Building Community Around Food With Daniel Ostrowski

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Daniel Ostrowski is the Agriculture and Horticulture Agent in Caswell County. Daniel is passionate about local foods and supports local producers using his technical knowledge. To describe his work Daniel says, “Anything having to do with plants in the County is my responsibility.” His favorite part of his work is the diversity of calls he receives from growers and the surprises he finds when he does farm visits. “I may think I have a pretty good idea about what is going on when I get a phone call, but it never ceases to amaze me what I find when I visit and how wrong I was.”

Man looking at camera

Photo from Daniel Ostrowski

Daniel gets to work in the unique local food landscape found in Caswell County. The County has one large community, Yanceyville, located in the middle part of the County that is surrounded by less densely populated areas. Yanceyville is where the only large grocery store in the County is located. Other food retail options located across the County include convenience and dollar stores. There are a few other towns, including Danville, Roxboro, Mebane, and Reidsville surrounding the county,  however, there are pockets that are sparsely populated with little access to purchase food.

Caswell is also very unique because the County Commissioners and other elected officials have decided to prioritize agriculture as an economic driver in the county by investing in a large agricultural education facility called CEAD: Center for Educational and Agricultural Development. This new facility is currently being constructed and will house educational rooms for Piedmont Community College Agriculture classes, fields for research and demonstration purposes, a food hub operated by a private company, and a variety of other extremely valuable resources for agriculture education. The facility is a collaboration between many different county and state agencies and organizations with Extension as a cornerstone in the project. 

Food access presents challenges for the County, especially for residents who lack reliable transportation. A community health assessment released in 2019 found that 10% of Caswell County residents lived in a home without a vehicle. This is 4% higher than the state average. Subsistence gardens are popular and neighbors share their produce, but many also go without. Healthy food access is a focus for the County with death from diabetes being almost twice the state average. Daniel recognizes the importance of healthy food access with his work. “This landscape means when I go to a farm or home to assist with a disease or pest problem, that food being grown might have a wider impact than I often realize for those food insecure or isolated.”

Daniel is a new Agent and new to the public sector after managing a farm in California. Covid policies moved his office to do more digital programming which meant he got some unique opportunities to try out different ideas. “Honestly, I am just chasing any idea that comes to me in hopes that it builds community around food, helps those growing plants, or inspires others to become passionate about plants and the complex and beautiful world around us.” He also enjoys collaborating with the two other Agriculture Agents in his office because, “we all bring different backgrounds, interests, and experiences…I think we all love seeing the work other agents do because it inspires us to do better and try harder, but ultimately our best work is going to be following the things we love.”

Over the past year, Daniel has worked on a variety of projects in addition to providing technical support. He created a local foods map for his County so those in more affluent urban areas could locate local foods and make connections with Caswell County farmers. Daniel also works with the other two Agricultural Agents to start a podcast called AudioAgriculture so they could have interesting conversations and open people up to different ideas and concepts. Daniel also produces educational and community-building videos. This year he made videos on watermelon ripeness (Just Thump It!), Granville Wilt, and a series of farm tour videos for the NCACAA State conference (Herndon Hills Farm, Page Farms, and Hoffman Nursery). In the future he is interested in developing videos on indigenous use of native plants in the County, local food cultures and customs, the H2A immigration program, and other equity topics. 

When asked about his favorite local food, Daniel responded “Buying food from my friends who farm is always my favorite way to support the local food movement. I used to manage a 1000 acre certified Organic vegetable farm in CA that produced a lot of asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and watermelon. I got pretty spoiled eating those so I am always on the lookout for those three from local farmers and refuse to eat any of them out of season- It’s just not worth it.”