Local Extension Agent Earns State Award
Taylor Williams sees agriculture as the key to better health and greater economic development.
That dedication has earned him the 2010 North Carolina Extension Agent of the Year award in recognition “of excellent service to further the cause of sustainable agriculture and a healthier planet.” The award was presented by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association at the Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Winston-Salem.
“Everything I’ve done has been a collaboration. The community has really jelled around health,” Williams said. “Everyone sees food as pivotal to what we’re trying to do.”
The emphasis is on fighting obesity and diabetes.
Williams is a staff member of the Moore County Center of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. Since 2005, he has worked here as an extension agent in the fields of commercial and consumer horticulture, field crops and pesticide education.
He is best known for his work on such popular programs as Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative, farmers markets and Master Gardeners.
But Williams prefers to give the credit to the people who handle day to day operations of these programs.
“The Master Gardeners have done a huge job,” he said, citing such accomplishments as school gardens and community gardens.
Williams says these programs are inter-connected because the more people grow their own food, the more they value their food.
Both farmers markets and Farm to Table are growing in popularity as the public learns about the nutritional value of locally grown fresh produce as well as improved flavor. It certainly doesn’t hurt that these sales also help the local economy.
“Food is something that people didn’t pay a lot of attention to until recent years. Then they realized much of the food they were eating had lots of calories but little nutrition. Now there’s more interest in fruits and vegetables,” he said.
Williams supports the 10 percent campaign of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems. The program encourages restaurants, resorts, schools and families to pledge to spend at least 10 percent of their food dollar on locally grown foods.
The program supports the Farm to Table cooperative, whereby local families sign up to receive locally grown foods on a regular basis. This means better quality and better taste, but also has the advantage of boosting the local economy in more ways than one.
“Part of the tourism experience is local food,” he said in reference to a key element of the Moore County economy.
These are just examples of the growing number of programs designed to educate and train farmers, gardeners and the public in general.
Williams has been working with the schools and the research station in training farmers to comply with a new law requiring third-party accreditation for food safety purposes. The purpose of the Food Safety Modernization Act is to protect the nation’s food supply and prevent diseases caused by contamination of foods.
In cooperation with Paige Burns, his Richmond County agent counterpart, Williams has been instrumental in Farmer to Farmer, a program promoting local and organic crop production.
He conducts cover crop demonstrations at the research station, organizes agritourism expeditions, encourages farm cooperatives and private enterprise, advises farmers on everything from melons to soybeans.
Not too many years ago Moore County had more than 100 tobacco farms. Today that number is reduced to fewer than 20. When the federal government ordered a buyout of tobacco quotas/allotments several years ago, it was Williams who helped local farmers to understand the economics of that change and make wise decisions about investing their lump sum payments. He also worked to educate the public that this was not a federal bailout but the federal administration of funds provided by tobacco companies to acquire vital property known as quotas and allotments. It signaled the end of the self-sustaining tobacco price support program, a no-net cost system paid for by the farmers themselves.
“It helps to have great volunteers and a good staff,” he said when praised for his work.
The Virginia native is a 1979 graduate of Davidson College. He earned a Master’s degree in entomology at Virginia Tech, then worked on the gypsy moth project in Charlottesville, Va. In 1992 he accepted a position with the N.C. Department of Agriculture.
Williams later served as an area Extension agent covering three counties, including Moore, and prior to accepting his present position here, he served as an agent in Richmond County for three years. He is married and the father of two daughters, one a student at UNC-CH, the other 14 years old.
Requirements for award nominees were expertise and success in such areas as a developmental program committed to sustainable agriculture, with components that are environmentally sound, economically viable and socially just, and a good partnership and collaboration with other stakeholders in sustainable agriculture.
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