Strengthening the Local Food System With a Whole Office Approach: A Conversation With Johnston County

— Written By
en Español / em Português

El inglés es el idioma de control de esta página. En la medida en que haya algún conflicto entre la traducción al inglés y la traducción, el inglés prevalece.

Al hacer clic en el enlace de traducción se activa un servicio de traducción gratuito para convertir la página al español. Al igual que con cualquier traducción por Internet, la conversión no es sensible al contexto y puede que no traduzca el texto en su significado original. NC State Extension no garantiza la exactitud del texto traducido. Por favor, tenga en cuenta que algunas aplicaciones y/o servicios pueden no funcionar como se espera cuando se traducen.


Inglês é o idioma de controle desta página. Na medida que haja algum conflito entre o texto original em Inglês e a tradução, o Inglês prevalece.

Ao clicar no link de tradução, um serviço gratuito de tradução será ativado para converter a página para o Português. Como em qualquer tradução pela internet, a conversão não é sensivel ao contexto e pode não ocorrer a tradução para o significado orginal. O serviço de Extensão da Carolina do Norte (NC State Extension) não garante a exatidão do texto traduzido. Por favor, observe que algumas funções ou serviços podem não funcionar como esperado após a tradução.


English is the controlling language of this page. To the extent there is any conflict between the English text and the translation, English controls.

Clicking on the translation link activates a free translation service to convert the page to Spanish. As with any Internet translation, the conversion is not context-sensitive and may not translate the text to its original meaning. NC State Extension does not guarantee the accuracy of the translated text. Please note that some applications and/or services may not function as expected when translated.

Collapse ▲

Walking into N.C. Cooperative Extension, Johnston County Center on any given day, you’re most likely to find some type of local food program, project, or event in the works. From JoCo Grows and Small Farm Boot Camp, to community gardens and farm to fork summer camps, the staff in this office work collaboratively to build and strengthen their local food system. While not all working together on one individual project, this team of ten broadens their reach through local food working with many audiences in the community on a variety of projects. 

Johnston CoJohnston County has a rich agricultural history. They currently boast 964 farms, rank 4th in crop production in NC, and 8th in ag income in NC (USDA Ag Census). The climate and geography of the county position it to succeed in many areas of vegetable and fruit production. The long growing season allows for a wide variety of crop production for a large portion of the year with some season extension tools to help during the remaining part of the year. Situated close to the Triangle area allows for increased market opportunities for growers looking to sell direct to consumers and those looking for wholesale opportunities. In addition, with rapid population growth and more people moving in from out of state and being unfamiliar with the county and climate, the staff and volunteers are able to teach classes on growing and preparing food local to the area. This population increase has also led to more livestock producers obtaining Meat Handler’s licenses and offering meat products to the community. A great local food promotion effort around local meats is the MeatSuite tool. 

Bryant Spivey, County Extension Director, shared his support of his agents and the work they are doing to bolster the local food economy in the county. He described how the local food program has developed organically over many years as a way to respond to needs of the local community. “We truly have a great variety of agricultural operations here that are poised to support the various channels of local foods,” Bryant shared. He suggested that staying connected to the community and working to make farms and families successful is a great step toward a whole office approach, and the rest will come naturally as you gain resources and respond to people in need.

GwenGwen Williams, Family & Consumer Sciences Agent, serves as the county’s Local Food Coordinator and she began her role in May 2023 by seeing what type of local food work each of her colleagues did in the county. “In the office, everyone works together and we see the value that each program brings to the county and state,” Gwen shared. The main goal was, and is, to serve the community and farmers through transparency of where food comes from, technical support, and education around growing and preparation. She echoed Bryant in that staying engaged with the community and learning the needs of people you are serving will make the biggest impacts. 

Farm to Fork CampAs the FCS Agent, Gwen loves teaching food preservation classes and tries to source as many local items as possible. Class examples include water bath canning making pickles with locally grown cucumbers, jams and jellies from local berries, freezing local corn and vegetables, pressure canning soup with veggies from local farmers, and she even used local chicken for a chicken soup starter! In addition to these classes, Gwen works with Patty Saltpaw, EFNEP PA, to teach cooking classes that incorporate local food. They make an effort to share with class members where food came from to help promote those farms and some farmers provide handouts to share as well. Kaena Prince & Meredith Wood, 4-H Agents, work with Gwen to provide youth camps that have activities using local foods, how food is grown, and ways to prepare it. They also include local farm tours and use food from the farms to prepare recipes. 

Nicole Youngblood, Agricultural Communications and Marketing Agent, manages JoCo Grows Agriculture, which works to enhance marketing efforts for on-farm events, increase revenue to buy direct and pick-your-own farms, and to provide resources for marketing the agricultural assets of Johnston County. Nicole tables at many important events in the county to promote Extension and support of local farmers.The office also partners with People First Tourism and Nicole recently partnered with a local farmer to host an event called “Pea Shellin’ and Story Tellin’”, where attendees got to shell peas from the farm and listen to local storytellers share about the history of Johnston County! 

Seth Ballance, Commercial Horticulture Agent, has his hands in many local food projects in the county including JoCo Grows, the Visit NC Farms App, NC Farm School & Small Farm Boot Camp, Gardening A-Z, and work with the Clayton Community Garden (along with Marshall Warren and EMGVs). Through his programming, Seth works to help connect the public to local foods, provide technical support and assistance to new or transitioning farmers as well as new and experienced gardeners. 

EMGVsMarshall Warren, Horticulture Agent, works to grow and foster a vibrant Extension Master Gardener Volunteer program that can in turn help increase public awareness and exposure to research-based information, educate the public about growing their own food, and expose the public to local farms. Some of the efforts of Marshall and the EMGVs include Mobile Plant Clinics, the Gardener’s Dirt newsletter, and education at the community gardens. Marshall also manages the demonstration garden at the Extension office and produce harvested has been used for FCS and EFNEP programming and the gardens have been used to teach 4-H youth about growing their own food.

Tim Britton, Field Crops Agent, conducts local field trials and field days that increase production and awareness of local grown grains. “Something people do not consider when we talk about local foods is grain production,” Tim shared. All of the grains grown in our state are used in human, livestock, and poultry consumption. NC grains are grown and used for local food products and to feed local livestock and poultry. This spring, Tim attended an NC State Baseball game and taught a family who had purchased a bag of ballpark peanuts about how they supported local foods since the peanuts were grown in NC and Johnston County! 

Dan Wells, Livestock Agent, consults with farmers selling locally produced meats such as beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and chevon (goat), as part of his programming. He hosts a Goat Producers Field Day as well as workshops and production meetings; forage demonstrations, youth livestock show & sales, youth chicken shows, and dairy heifer shows are also part of his programming efforts. 

The N.C. Cooperative Extension, Johnston County Center is dedicated to building and fostering local food connections for greater collaboration and community involvement. Their work across program areas helps the community recognize the importance of local and they encourage other offices to consider a whole office approach to local food programming.