03/22/10 — Speakers bureau will talk up role of agriculture

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Speakers bureau will talk up role of agriculture

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 22, 2010 1:46 PM

Retired farmer Rachel Rawls smiles when she remembers how excited the little girl was to find sweet potatoes at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair.

"I go into the schools some and work with the children and the children do not know that a sweet potato comes from the ground," Mrs. Rawls said. "At the fairgrounds one time we had this little girl who got so excited over finding my sweet potato in the dirt that she held it up and said, 'Look, Mama, didn't we buy this at the grocery store?'

"I think they all need to know it. These people ... need to know where their food comes from."

Mrs. Rawls, who lives in Mar Mac, said she would not have any problem telling people just that.

She was among the some 25 local farmers, agribusiness people, farm agency members, students and educators who gathered at the Wayne Center recently to learn how to better educate the public about the value of agriculture in the county.

They are members the first class of a speakers' bureau that is the outgrowth of the Extension Service's "We Dig It" campaign. The class was conducted by Extension Service Director Howard Scott and Lynn Williams of Mt. Olive Pickle Co.

Mrs. Rawls is a Master Gardener and used to giving out advice.

A farmer all her life, her experience is invaluable to those gardeners who need help.

The campaign was unveiled at last year's Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair, with a free-standing display and the annual Farm/City Banquet was based on a presentation of the value of agriculture to Wayne.

Scott said the aim was to have a cadre of people ready to talk to groups about what agriculture has meant and will continue to mean to the county and everyone in it.

"We are going to train people so that if somebody needs a program, whether it is a civic club or small group or large group, that we will have a list of people who will have a PowerPoint or posterboard presentation on the value of agriculture to Wayne County's economy. We are really excited about the people who are interested and are coming to this training and being trained. People can call our office if they need a program, and we will assign people who have been trained to go out and do this presentation."

Scott said the speakers would be farmers, people who serve on other agriculture-related committees and organizations such as Farm Bureau, Farm Service Agency and Social Conservation.

The Extension Service has a small staff, Scott said, and the volunteers serve a crucial role.

"The last time I checked there were 60 some civic clubs in the county," he said. "If I sent every one of them a letter and say two-thirds said they would love to have a program on agriculture, there is no way our staff could come close to meeting that need. This is a way to expand it out."

The speakers will all be volunteers who "have a passion" for what the message is, he said.

Scott said he had figured between eight to 10 people would show up for the initial session, not the 24 who attended.

"I have other people who are on the waiting list to do it next time," he said.

Another training session could be held in the spring and possibly another in the fall.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the program should call the Extension Office at 731-1521.

Participants were provided a notebook with the PowerPoint presentation and other background information about agriculture and agribusiness in the county.

"Agribusiness and farming together puts $667 million into our economy," Scott said. "Those are 2006 numbers. Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, I think in 2008 they did a study, their value in our county right now is $520 million. Now, that is big."

Scott said his point is that agriculture, although often overlooked, is still the biggest part of Wayne's economic backbone.