Apr 11, 2021
North Carolina grants support farm innovation

Over the past six years, nearly 250 family farms have gotten a kick-start from NC AgVentures for their efforts to increase profits through new and innovative agricultural projects.

NC AgVentures is a North Carolina State Extension grant program designed to strengthen families and communities that depend on agriculture. It awards grants to help farm operators and groups working with farmers carry out projects aimed at diversifying, expanding or implementing new production, marketing or distribution strategies.

Extension agents in participating counties are available to help farmers get their projects off the ground and running. With agricultural expertise and ties through NC State University to the nation’s land-grant university system, these agents have helped grant winners explore new opportunities, access local and university resources and enhance project success.

The program is supported by funding from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. William Upchurch, the commission’s executive director, said in a news release that NC AgVentures has been a successful partner and investment for the commission.

“One of our key missions is to help move North Carolina agriculture forward by supporting our farmers,” Upchurch says, “NC AgVentures, in conjunction with one of the strongest land-grant institutions in the United States, supports that mission by putting financial resources in the farmer’s hands so creativity and ingenuity can keep their operations viable.”

Jackie Miller, who coordinates AgVentures, says the grants have been “a shot in the arm” to family farmers with ideas and the need for a little capital to get started. Amid the stress of recent hurricanes and COVID, the program has been a positive community-building experience for participants.

“When our new grant recipients come together for their orientation, they want to meet the other farmers and hear about their projects,” Miller adds. “We even have past recipient reviewers who come back year after year just to hear farmers’ ideas and trends. It has been a way to tell the story of what is happening on family farms.”

Many grant winners represent a new generation of farmers, she says. “Some are young, and some are simply young at heart, leaving or retiring from other careers. Both are experimenting with new ways of farming, incorporating scientific and technical innovations to build a more efficient and sustainable farm operation.”

Farmers and community groups from 46 counties are eligible for the grant. The counties are Alamance, Alexander, Alleghany, Anson, Ashe, Cabarrus, Caswell, Catawba, Chatham, Davidson, Davie, Durham, Edgecombe, Franklin, Forsyth, Gaston, Granville, Greene, Guilford, Halifax, Harnett, Iredell, Johnson, Lincoln, Martin, Mecklenburg, Nash, Northampton, Orange, Person, Pitt, Randolph, Rockingham, Rowan, Sampson, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Union, Vance, Wake, Wayne, Wilson, Wilkes, Warren and Yadkin.

For information about NC AgVentures and the impact it has on farms and communities, see agventures.ces.ncsu.edu/grant-program/. Another round of grants will be offered Oct. 15, 2021.

This year’s winners, listed below, are working on 62 projects, including turning tobacco greenhouses into eucalyptus greenhouses, setting up a website for beef orders and turning waste from Fraser firs and white pine foliage into oils for candles, soaps, cleaning and aromatherapy.

2020-21 Grant Winners include the following:


  • The Bennett Brothers farm in Northampton will renovate an existing hunting lodge to expand its usage for agritourism.
  • David White from Timberlake will convert one-half to one acre of farmed land into a private dog park and herding and agility course. The park will be near the farm stand and will increase traffic to the farm.
  • Gary Bradford from Lincolnton plans to install a septic system for public restrooms for his agritourism operation.
  • Mann and Nikkie Mullen from Bunn will renovate and upgrade and existing open shelter for function as an event building.


  • Sumpter and Madison Smith from Westfield will add temperature control to their aquaponics greenhouse.

Value-Added Agriculture

  • Randy Scott Shur from Mount Airy will set up a process for cider production using unsellable fruit from his peach, apple, and blackberry orchard.

Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts and Flowers

  • Josh Beam from Lincolnton will expand his blackberry acreage with a new variety.
  • Amy Douglas from Taylorsville will purchase a merchandising cooler and freezers to expand her existing roadside market.
  • Thomas Porter from Concord will renovate a poultry house into a greenhouse
  • Justin and Holly Miller from Advance will build a 34- by 96-foot gothic high tunnel with thermostatically controlled ventilation to extend their season.
  • Clarenda Stanley from Liberty will establish an herb drying and processing facility.
  • Charles Dean Ingram from High Point will expand blackberry production to meet customer demand.
  • Patrick Brown from Henderson will build a refrigerated trailer designed to keep fruits and vegetables at ideal temperatures during transport.
  • Joyce Martin Bowden and Jeannette Martin Horn from Mount Olive will repair an existing high tunnel to produce fruit that will diversify their vegetable and flower production.
  • April Robertson from King will install a cooler at the farm roadside stand to help maintain the quality of the produce and extend the shelf-life.
  • Krystal Tyndall from Autryville will purchase a pump station with sand filtration to utilize drip irrigation on multiple vegetable crops.
  • Pamela Ross from Williamston will purchase low tunnels to protect her strawberries from weather problems such as excess rain.
  • Sandra Vergara from Durham will wire an outbuilding for electricity. It will be used as a farm stand to sell her dairy products as well as products from local farms.
  • Lee Sprinkle from Winston-Salem will restore and renovate a 40-year-old, 5-acre blueberry farm.
  • Ethel Britt from Mount Olive will increase and optimize the farm pecan processing operation by adding a bagging machine.
  • Timothy Jones of Halifax will build a multi-purpose trailer with cold storage to store and transport produce to markets and customers.
  • Tiffany Jackson from Snow Camp will upfit an existing seed house with equipment to expand her vegetable and flower nursery business.


  • Leslie Zimmerman from Trinity will expand her lower vineyard and create a remote picnic area to attract a diverse group of customers.
  • Rock of Ages Winery & Vineyard in Hurdle Mills will transition 9 acres of a vinifer vineyard into muscadine grapes.

With an NC AgVentures grant, Perry Lowe Orchards in Moravian Falls bought a commercial dehydrator to make dried apples. Apples with imperfections that would not sell well are used; the process decreases waste and provides a shelf-stable product available online, at the orchard and elsewhere year-round. Photo: NC AgVentures

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