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Farms, Food and You

Author: NC State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

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Issues in agriculture affect not just farmers. They also influence your life every day. "Farms, Food and You" explores these issues with NC State University experts and others with ties to agriculture and food in North Carolina and beyond. Produced by NC State's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
27 Episodes
What challenges do North Carolina farmers face in making the best use of new technology when they lack affordable high-speed internet? And what’s being done about it? In this episode of Farms, Food, and You, two farmers and two broadband professionals talk the need for high-speed internet and what's being done to expand access.GuestsBeverly Mooney operates Millstone Creek Orchards in Ramseur with her husband, Nick. The 80-acre farm was started by her father as a retirement occupation. He planted fruit trees and opened the farm to the public for you-pick operations, hayrides and picnics. Today, the farm produces blueberries, blackberries, peaches, grapes, pumpkins and pecans – “a little bit of a lot of things,” as Mooney puts it. It’s also a popular agritourism destination. Robert Knight grew up in Rockingham County, the son of a teacher and a lineman for a power company and the grandson of two tobacco farmers. He spent most summers working on his maternal grandfather’s farm in Stokes County. After graduating from high school in 2004, he started farming tobacco. The next year, after the tobacco buyout that ended federal quota and price support programs, he turned his attention to grains and timber. Now he’s begun to explore agritourism opportunities for his seventh-generation farm.Kenny Sherin serves as both state coordinator of broadband access and education and Randolph County director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension. He grew up on a family farm in fast-growing Union County. Recognizing the development pressures, his father encouraged him to find an off-farm job. Sherin went on to earn a doctorate in rural sociology and community development from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He has worked for Extension in both Missouri and South Dakota, and he returned to North Carolina in 2019.Jeff Sural is broadband infrastructure director for the North Carolina Department of Information Technology. He grew up in Greensboro and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a law degree from Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School. He spent 15 years in Washington, D.C., in policy and legislative liaison roles. The broadband infrastructure office he leads works to expand and enhance broadband access to all North Carolinians.  
North Carolina ranks third among states when it comes to agricultural diversity, but roughly 80% of crops grown here is shipped out of the state to be processed. What’s being done to tap the potential for food entrepreneurs to bring these commodities home?In this episode, two proponents of food entrepreneurship and innovation talk about the momentum that’s been building for the food manufacturing and processing industry in our state.Our Guests Bill Aimutis is executive director of the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab in Kannapolis. He has held several research and operations leadership and management positions for companies such as Cargill Inc., Land O’Lakes and Kerry Ingredients. Aimutis holds degrees in food science from Purdue University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He is a fellow of the American Dairy Science Association and the Institute of Food Technologists.Ron Fish is assistant director of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ marketing division, charged with driving the growth of agribusiness in North Carolina. He’s worked with the agriculture department for 30 years. Fish grew up on a tobacco farm Willow Springs and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education from NC State University. 
Imagine gearing up to start production in a business you've poured your life savings into. COVID-19 hits, shutting down life as usual and bringing your plans to a halt, with no end in sight. That's food entrepreneur Will Kornegay's story. But thanks to some quick thinking and the support of others, it has a happy ending.About Our GuestWill Kornegay was born, raised and lives in Rocky Mount, where farming of produce and other commodities is key to the economy. He says he always wanted to work in agriculture, but he took a detour after graduation from NC State University with a degree in business. He worked as an energy trader for two years before taking a job with Ham Produce Co. in Snow Hill, when he got firsthand exposure to running sales and operations for a large food company with a farm, a produce packing operation, a commercial puree line and a dehydration plant. With his sister, Laura Hearn, he started Ripe Revival in 2019 and then Ripe Revival Market in 2020.ResourcesLearn more about Kornegay’s companies at and To find out more about how Ripe Revival turned NC State University discoveries into protein-rich snacks made from excess fruits and vegetables grown by U.S. farmers visit our story “Coming Up: Healthier Foods, Less Food Loss.” 
In the United States, there are more than 59,000 job openings for college graduates in agriculture each year. And the need for them is climbing. What is North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences doing to fill that need? Associate Dean John Dole talks about agricultural careers and shares more about how CALS prepares them for the future. About Our Guest John Dole is associate dean and director of academic programs for North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He’s also been a scientist and educator with expertise in the production of cut flowers and poinsettias. He comes from an area of west Michigan with a large agricultural industry, and as a child he earned spending money by working at a farm stand next door to his house. Dole went on to study at Michigan State and the University of Minnesota, then began his academic career at Oklahoma State University. He joined NC State’s faculty in 2000, becoming head of the Department of Horticultural Science in 2011 and starting his current position in 2016.ResourcesFind descriptions of nearly 250 agricultural careers at FFA’S AgExplorer website, where you can also take a quiz to see which ones might be right for you. Learn more about two-year, four-year and graduate academic programs, student life and pathways to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, visit the CALS website. There’s also information on the site about how to apply.Nominate a prospective student.
There's a rising interest in the role that military veterans play in American agriculture. Four of them discuss their experiences in farming and homesteading. This episode also highlights an NC State program to help those who’ve served our country pursue agricultural careers.About Our GuestsRobert Elliott is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who grew up in Louisburg, North Carolina, on a large farm that produced soybeans, tobacco and other crops. After a career as a helicopter mechanic for the military, he went back to the family farm. He produced hogs, chickens and turkeys, mushrooms, hemp and other specialty crops on 40 acres. He holds two bachelor’s degrees from NC State’s biological and agricultural engineering department. He also helped create the Soldier to Agriculture program offered by North Carolina State University’s Agricultural Institute (AGI).Samantha Manning grew up on a family farm in Smithfield, where most of the land was leased to other farmers. She served in the U.S. Army, then had several jobs in the private sector. She went on to be valedictorian of her class with the Agricultural Institute, then turned back to farming. Last year, she joined the AGI’s Soldier to Agriculture program as a military liaison. She is also owner and operator of Watson-Sanders Farm in Smithfield, producing small fruits and vegetables using sustainable, organic and regenerative practices. Her farm products are sold through a CSA share program and at a local produce stand. She holds a bachelor’s in agricultural education at North Carolina A&T State University.David Rich was raised in Warwick, New York, in the Hudson River Valley. To earn extra money, he picked fruits and vegetables alongside migrant farmworkers. Rich always wanted to be in the military, and he joined the U.S. Air Force, serving for nearly 21 years. Much of that time, he served as an anti-terrorism advisor, traveling across Europe and to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, New Zealand and Africa – as he puts it, “pretty much everywhere I’ve wanted to see.” He participated in AGI’s Soldier to Agriculture program and now has a homestead outside of Sanford, near the Cape Fear River. Tenita Solanto served 4½ years as an electronic technician working on radars and satellites in the U.S. Navy. After leaving the service in 2004, she enrolled in East Carolina University, earning a bachelor’s degree. She worked at Raytheon and IBM, then started her own business doing web design and social media marketing. She started Green Panda Farm in 2016. Now producing microgreens at the farm in Siler City, she plans to expand into hydroponics. Find out more about her and Green Panda Farms on Instagram and Facebook and at 
On the eve of his retirement, NC State University economist Mike Walden shares his observations on food and farming in North Carolina over the past four decades and trends that might influence these sectors in the future.About Our GuestMike Walden is a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and Extension specialist with NC State University’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. He teaches and writes on personal finance, economic outlook and public policy. Known for his accessible explanations of complex economic concepts, Walden has given some 2,500 presentations, produced thousands of episodes of a daily radio show and written 11 books – including four suspense novels as well as nonfiction works on North Carolina’s economy.
North Carolina is losing farm lands at a fast pace. What does this mean for the future of agriculture in our state, and what’s being done about it?About Our GuestsAndrew Branan is an Extension assistant professor in North Carolina State University’s Department of Agricultural Economics, focusing on extension education on legal matters related to land, farming, forestry, and natural resources. A native of Texas, he holds degrees from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and the Wake Forest University School of Law. Before joining NC State, he worked as an agricultural lawyer for almost 20 years. He says he wore out his truck’s first engine while working in private practice with clients from Currituck to Cherokee counties.William Hamilton was raised on a family farm in Buncombe County, where he grew up with a love for the land and an interest in the health of the environment. He holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Warren Wilson College and a master’s in forestry from NC State University. He worked for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy for 12 years before joining NC State Extension as co-director of NC FarmLink for the western region.As the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ farmland preservation director, Dewitt Hardee oversees the state’s Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund. He’s worked with the department since 1985. He holds bachelor’s degrees in animal science and agricultural education and a master’s degree in education from NC State University. He is a lifelong Johnston County resident. Along with her siblings, Mary Ogburn, a Winston-Salem resident, inherited a 66-acre property in fast-growing Lewisville from her father. Wanting to keep the land in agriculture, she turned to NC FarmLink and found a farmer to lease the land.Noah Ranells is NC State Extension’s co-director of NC FarmLink for the eastern region. He holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s in crop science and doctorate in soil science from NC State University. He served in the Peace Corps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An owner of Fickle Creek Farm in Efland, he’s held environmental and agricultural positions in city, county and state government, and he’s been a faculty member at NC State and North Carolina A&T State universities.ResourcesNC State Extension’s Agricultural and Natural Resource Law Portal is loaded with resources related to farm succession and transfer, land use law, agribusiness law and more. Extension’s NC FarmLink program connects farmers, landowners, and service providers across North Carolina, helping to grow the state’s agriculture industry. It maintains databases of available farmland and farmers looking for land, and it provides educational resources for farmers and landowners.The website of the North Carolina Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, part of the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, has information about farmland conservation, grants, and farmland preservation services available through other nonprofit and governmental agencies.
What will the next wave of agricultural technology hold? Two NC State faculty members with their fingers on the pulse of technological innovation for agriculture talk about their research today and what they think it’ll mean for the farms of the future.About Our GuestsJason Ward leads NC State’s Advanced Ag Lab in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. A native of Kentucky, Ward had no agricultural background before he attended the University of Kentucky as an undergraduate and graduate student in the early 2000s. There, he quickly became captivated by advanced technologies and how they could enhance agriculture. After earning a Ph.D. from Mississippi State University, he joined NC State in 2017 and is an assistant professor and extension specialist.Sierra Young is an assistant professor in NC State’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. She holds three degrees in civil engineering: a bachelor’s from Cornell University and a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She also studied environmental engineering and worked on a project using unmanned aerial and surface vehicles for water management in South India. That sparked her interest in robotics, and today she runs NC State’s DAISy Lab, short for Digital Agroecology and Intelligent Systems. She joined the university in 2019.
Farmers are the backbone of North Carolina’s $92.7 billion agriculture and agribusiness industry. What opportunities do industry leaders see as keys to a successful future? And how are NC State Extension and research helping position them to make the most of those opportunities?
Over the past century, mechanization has helped farmers produce more food more efficiently, but what about today? Can things like robots, drones, sensors and big data analytics help them feed a fast-growing world population? Four Oaks grower Brandon Batten weighs in.
Last fall, Trey Braswell was named a trailblazer by one of North Carolina’s leading business publications. The 35-year-old is forging new paths for Braswell Family Farms and making his mark as president of the North Carolina Egg Association. Braswell discusses how he’s building on long-held family values to lead the fourth-generation agribusiness into the future.About Our GuestTrey Braswell is a native of Nash County, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife and three children and serves as president of Braswell Family Farms. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business from NC State University and an executive Master of Business Administration from the College of William & Mary. He serves as president of the North Carolina Egg Association and a member of the national United Egg Producers’ board of directors.ResourcesVisit Braswell Family Farms’ website to learn more about 78-year history and its present operations.Read more about Trey Braswell in Business North Carolina’s article “2020 Trailblazers in North Carolina.”For more information about North Carolina eggs, check out the N.C. Egg Association‘s web site.
With modern hemp production heading into its fifth growing season in North Carolina, what does the future hold for this crop? That’s a question that’s likely on the minds of over 1,500 licensed growers and others in the hemp industry. This episode of Farms, Food and You focuses on the challenges and opportunities facing hemp producers in our state.Please note: This episode was recorded in December 2020. Since then, legal changes may have occurred. For updates on hemp law, please see the Extension hemp website.Resources To support North Carolina’s hemp industry, NC State Extension has a team of specialists working on everything from budgeting to production methods to disease and pest management. The team can be reached at, and it has an extensive website full of information at About Our GuestsMatt Spitzer is co-owner of Triangle Hemp. A North Carolina native, he earned a professional golf management degree and a minor in business at NC State, worked in the golf industry in South Carolina and returned to North Carolina to join Chase Werner, his longtime best friend, in a hydroponic lettuce farm called Endless Sun. They were among the first growers to sign up for licenses through the state’s industrial hemp pilot program. Their farm produces seeds and transplants for growers across the country. Marne Coit is a faculty member in NC State’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, where she teaches, researches and conducts extension programs related to food, agricultural and hemp law. She earned a master’s degree in environmental law and a juris doctorate from the Vermont Law School and holds an LLM degree in food and agricultural law from the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville. She is the co-author of the book “Food Systems Law: An Introduction for Non-Lawyers,” published in July 2020.David Suchoff has lived in North Carolina since he was 10. He came to agriculture through service when he did work in sustainable agriculture while serving in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and Costa Rica. When he returned, he was an apprentice at the Cherry Research Farm in Goldsboro and decided to pursue a master’s and then a Ph.D. in horticultural sciences at NC State. He is an assistant professor and alternative crops extension specialist in the university’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. 
When it comes to NC State University’s impact on agriculture, the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service’s discoveries lead the way. Director Steve Lommel provides an update on the service and the groundbreaking research that’s changing farming and food for the better.
Kamal Bell isn’t your stereotypical North Carolina farmer, and his Orange County farm isn’t your everyday farm. There, he’s not just farming, he’s also teaching — and doing both in ways aimed at raising the quality of life for people in his nearby hometown of Durham.
Agriculture and agribusiness are a $92.7 billion a year industry in North Carolina, and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler is determined to see that value top $100 billion soon. At North Carolina State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, three major initiatives -- the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative, the Food Processing and Manufacturing Initiative, and the Food Animal Initiative -- are designed to help the state meet and exceed that goal.Our guestsSteve Lommel is associate dean of NC State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service. A plant virologist, Lommel came to North Carolina by way of California, where he earned university degrees in the areas of biology and plant pathology, and Kansas, where he served as the only plant virologist on the faculty at Kansas State University. As a William Neal Reynolds Professor of Plant Pathology at NC State, he studied how plant viruses moved through plants to cause disease and ultimately explored the use of plant viruses to deliver drugs for human cancer therapeutics.Chris Reberg-Horton is NC State’s Plant Sciences Initiative platform director for resilient agricultural systems, a professor of organic cropping systems, and assistant director of collaborative research for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems. He grew up in western North Carolina, then earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before studying agronomy at the University of California at Davis. Returning to North Carolina, he worked with Cooperative Extension, then earned his Ph.D. M. Todd See is head of NC State University’s Department of Animal Science. As an extension specialist and researcher, his work in swine breeding, genetics and management led him to international recognition for educational programs. See holds three animal sciences degrees, a bachelor’s from Michigan State University and a master’s and doctorate from the University of Georgia. Bill Aimutis is executive director of the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab in Kannapolis. Considered one of the leading food scientists in the country, Aimutis has held several research and operations leadership and management positions for companies such as Cargill Inc., Land O’Lakes and Kerry Ingredients. He holds degrees in food science from Purdue University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He is a fellow of the American Dairy Science Association.
Waste management is part of doing business for North Carolina’s 46,000 crop and livestock farms. And at North Carolina State University, researchers and extension specialists are working to cut waste management costs, create income from value-added products, and protect the environment. Two ways that the university is working to deliver waste management solutions: by helping farmers use plant-based agricultural leftovers to feed beef cattle and by finding ways efficient to turn hog manure into fertilizer and renewable energy. Our GuestsFor 30 years, Matt Poore has served as a professor and beef Extension specialist at NC State University, where he focuses on nutrition for beef cattle, sheep and meat goats. He grew up spending his summers in North Carolina and his winters in the western part of the country. He often wondered why cows in North Carolina seemed to be merely part of the landscape, while in the West they were big business. The contrast captured his interest, and so he decided to study animal science and nutrition. At Arizona State University, he earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in the field.Deidre Harmon has worked at NC State for three years as an assistant professor and extension livestock specialist stationed at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. She grew up on a cow-calf farm, where she enjoyed feeding the cows and seeing how nutrition influenced the kinds of calves the cows produced. She holds bachelor’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, a master’s from Virginia Tech and a doctorate from the University of Georgia.Jay Cheng is a professor of biological and agricultural engineering at NC State University, with a primary focus on research and teaching related to environmental engineering and bioenergy processes. He has engaged in research collaborations around the globe and holds three engineering degrees: a bachelor’s degree from Jiangxi Institute of Technology in China, a master’s from Saints Cyril and Methodius University in North Macedonia and a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati. 
When it comes to waste management, NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences delivers solutions. Learn how Rhonda Sherman helps others use worms to create valuable soil amendments from agricultural wastes.OUR GUESTRhonda Sherman is an extension specialist with NC State University’s Department of Horticultural Science. Her work at the university over the past 28 years has focused on solid waste management. She’s written more than 60 publications and is author of the book “The Worm Farmers Handbook: Mid- to Large-Scale Vermicomposting for Farms, Businesses, Municipalities, Schools and Institutions.” RESOURCESSherman’s website, is chockfull of advice for anyone who wants to get into vermicomposting. Her vermicomposting page includes videos, podcasts and links to publications and articles in the popular press. Key publications include Raising Earthworms Successfully and Worms Can Recycle Your Garbage.  You can also order her book The Worm Farmer’s Handbook: Mid- to Large-Scale Vermicomposting for Farms, Businesses, Municipalities, Schools, and Institutions from Amazon.  
Sweetpotatoes: They're North Carolina's state vegetable, and they're not just for Thanksgiving anymore. Find out how North Carolina farmers have positioned our state as the national leader when it comes to production of this increasingly in-demand crop.ResourcesThe North Carolina SweetPotato Commission’s website is full of information on sweetpotatoes, including recipes, nutrition facts and a new sweetpotato-focused curriculum for K-12 students. Our GuestsDaniel Tregeagle, a native of Australia, is an assistant professor and extension specialist with NC State University’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, where his focus on specialty crops. Previously, he earned his Ph.D. studying perennial crop production at the University of California Berkeley, then worked as a postdoc at UC Davis focusing on pesticide regulations, especially with specialty crops. Michelle Grainger is executive director of the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission, a voice for the sweetpotato industry in North Carolina and beyond. She joined the commission this summer, after having served for 20 years at NC State leading a research center in the Poole College of Management and working with leading farmers in the multi-state Executive Farm Management Program.Jonathan Schultheis is a professor in NC State’s Department of Horticultural Science. He joined the university in 1989, and his focus is cultural management and production research and extension in vegetable crops, including sweetpotato, watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, pumpkin, cucumber and sweet corn.Craig Yencho joined NC State’s Department of Horticultural Science in 1996 as an assistant professor and leader of the potato breeding and genetics program, then expanded into sweetpotato breeding the following year. Today, he is William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor, developing sweetpotato varieties suited for North Carolina. That work is, in part, informed by his grant-funded efforts to improve sweetpotatoes in Africa.Johnny Barnes is president of Barnes Farming in Spring Hope, North Carolina. After earning a degree in agricultural economics at NC State, he returned to the family farm. He’s on the university’s Board of Visitors; serves as president of the American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute and as past chairman of the North Carolina Farm Bureau’s labor committee; and is a board member for the North Carolina Peanut Growers Association.Mike Boyette is Philip Morris Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and a licensed professional engineer at NC State. He holds three degrees from the university and is an expert in harvesting and postharvest handling of tobacco and fresh fruits and vegetables. He teaches his department’s capstone engineering course and has mentored more than 50 graduate students. Pepe Calderon is international sales director with Farm Pak, the sales team for Barnes Farming. He started working for Barnes Farming as an H2A worker, harvesting tobacco and sweetpotatoes. Today, he’s considered a top agricultural exporter: State Agricultural Commissioner Steve Troxler has honored him as Exporter of the Year, and Gov. Roy Cooper appointed him as the state’s first Latino member of the state’s Board of Agriculture. Read more about Calderon in CALS Magazine.
Growing Giants

Growing Giants


Imagine a pumpkin putting on 20, 30, even 40 to 60 pounds per day. It happens! With the North Carolina State Fair cancelled this year, the public won’t get to witness the Great Pumpkin and Watermelon Weigh-Off, but you can listen in to the latest episode of Farms, Food and You podcast as three North Carolinians with a passion for horticulture talk about the art, the science and the fun of growing giants.Our GuestsSusie Zuerner of Arden, North Carolina, is so passionate about the art and science of growing giant produce that she’s volunteered for years to help organize watermelon and pumpkin weigh-offs at the North Carolina State Fair. Her biggest watermelon weighed 239 pounds, and her biggest pumpkin was over 994 pounds.Elijah Meck of Randleman, North Carolina, works as a crop protection scientist for a major agricultural biotechnology company. He’s been growing giants since he was a graduate student studying entomology at North Carolina State University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 2010. He started out growing pumpkins and branched out watermelons, tomatoes, gourds, sunflowers and more. He represents the Southern United States on the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth.Billy Caudle is an avid gardener and the 4-H youth program assistant in Currituck County, North Carolina. The city councilor in Elizabeth City and retired senior manager with FedEx joined Currituck’s Cooperative Extension staff in 2018 to oversee the 4-H day camping and community service and restitution programs.Brandon Huber is a Ph.D. candidate at North Carolina State University who’s been a horticultural enthusiast since his childhood in Pennsylvania. As a master’s student, he worked on breeding stevia plants, and during his doctoral studies, he looked at how using certain lighting could improve the growth of tomato seedlings indoors. He also owns a rare corpse flower that’s attracted thousands of visitors to NC State eager to watch — and smell — the flower’s beautiful but stinky opening.
Rich Bonanno discusses the challenges North Carolina agriculture faces today and how NC State Extension, the organization he leads, works to keep the industry at the forefront of the state’s economy.
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