Farm, Food, and Family Education Center: The Vision
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Farm, Food, and Family Education Center
Mission Statement: “The Farm, Food, and Family Education Center is a dynamic, innovative, and collaborative place for people and organizations to build Farm, Food, and Family systems that strengthens economies, enhances resiliency, and builds community.”
The pandemic made it clear that resiliency in communities must be intentional and planned. This Education Center will serve as a “hub” for innovative and collaborative sharing of resources and ideas to increase resiliency. The Educational theme will allow us to focus on collaboration, practicum, creativity, modeling, and innovation. The “spokes” of this hub will center around the themes of “Farm, Food, and Family.” We feel this communicates in a clear and concise manner what the purpose of the facility is and creates a message that everyone in Randolph County, and the surrounding region, can connect in some way to these collaborations. The pandemic has helped to enhance many people’s desire to know more and collaborate on the issues of farms, food, and family. The Farm, Food, and Family Education Center will bring knowledge and innovation to how Randolph County and area residents provide for their essential needs in the future. The Center will accomplish this task by creating a dynamic, innovative, and collaborative place for learning and skill-building. The Center will provide economic development and educational opportunities through its services and facilities.
The following elements will be part of the Farm, Food, and Family Education Center:
Food Hub: The Food Hub will provide market access to local producers, fresh local food to households and institutions, and food security for under-resourced families. The development of the Food Hub will involve the physical space including cold storage and aggregation space plus the digital marketplace for the transactions. The food hub will help meet the needs for fresh local food in food banks and food pantries in Randolph County.
Commercial Shared-Use Kitchen: The Commerical Shared-Use Kitchen will provide the facility that food entrepreneurs can use to launch a catering business, or do value-added processing to their agricultural products in a way that provides them access to retail markets. Food Truck owners will be able to use the facility to prep for their daily activities.
Demonstration Kitchen: The Demonstration Kitchen is where residents will learn how to preserve food by canning, freezing, or fermenting. They also learn new and healthier ways to prepare food through cooking classes. This will improve the food resilience in the county.
Community Garden: The best way to learn is to learn by doing. The community garden will allow our agricultural agents and Extension Master Gardener Volunteers to teach best practices to those who participate in the community garden. The food grown in the community garden will be available through the food hub for under-resourced families
Greenhouse: The greenhouse will be a facility to be used by the farmers in the incubator to start their plants. The greenhouse will be used for training purposes for the commercial greenhouse industry in Randolph County. That industry grew 24% between 2012 and 2017 according to the 2017 USDA Agricultural Census. Furthermore, plants started in the greenhouse by the Extension Master Gardener Volunteers will be used in community gardens.
Demonstration Plots for Crops and Orchards: The overall mission of the Cooperative Extension System is to extend the evidence-based knowledge and information from the land-grant university system to county residents. The most effective way to do this is through the use of demonstration plots to illustrate new technologies and methods. The Center will be able to use plots onsite to help farmers and gardeners learn the best practices for growing vegetables and field crops.
Incubator Farm: The latest Census of Agriculture shows that the average age of farmers is 58 years old. Randolph County has the greatest number of farms (1,368) of any county in NC. The incubator farm will help new and beginning farmers get their start. By providing technical assistance, plots, and shared equipment, new and beginning farmers can lower the initial capital investment as they develop their growing skills and markets. The incubator farm will help create a pipeline of farmers to replace the aging population of current farmers.
Digital Skills Lab: The Digital Literacy and Skills Extension Agent will use the Digital Skills Lab to help residents gain the skills needed in our increasingly digital economy. By learning skills, residents will be able to accomplish tasks such as working in remote jobs, taking online classes, and accessing telehealth resources. The Digital Skills Lab will be crucial in helping every household and business have the opportunity to EARN, LEARN, and BE WELL by accessing needed digital resources. These digital skills will help Randolph County more resilient if faced with another pandemic-type event.
Business Incubator Maker Space (Phase 2): The Maker Space will be a place where entrepreneurs can prototype product designs, and have access to CNC routers, laser engraving machines, 3D printers, metalworking machines, and computer-aided design. This maker space will assist clients with starting new businesses. During school hours, the maker space will be used for student STEM activities through the partnership with the school systems in Randolph County.
Livestock Handling Training and Sales: Randolph County is #1 when it comes to the number of beef cows in the county and #2 in the number of goats. Practicing safe livestock handling is important to reduce stress and improve animal welfare. The Center will be able to provide training in this area. In addition to the training, many Randolph County livestock farms need a place to conduct private livestock sales. The Center will be able to provide this service for farmers.
Hosting Community Events: The Event Center building of the Farm, Food, and Family Education Center will be a venue for community events. In the planning meetings already held, the school partners identified events such as career fairs, state and regional meetings of the Future Farmers of America, Career and Techincal Education Board meetings, Livestock Association meetings, Keeping Randolph Beautiful- Shredding Event, the annual Kiwanis Club Pancake Feed, and high school graduation ceremonies.