 17 years. During this time, they started diversifying their business, growing sweet corn to sell to the local community. When the dairy operation began struggling to compete in the industry about the time of the tobacco buyout, they transitioned into tobacco and also began expanding their produce operation to include melons. About five years ago, Jeff started serving on the Working Landscapes Board of Directors and selling a small amount of produce to them. Working Landscapes is a non-profit seeking to build the local food economy in Warren County and the region with a strong current focus on selling local produce into the local school systems. Jeff says that the Working Landscapes mission aligned well with the community values and goals of his family farming operation. Lisa says, “Jeff and I always grow everything with the people who will eat our food in mind. While we are always mindful of the business of our farming operation, we know that what we produce will be on someone's table, fed to those they love most. Figuratively, we are a "guest" at their table, and we want what we have produced to be as healthy, fresh, and delicious as possible. Our farming operation is as much about people–homes, kitchens, schools–as it is about agriculture, land stewardship, and business.”
After becoming one of the first farms in the region to become GAP-certified, Bender Farms has served as a backbone supplier to local school systems through this Working Landscapes value chain. They sell a number of varieties of greens and cabbage through the Working Landscape produce facility, where it is chopped and bagged creating an ideal fresh produce product designed specifically to meet the needs of the school cafeterias. Bender Farms also sells to a couple of regional food service distributors, local grocery stores, and several roadside stands. Jeff and Lisa both serve in leadership roles with the local Farm Bureau. Jeff has also served on numerous CEFS project advisory committees and supported other project efforts, including those of the NC Growing Together Project, the SARE-funded local food systems graduate course for Extension Agents, and more recently, development of a virtual value chain tour of a farm to school effort in his region.
We have many community-based partners and very engaged youth who have been leading a variety of efforts in the state to change the food system for the better. These are our Local Food Heroes. With your help, we are excited to host them at our Farm to Fork events as a special thank-you for making a difference. Please consider a special gift that will help us honor these 2016 Local Foods Heroes.
The young men at Growing Change are flipping a closed prison in Wagram NC into a sustainable farm and education center. And they are flipping their lives around while they do it. These youth are addressing the root causes of inequities in our food system, and making opportunity out of some of the harshest problems faced in rural North Carolina. They understand disparity and take it head on, creating a model that is now receiving national attention and may prove a pathway to revitalizing innumerable prison sites across NC and the US. They’ve also created a comic book about their experiences, storying their lives and their successes in ways that can really reach other youth facinging similar struggles.
They do this work in an intentionally multi-racial group—working together as African-Americans, Latinos, Native American’s and white youth. They work hard, are dedicated and diligent, they are learning new things and creating new businesses, making sustainable change for the long haul. They see themselves as “part of the solution” and so do we.
We thank all the youth involved in Growing Change and honor a few as representatives of the whole: Terrence Smith for his astounding innovation as well as his determination to flip the script and create a new path, Cody Oxendine for his steadfast vision and unswerving commitment, and for Scottie Dimery for returning again and again to make things work for himself and all. And to Noran Sanford for inspiring them and inspiring us to believe that anything is possible. These are Local Heroes.
The youth group at Conetoe Family Life Center is part of the larger healthy living effort at their church in Conetoe, NC, Edgecombe County. The whole congregation works a small sustainable farm and cooks healthy meals for members, but the youth are not only a vital force in the farm work and anti hunger efforts, but also raise bees and teach bee keeping, as well as market and sell their honey. They lead workshops for other youth and adults on everything from growing food to composting and they gather weekly to support through each other to keep steady in addressing community as well as individual goals. Reverend Joyner and all the many youth at CFLC understand and appreciate growing food as a vehicle for change. The numerous youth at CFLC are each motivated and day in day out make a difference in their community.
We honor them all and name, as representatives of the whole these Local Food Heroes: Marquon Pettaway for his resilience and unending kindness; Tobias Hopkins for his leadership and willingness to sing truth into the world; and for Reverend Richard Joyner for being a pillar of strength for us all and for seeing the deep value in rooting change in the soil of this earth.
The Youth group at Transplanting Traditions is all about possibilities in the face of challenges. These youth honor where they have come from, seek out current leadership opportunities, and make change in their community. The entire youth group at TT has done amazing documentary work with elders around foodways and culture: audio work, photography, and video. They host dinners and lead tours at the farm and they help run the farmers market stands, creating avenues for the broader community to understand their culture. The youth support each other.
We wish to honor Ree Ree Wei, Hla Win Tway, and their youth organizer Nicole Accordino for their endless innovation and energy to make things happen, their leadership within their community and beyond, and the drive and optimism towards making their community strong that sparks us all into renewed energy and action. Thank you for being tirelessly devoted to your community and to food justice, and for being our Local Food Heroes.
Poder Juvenil Campesino, “Rural Youth Power” in English, is a youth group of farmworkers out of Eastern NC. They have worked diligently on everything from national lobbying in DC for the protection and rights of children working in the fields to local educating in their community, holding panel discussions called “Youth Speaks” for educators and policy makers about the issues faced by farmworker communities. They are professionally trained as photographers and have a nationally traveling exhibit that puts both struggles and resilience in print. They have led food drives and started gardens and built chicken coops for their neighbors. Always, they inspire and educate: each other, the other youth groups in CEFS’s FYI, and everyone who meets them.
We want to honor all these youth and here name a few representatives of their work: Jose Godinez for his fortitude and loyalty, Jose Montez for his courage, and Yesenia Cuello for her leadership. Yessy Bustos has joined NC Field as staff and leads and supports these youth and NC Field at large with energy and insight and Pete Eversoll has been a tireless volunteer and board member. We are all lucky to have them in NC and appreciate them endlessly as Local Food Heroes.
Emilee Register is a Wayne County teen who is making a real impact on her community. Emilee was apart of CEFS' SWARM program who developed as a fierce yet humble leader and food justice activist with a passion for agriculture.
She is one of a few African-American FFA members at her school, participated in NC A&TSU's Institute for Furture Ag Leaders, was a Park Scholar semi-finalist and continues to volunteer and lead activities at the Wayne County Public Library's community garden. Emilee is truly a Local Foods She-ro!
Josie Walker is a recent graduate of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University (N.C. A&T) in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. She grew up in Trenton (Jones County), North Carolina. She has a passion for sustainability in all its forms and strives to increase the sustainability of NC communities. As a former teacher, Josie is dedicated to teaching others about the benefits of local foods and believes that people are more receptive to new ideas if they see the relevance to their own lives.
While at N.C. A&T, she built bridges between students and faculty/staff from multiple departments as well as the local community and Cooperative Extension through Sustainable Agriculture Club events and through her position as a Local Food Ambassador. Josie also worked to connect Eastern NC farmers with new markets through an apprenticeship with Feast Down East.
We thank Josie for her dedication to building and supporting local food economies and food systems in order to honor our state’s agricultural history, keep our dollars within NC, and create food-related businesses within the state.