N.C. A&T to Celebrate Small Farms Week March 24-30


2018 Small Farmer of the year Ronald W. SimmonsEAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Feb. 11, 2019) – The powerful legacy behind North Carolina’s small farms – and their swift movement toward the future – is the inspiration for Small Farms Week 2019. Featuring workshops, farming demonstrations, tours and more, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s annual tribute to small-scale agriculture will be held March 24-30, 2019.

With the theme “Deep Roots, Bright Futures,” the 33rd Small Farms Week pays tribute to the crucial role that small farms play in North Carolina’s $84 billion agriculture industry – of the state’s 52,000 farms, more than 80 percent are considered small – and the innovative ways that farmers are tapping into trends and adapting to change in the agriculture industry.

“This year’s theme speaks to the rich history and dedication of small farmers while also recognizing that small farmers and agriculture – food, forestry and fiber – are evolving, but in ways that are no less essential for our lives, land and economy,” says Rosalind Dale, Ph.D., associate dean and administrator of Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T. “Small farmers and their families are the backbone of agriculture in the state. Small Farms Week is our way of honoring small farmers while also providing educational resources to help them continue to be more profitable and sustainable.”

The week kicks off in Duplin County, home of 2018 Small Farmer of the year Ronald W. Simmons of Master Blend Family Farms, where highlights include a panel discussion with master farmers and a tour of local farms, including Duplin Winery in Rose Hill. Founded in 1975, Duplin Winery is the state’s oldest operating winery, and it will offer an optional wine tasting.

Events continue March 26-28 on N.C. A&T’s campus with workshops and demonstrations, including informational sessions about season extension, the lessons learned from Hurricane Florence and farming industrial hemp, which has the potential to become a major cash crop for North Carolina growers.

A highlight of the week will be the Small Farmers’ Appreciation Luncheon on March 27, at which Simmons will pass his crown to the new 2019 Small Farmer of the Year. 

Simmons and his wife, Laurita, are among the growers who have embraced the farming trends of the future. On their farm near Kenansville, the Simmonses practice niche pork production, which allows small farmers to get premium prices by raising pigs outdoors. The farm also has an on-site general store that sells pork and a variety of other locally grown products.

“America is becoming more aware and concerned about with it’s consuming and feeding its kids,” Simmons said, upon winning the award. “We saw an opportunity.”

The Simmons’ general store is a nod to another trend – opening farms to visitors. Dubbed “agritourism,” the trend of selling merchandise and food products made on the farm, giving tours and allowing visitors to participate in farm chores has become an educational way to provide farmers with a substantial new source of income – $17 million statewide in 2012, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

The keynote speaker at the luncheon will be N.C. A&T alumnus and rocket scientist Howard Conyers, Ph.D. The son of small farmers, Conyers’ digital PBS show, “Nourish,” highlights food, culture and science across the South. 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 but has never strayed far from his farming background.

A native of Paxville, South Carolina, Conyers helped his family grow corn, soybeans and an heirloom variety of sweet potato. He majored in bioenvironmental engineering at N.C. A&T, which allowed him to join his interests in engineering and agriculture. He went on to earn his master’s and doctorate in mechanical engineering from Duke University.

Now, along with his work for NASA, Conyers nurtures the farmers of the future by serving on the board of the Grow Dat Youth Farm in New Orleans, a program that encourages young people through the work of growing food.

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