By Nathan Ham
The Watauga County Office of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension took the opportunity to let people know just how busy they were in 2018.
During Tuesday’s annual report, the extension office highlighted a lot of the things that their extension agents played a key role in last year.
During 2018, the Watauga Cooperative Extension hosted over 150 meetings, workshops, demonstrations and farm tours that ended up giving 475 hours of training to over 3,600 participants in fields ranging from gardening, livestock and natural resource management to proper nutrition and marketing.
The agency also reported that they had interacted with 28,500 people, either in person or through email and phone contacts. In addition to these contacts, the Watauga County Cooperative Extension saw an increase in website views and Facebook page views, which now has 1,570 followers.
“Our agents do a pretty extensive amount of reporting because we are partly funded by federal dollars as well as state dollars and also county dollars. We are accountable for what we do in the office,” said Jim Hamilton, the Watauga County Extension Director.
The extension agency receives money from other entities as well, including the Watauga County Tourism and Development Authority. Last year, the extension received $7,000 in funding to promote the choose-and-cut Christmas tree market in the county and other agritourism promotion. $2,000 of that money was included to start the Visit NCFarms App. The app is devoted to agritourism collaborations between the NCDA, Watauga, Ashe and Avery counties. The app will allow people to find agritourism farms, restaurants that serve local food, local vineyards, breweries and wineries, farmers markets, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, agricultural festivals, pick your own farms and choose and cut Christmas tree farms.
Another major accomplishment of the Watauga Cooperative Extension is the number of grants that they were able to help secure for area farmers. Hamilton said that $105,000 in total grant money was received in 2018 in support of local farmers and agriculture programs.
“These grants and sponsorships go directly to support our programs, some of that money goes directly to farmers in our community. Every one of us on staff does a bang up job of securing funding to support our programs,” said Hamilton. “There’s not a lot of free money out there. We work with growers to help identify funding sources to help them increase their productivity.”
With Watauga County having its wettest year on record, it was especially important for the cooperative extension to not only be able to help farmers with disaster relief grants but also helping with maintaining their crops and soil.
“Supporting growers in an unpredictable year was a big priority in 2018. The wet year really affected us from the outset with some serious pests in the early spring,” said Richard Boylan, an extension agent that works with agriculture and specialty crops.
The extension was able to offer soil testing and recommendations for growers during the wet season, as well as managing plant diseases that popped up in the spring and summer months.
Boylan also played a big role in getting the recent hemp-growing workshop to take place in Ashe County.
“We ran out of every chair that Family Central and the extension agency had available, we rented chairs from Jefferson Rent-All and still had a standing-room-only crowd of about 250 people,” Boylan said.
Horticulture agent Paige Patterson spoke briefly about working with professional landscapers as well as homeowners with training and treatment decisions on getting rid of garden and landscape pests. She is also in charge of the Master Gardner program and has been doing that for six years.
For more information on the Watauga County Cooperative Extension, visit their website here.