Written by Emily Mullins
Most farmers work the land with their hands rather than with pens, pencils and calculators. But on Oct. 3, a group of farmers from rural North Carolina will leave the farm and hit the classroom, equipped with the tools they need for a crash-course in economics. In another effort to help the area's small farmers succeed, Franklinton Center at Bricks, the UCC-related conference, retreat and educational facility in Whitakers, N.C., will host a free training course that will teach farmers how to invest, budget and project their earnings in ways that promote long-term sustainability for their families and communities.
"We recognize that when we educate people it helps to support their long-term ability to take care of themselves," said Vivian Lucas, executive director of Franklinton Center. "We are trying to make a lasting impact by facilitating educational opportunities and connecting them to resources they might not otherwise know about."
A representative from the United States Department of Agriculture will lead the three-hour training session, which will prepare land owners to make basic economic decisions about their farm and livestock operations. By the end of the course, participants should be able to identify the information necessary for economic analysis, how to organize their data, and how to make informed decisions about their farming operations. The seminar will include instruction, exercises and group discussion, and serves as the next installment in an educational series geared toward helping small farm owners. Previous workshops have discussed topics including taxes, food production safety, and the overall concerns small farmers face. The group of about 10 local farmers hosts a regular farmers market at Franklinton Center, and has also received training on how to produce food year-round instead of just seasonally, and how to get their food into local markets, schools and restaurants.
"This workshop is one piece of a series we started in February," Eunice Carrasco-Hill, project coordinator for Franklinton Center, said of the economics training course. "With each event, we have taken the farmers to different stages."
The training for farmers is a component of Franklinton Center's Just Food Project, an initiative started in 2012 in conjunction with the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries that aims to enhance the viability, vitality, and sustainability of families, small farmers, and economic development projects in Northeast North Carolina. The Just Food Project services Edgecombe County, one of the poorest in North Carolina and the second largest food desert in the United States, and its surrounding communities. In addition to training local farmers, some of the other main goals of the Just Food Project are to provide area families with fresh, organic produce grown in Franklinton Center 's five-acre garden, teach children about healthy eating and food preparation, and highlight the connections between food and overall health.
The project has grown significantly in the past year, Lucas said. For example, the center has expanded its garden from 1 acre to 5 acres, providing food for more than 75 local families, and hired a full-time gardener. Franklinton Center has also introduced a three-year vision plan that will incorporate ways to grow the program even further.
"We are going back to our roots," said Lucas. "Agriculture was a large part of the facility when it started in 1895. We want to see that happen again – people taking care of themselves by doing what they do."
Small farms run by African American families are dwindling in numbers, Lucas said, and face a multitude of challenges such as poverty, limited education, lack of resources like farming insurance, and competition with larger farms. With few other job options available to them, Lucas and Carrasco-Hill want to help these small farmers succeed in the only line of work most of them have ever known.
"There are no other jobs, and at least being able to farm gives them something to work for and a way to feed their families," Carrasco-Hill said. "This is what they've done all their lives.
"We represent justice," she continued. "We represent Justice and Witness Ministries and justice is what we do at Franklinton Center."