Five Johnston County farmers are among 23 North Carolinians earning NC AgVentures grants of between $4,500 and $12,000. Administered by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, the competitive grant program is funded through the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. The grants are awarded for innovative projects aimed at diversifying, expanding or implementing new entrepreneurial plans for farm operations.
Farmers in 17 counties – Martin, Wilson, Pitt, Edgecombe, Nash, Forsyth, Stokes, Surry, Rockingham, Yadkin, Guilford, Sampson, Johnston, Greene, Lenoir, Duplin, and Wayne – were eligible.
Blake Thompson of Smithfield will use the grant funds to raise pastured pork, a niche market that has grown significantly in the past few years and will provide a new agriculture enterprise on the family farm. Thompson will sell the pork through a local cooperative.
Shepard Barbour of Clayton plans to use the grant to diversify the family farm operation by incorporating a turfgrass/sod business near the old Cleveland School. Six acres of Bermuda sod are planted, and Shepard intends to plant another 10 to 15 acres this spring.
Having experimented with small-scale aquaponic systems for raising fish and vegetables, Howard Kostelecky of Kenly will use grant funding to build a larger greenhouse and expand the aquaponics operation.
Also of Kenly, Susan Weaver Ford plans to expand her farm crops to include string beans and butter beans. The third-generation tobacco farmer previously diversified her operation by growing peas.
Wayne Worley of Princeton received a small grant to add a you-pick strawberry field. His new field is off Highway 70 near Princeton.
In addition to the individual winners, three community grants of between $2,500 and $10,000 were awarded to groups in Stokes, Lenoir and Johnston counties.
The Cattlemen’s Association of Johnston County received a small community grant to purchase portable cattle handling equipment that can be rented and transported to farms with small herds. The equipment allows the farmer to restrain and safely provide proper care such ear tagging, vaccinating and deworming. The Johnston County Cattlemen’s Association along with Cooperative Extension and County Government will manage the day-to-day oversight of the program.