Power to the PeoplePublished 3:51pm Sunday, August 24, 2014
JACKSON – Everyone benefits when knowledge is shared, and for 100 years the citizens of Tar Heel State have parlayed the educational programs passed down via North Carolina Cooperative Extension into stories of individual success.
On Tuesday in the main meeting room of the Northampton County Cultural & Wellness Center, local citizens joined with county and regional Cooperative Extension staff to celebrate a century’s worth of successful partnerships forged by land-grant universities NC State and NC A&T State.
Born in 1914, North Carolina Cooperative Extension was created when county, state and federal governments agreed that by joining together they could provide all citizens with access to the wealth of knowledge generated by public universities.
“This is a very special occasion as we celebrate 100 years of Cooperative Extension,” said Michele Spruill, Chair of Northampton Cooperative Extension’s Advisory Leadership Committee, as she formally welcomed those assembled.
“It takes everyone, those with special skills and talents and abilities, to make, shape and mold this program into what it is today….from Manteo to Murphy, but most of all right here in Northampton County. Today is your day as we celebrate our centennial, the love in our hearts, the spirit in our souls and the help from our God. We celebrate all that binds us into one and that is Cooperative Extension,” Spruill added.
Caroline Brown, Northampton County 4-H Agent, gave a brief history of North Carolina Cooperative Extension, saying it actually reached back as far as the 1800’s upon the founding of NC State University and North Carolina A&T State University.
“From the start, administrators saw the need to bring their research-based knowledge to the people of North Carolina,” Brown explained. “The Smith-Weaver Act of 1914 created a system through which land-grant college administrators could partner with the United States Department of Agriculture to conduct demonstration work.”
For the past 100 years, Brown said North Carolina Cooperative Extension has been working to improve the physical, social, and economic well-being of North Carolina citizens. While the programs have changed over the years, the vision of Cooperative Extension has remained constant.
“Cooperative Extension empowers people and offers solutions,” Brown stressed.
Three individuals shared their stories of the past, the present and the future of Cooperative Extension – longtime Conway farmer Kelly Vann (who also serves as President of Northampton County Farm Bureau), current Northampton 4-H member Allison Pair of Pleasant Hill, and Dr. Travis Burke, Director of the Northeast District of North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
Vann said his involvement with Cooperative Extension came at the age of 10 when he joined the local 4-H Club. That association led him to leave the friendly confines of Northampton County for the first time – joining his fellow 4-H’ers at summer camps at White Lake, Manteo and Swannanoa. He was also active in showing farm animals at the annual 4-H Livestock Show.
“4-H taught me a lot, especially about the value of money and how to control your spending,” Vann related. “It taught me about the real world.”
Later, Vann farmed with his father and, after marrying, he went into farming on his own.
“Back at Conway High School, they gave all the seniors an aptitude test, to see what you were good for,” Vann recalled. “Well, I took that test and the man proceeded to tell me what I wasn’t good at doing. He asked what were my intentions in life, and I told him I was going to be a farmer. He said he thought I could do that…back in 1960, farming was considered a non-skill occupation.”
As he dove head-first into farming, Vann praised the now late Brodie Harrell, as well as Elbert Long and Bill Rogister, all three who served stints as Director of Northampton Cooperative Extension.
“Mr. Harrell was the go-to man for peanuts; he did a lot of research on that crop; the same goes for Mr. Long and Mr. Rogister….they all brought their expertise to the job,” Vann said. “Extension has played a vital part in my life.”
At age 14, Pair has been a member of Northampton 4-H for the past five years, using that involvement to overcome her fear of public speaking. She has earned gold medals at the District and State levels through 4-H.
“4-H has inspired me in so many ways, through public speaking and cooking,” Pair remarked. “I also enjoyed attending 4-H Congress at NC State, especially the workshops and the competitions.
“I’ve learned a lot through 4-H, especially leadership values,” she added.
Those values have led Pair to become more involved in her local community, to include volunteering her time at a food bank.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t joined 4-H,” she concluded.
Burke, who grew up on a farm in Perquimans County, joined North Carolina Cooperative Extension in 1982. He rose through the ranks, first as an agent, then County Director and in March of 2010 was named Northeast District Director over 22 counties.
He spoke on the future of Cooperative Extension, to include a recently unveiled statewide strategic plan for the future.
“To understand our future, we need to certainly think about our past,” Burke said. “For 100 years, Cooperative Extension has educated the public through meetings and workshops, field days, personal consultations, web and videoconferencing. We also provide publications, newsletters, social media interaction, videos and other educational materials.”
Burke mentioned that in 1960, Cooperative Extension had a plan known as “1.6 in 66.”
“What that plan meant was that from 1960 through 1966, Cooperative Extension wanted to see the agricultural sector grow to $1.6 billion in revenue in the state of North Carolina,” Burke recalled. “As we speak today, that revenue is almost $80 billion. As we look towards population growth worldwide, North Carolina will need to produce even more food. We may see revenue generated by agriculture in our state exceed $100 billion very soon.”
Cooperative Extension’s future does in some ways resemble its proud past, Burke said.
“Our flagship program, food production, and our signature programs, 4-H and Master Gardeners, will shape our future as we focus on agriculture, food and 4-H,” he noted. “Basically it’s the same areas we focused on in 1914.”
Burke praised the current and previous staff members of Northampton Cooperative Extension.
“It’s been a pleasure for me to move here to Northampton County from another area; ya’ll have big hearts, taking me in as an outsider and treating me as one of your own,” said Craig Ellison, the current Director of Northampton County Cooperative Extension.
“This county is a special place,” Ellison continued. “It’s obvious to me that the people of this county can and will pull together and work together. The Extension family isn’t just in our office here in Jackson, it’s countywide. We have formed great partnerships here.”
Ellison recognized the contributors of the Extension’s Enhancement Fund. He said those local individuals and businesses stepped to the plate and fulfilled a need recognized by Extension staff – the purchase of agricultural scales that can be transported for the purpose of on-farm research.
“That’s an important tool to gather needed data,” Ellison said. “This money was donated by the community; it’s not by taxpayer dollars. We appreciate your contributions, your investment, to this fund.”
Also taking part in the program were Northampton County 4-H Club members J’Khari Jones and Hayley Burgess, who led those assembled in the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and the 4-H Pledge, and musical entertainment from Kathryn Long.