Learning About Local Foods With Greg Huneycutt & Jackie L. Helton

— Written By

Greg Huneycutt and Jackie L. Helton work with N.C. Cooperative Extension in Harnett County. Greg is the Harnett County Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, providing local food and nutrition education. Jackie is the County’s 4-H Agent, leading the entire 4-H program. Two of their greatest collaborative efforts are the 4-H Farm to Fork Camp and the Dinah Gore 4-H Healthy Food Challenge. Both programs and many of their other efforts involve showing youth where their food comes from and how to prepare healthy local foods at home.

Two men looking at camera

Greg Huneycutt & Jackie L. Helton (from left to right)

Harnett County

To better understand their community, Greg and Jackie executed a needs assessment in Harnett County in 2016. They found that youth living in Harnett lacked an understanding of where their food came from. With an abundance of local foods available to the area, Greg and Jackie started a summer program that introduced them to nearby farms and the food they produce. “[We] show them where their food comes from and then bring some fresh local foods back to our kitchen to teach them how to prepare it,” said Greg and Jackie. This was the beginning of the 4-H Farm to Fork Camp, a partnership between Harnett County’s 4-H, Agriculture and Family and Consumer Sciences programs.

Primary Projects & Programs 

4-H Farm to Fork Camp

The 4-H Farm to Fork Camp is an educational program that teaches youth about locally grown foods as well as culinary and nutrition skills. “We work with local farmers to plan trips to their farm so youth can see how their food is raised and grown. Then after the visit, we pick and purchase local food from the farm and take it back to our office to teach the youth how to prepare it,” Greg and Jackie shared about the camp. Approximately 75 counties throughout North Carolina now offer similar programming thanks to Greg and Jackie and their work with the Local Foods 4-H Farm to Fork Camp Work Group. They have compiled a list of resources and have offered training for Agents so they can implement a camp in their county. Since 2018, 200+ youth and adults have been involved in a 4-H Farm to Fork Camp.

Campers listening to man speak

Farm to Fork Camp students meeting a local farmer

 Dinah Gore 4-H Healthy Food Challenge

The Dinah Gore 4-H Healthy Food Challenge is a statewide competition that gives 4-H youth the opportunity to highlight the skills they have learned in the Farm to Fork Camps at the county level. The competition challenges an individual or team of two 4-H members to create a dish using a predetermined set of ingredients. Jackie and Greg conceptualized this program when they saw an opportunity for North Carolina youth to earn a chance to go to Texas and compete in the National 4-H Food Challenge. Through working with a team from NC State and NC A&T State University, they designed a competition that focuses on healthy and local foods. This year the competition will be virtual. A team from the 14-18 age division will be competing in Texas on September 28th for a chance at the national championship. Registrations for the 2021 competition are due by July 12. More information about how to register is available online.

4-H Participants from Harnett County at a State Fair Competition

4-H Participants from Harnett County at a State Fair Competition

The Future of Local Foods in North Carolina

Greg and Jackie believe that local foods will continue to grow in North Carolina over the coming years. “Many areas across the state have a strong focus on local foods and we believe this trend will continue to spread to more areas in the future,” said Greg and Jackie. They also shared that the youth of today will be the purchasers of tomorrow so their food preferences and values will dictate the local food landscape. “For this reason, we think it is important to teach our youth where their food comes from and how to cook and prepare healthy foods for themselves and their families. We are planting the local food seeds for the future with every program we do.”

Favorite Local Foods Recipe

One of Jackie and Greg’s favorite recipes that they also enjoy cooking with youth is Butternut Squash Enchiladas. This delicious dish is one of many from NC State Extension Farmers’ Market Recipes. “We adapt this recipe based on the season and our favorite version is using local Harnett County sweet potatoes,” shared Jackie and Greg.

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash- collection, image by beautifulcatya CC-BY-NC-ND

Through the Farm to Fork program, Jackie and Greg have learned the importance of consumers interacting directly with their local farms so they enjoy supporting theirs every chance they get. “Some of our favorite farms and local food businesses include Cathis Farm, McLamb’s Meats & Butchering, and Rabbit Ridge Nursery,” shared Jackie and Greg.