Allison Walker: Bringing Agriculture, Local Foods & Poultry to the Classroom

— Written By

Allison WalkerAllison Walker is the 4-H Youth Development Extension Agent in Randolph County. She has been in this position since August 2015. She is responsible for the County’s entire 4-H program, which is largely agriculture-focused, and serves as the County Co-Chair for the Local Foods Program Farm to School Work Group. Over the past year, Allison has successfully managed several projects and programs that engaged thousands of students, teachers, and families in the wonders of agriculture and local foods. “She is a logistical maven and has really great community connections,” said Liz Driscoll, Allison’s counterpart for the Just Grow It program. Allison humbly credits many of her successes to everyone around her, but her evident drive and passion for this work, bring accomplishments to the next level.

Randolph County’s Local Foods Landscape

Randolph County covers 790 square miles, making it the 11th largest county in North Carolina. It sits in the center of the Piedmont Triad region and ranks highly as an agriculture producer against the rest of the state in many categories. Randolph County is #1 in goat and beef cattle production and #3 in hay production. 

Allison has seen greater interest and participation in Randolph County’s local foods movement. “There are more farmers looking for new ways to market their products and to connect with local consumers. Local farmers’ markets are also increasing in popularity,” she said. More attractions like music and food trucks are being introduced to the markets in an effort to attract larger crowds.

Downtown Farmers' Market in Asheboro

Downtown Farmers’ Market in Asheboro, NC

Another project that will aid the County’s local foods landscape is identifying and connecting with community and school gardens. Allison is collaborating with Randolph County’s Horticulture Agent, Annie Mills, on this endeavor. Earlier this spring, they arranged a Community and School Gardens Town Hall virtual meeting for the public. Allison shared, “We discussed gardening curriculum for youth; how to engage youth as volunteers; managing pests, diseases, and weeds; how to find funding; and ways that Cooperative Extension could be a resource for them.”

Allison’s 4-H Programs & Projects

As the 4-H Youth Development Extension Agent, Allison has initiated and organized several engaging events, projects, and programs for her community. In 2020 alone, she reached over 16,000 youth through school enrichment, summer, and special interest programs. A program that Allison is most proud of is the 4-H Poultry Program. Typically, 80 to 90 classrooms participate, with each classroom receiving a dozen locally retrieved heritage breed chicken eggs. The students keep the eggs until they hatch, learning all about embryology, breed conservation, and the Livestock Conservancy along the way. Once this enormous number of chicks has hatched, they then become available for adoption to the 4-H participants (also known as 4-H’ers). “They raise their chicks until the fall when we hold the Randolph County 4-H Poultry Show. At the show, the 4-H’ers show their most handsome rooster, a pen of three hens, and then participate in a showmanship class,” said Allison. Due to the pandemic, 2020’s show had to go virtual. Each 4-H’er submitted a showmanship video where they showcased their chickens and chicken coops.

Baby chicks

Much of Allison’s work focuses on gardening for youth. In 2019, she collaborated with the Randolph County Partnership for Children and nine early childhood centers to bring the Junior Master Gardener (JMG) Early Childhood Learn, Grow, Eat & Go! curriculum to younger audiences. JMG was piloting a curriculum for pre-K and kindergarten students that would help develop an appreciation for gardening and locally grown foods. The nine early childhood centers participated in the pilot and gave feedback. The centers’ directors and teachers also received training from Allison on how to apply the lessons and resources found in JMG’s pilot curriculum in their classrooms. 21 teachers attended the training and were given access to a free library of books and materials to immediately implement the lessons. If you are interested in the JMG curriculum, contact Allison and she can provide it at no cost.

Learn, Grow, Eat, and Go! logo
In 2020, Allison launched the 5th Grade Gardening Project in response to COVID-19. It resulted in 1,232 fifth graders of the Randolph County School System receiving a seed kit to start their own garden. The seed kit included all the tools necessary to garden, instructions, activity sheets, and information on pursuing a career in agriculture. By teaming up with the Randolph County Partnership For Children, she also provided 184 classroom kits for their early childhood centers. She is replicating the project this spring, however, she plans to reach many more kids and families. Kits will be distributed to every student at Balfour Elementary School as well as every library in the County so that all youth will have an opportunity to pick up a kit. 

seed kit packaging

A glimpse at the seed kit packaging process.

 Allison also serves as the County Co-Chair for the Local Foods Program Farm To School Work Group. This group provides training and resources to support farm-to-school education and market development across the state. Shortly after the pandemic lockdown began, they pooled resources to support 52 counties across the state in Just Grow It, a gardening program similar to Allison’s gardening kit project. Each participating county received funds that they could use however it best suited their community, and curriculum to implement as a 9-week program. 

volunteer organizing the seed kit boxes

A volunteer organizing the seed kit boxes.

The Future of Local Foods in North Carolina

Allison believes the future of local foods in North Carolina is bright. “More and more people are asking about where their food comes from and why farmers do things the way that they do,” said Allison. She added, “I think the opportunity to educate consumers about their food is greater than ever.” She views Extension as a resource that can clear up confusion and misinformation about the industry, which has plenty of room for everyone to join in on.

Favorite Local Foods Recipe

Allison’s favorite recipe using local foods is her mother’s tomato pie. Allison shared her recipe so you can follow along at home!

tomato pie

Tomato Pie 

Ingredients

  • 1 can of Crescent Rolls
  • 2-3 tomatoes (according to size)
  • 1 onion sliced thin
  • Basil
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mozzarella cheese (any kind of shredded cheese will work)
    Salt and Pepper

Directions

Place rolls in a pie plate. Press together to make a pie crust. Slice tomatoes thin and put in layers on the crust. The amount of tomatoes varies depending on their size. Put thin onion slices over tomatoes. Sprinkle tomatoes and onions with basil. Spread mayonnaise over tomatoes and onions. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes. Cooking time may vary. Cook long enough for tomatoes and onions to become tender. I usually loosely cover mine with foil about halfway through to avoid overcooking the crust. 

-Jill Walker