Alumnus Howard Conyers to Speak at Small Farms Week

howard-conyers_professional-copy---resized.pngYou don’t need to be a rocket scientist to be a barbecue pitmaster, but it doesn’t hurt either.

Howard Conyers, Ph.D., a 2004 alumnus of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, is living proof. After earning his doctorate at Duke University, he went to work for NASA while continuing to practice the barbecue tradition he learned growing up in South Carolina. He’s also making a name for himself in broadcasting as the host of Nourish, a digital show for PBS about food, culture and science across the South.

He’ll soon add another title to his lengthy resume: keynote speaker for the Small Farmers’ Appreciation Luncheon, the capstone of the 33rd annual Small Farms Week. Sponsored annually by Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T, Small Farms Week celebrates the accomplishments of small-scale growers across the state. It begins this year with a kickoff in Duplin County and culminates with A&T campus activities, including Conyers’ address on Wednesday, March 27.

“I want to make sure North Carolina’s small farmers understand their importance to society and the importance of their contributions,” Conyers says. “Some people don’t appreciate how much work goes into being a farmer.

“Being the child of a small farmer, I understand the perils small farmers face. I want to see them thrive.”

A native of the Paxville community near Manning, S.C., Conyers grew up on a small farm, where he drove a tractor and shoveled manure. His family grew corn, soybeans and an heirloom variety of sweet potato; they also raised pigs for a few years.

He came to N.C. A&T, where he was mentored by CAES faculty members Godfrey Gayle, Ph.D., and Manuel Reyes, Ph.D., and majored in bioenvironmental engineering, a degree that combined his interest in agriculture and engineering. In 2009, at age 27, he earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Duke University.

Now a resident of New Orleans with his wife Kathryn, Conyers works on systems used to test and support the RS-25 rocket engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. He received NASA’s Early Career Achievement Award in 2017, and a project he led on high speed high dynamic range video won an innovation award in 2018. This year, Conyers will be recognized as a Modern Day Technology Leader at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards.

Outside work, he has earned a national reputation as a traditional South Carolina whole-hog barbecue pitmaster, a skill he learned on his family’s farm. He shares his diverse passions with the public as host and co-producer of Nourish, a program that attracted millions of views and 150,000 subscribers across YouTube and Facebook Watch during its 10-episode first season. He also has appeared on the Cooking Channel’s program Man, Fire, Food.

Southern Living Magazine in 2018 recognized him as one of 25 individuals changing the South. He has been featured in publications including The Washington Post, New Orleans Magazine and The Times-Picayune to name a few. He was named a Fellow of the National Food and Beverage Foundation in 2016.

Conyers is an active community leader, mentor and philanthropist. He serves on the boards of the Grow Dat Youth Farm – a program that nurtures a diverse group of young leaders in New Orleans through the work of growing food – and the Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture, where he also mentors students. Along with time, he also donates to the charities Hogs for the Cause, a South Carolina Flood Benefit, Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans, the Smithsonian National African American Museum and the MHS Alphas.

Conyers is looking forward to visiting his alma mater in March and speaking to the state’s small farmers.

“What I learned on the farm laid a great foundation for what I do today,” he says. “I’m really thankful for my experience on a farm. Small farmers have a special place in my heart.”