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New AmeriCorps Members on the Scene!

AnsleyRoberts    Ansley Roberts

From: Charleston, SC

School: American University in Washington, DC. Major in International Studies with a focus in Global Environmental Politics

Favorite thing about agriculture: I love that you can recreate history through food, and how much food brings people together.

Favorite Vegetable: Beets

EllenBeatty   Ellen Beatty


From: Highland, MD

School: Appalachian State University. Major in Sustainable Development with a focus in Agriculture

Favorite thing about agriculture: I love that food has the ability to build community, that there is always something new to learn in the realm of agriculture, and the feeling after working on the farm all day.

Favorite Vegetable: Okra


Hello Polk County! As you may know, the Polk County Office of Agricultural Economic Development has two AmeriCorps members every year who serve Polk County by providing educational and other resources to the area’s farmers and food enthusiasts. We are so excited to be serving in such a beautiful area, with great people. We started in the beginning of September and have been up to some exciting stuff. It was really great to work on the Friends of Agriculture Breakfast and we were excited to meet so many people in the community. We have also been working on the farmland preservation program, beekeeping, and demonstration garden initiatives. In the next year we hope to expand the office’s programs and serve Polk County by supporting a local, sustainable food system. Stop by the Mill Spring Agriculture Center anytime to say hello!

You can’t fool your tastebuds…

My week of eating local has been going without too much issue.  I usually eat from my garden or the farmers market because its cheaper than the grocery store, so it hasn’t been too much of a change.  I am, however, missing pasta, bread, pizza, and my guilty pleasure, kettle chips.

Another issue is that local beer and wine tend to be a bit more pricy, but it is always nice when they are gifted, so I have been able to enjoy some wine from Russian Chapel Hill, as well as some beers from Bottle Tree Brewing out of Tryon, NC.

But back to the pasta issue…

For two weeks I have been wanting to make Gnocchi.  A traditional Italian dumpling  made from potatoes and flour, and usually served with a sauce.  Finally I got motivated to venture out of my comfort zone, and make something that is actually pretty hard to get right.  I baked potatoes from my garden, pureed them in the blender, added local flour just as the recipe said to….but….they just seemed weird.  After boiling the dumplings I gave one a try.

Gross.  Not pasta.  Not edible.  What now?

I had made a tomato sauce to go with the dumplings, but the failed dumplings and disappointment made the sauce equally as unappealing.  So….it went in the fridge, to be dealt with at a later time.  And you know what I did?  I went and got a frozen pizza and gelato.  Don’t judge me.  I tried, I failed, I failed again.  And I can tell you that a little junk food here and there is just what the soul needs.

I made up for it last night with a tasty dinner of sautéed squash, eggplant, and Italian sausage from Chinquapin Farms.  And today for lunch I’ve packed some chicken from Mountain Valley Farms and the sad tomato sauce I made on my failed gnocchi night.  11868585_10156000496705171_1369114007_n

So….I have to say, some things just can’t be made, but I’ll keep on experimenting.


Until next time!


Sydney K.

Land, Labor, and Capital

Land, Labor, and Capital

Generally, in Economics, there are things called factors of production. Typically this is land, labor, and capital. Additionally, there is human and social capital. How do you get these factors working together for a more unified agricultural front in Polk County?

Land – Agricultural production requires land. From a patch in your backyard to a 500 acre industrial operation in Iowa, plants and animals need space to mature.

Persons per Square Mile

Polk: 86.3

Henderson: 286.1

Rutherford: 120.2

McDowell: 102.1

Buncombe: 362.9

Polk County administers a farmland preservation program to keep active farmland in production. However, I’m sure there is untapped land throughout the county. Polk County enjoys the lowest population per square mile of any adjacent county. We are a rural county. How do we make land productive, making the most of existing resources to benefit local food?

Labor – But who will work the land, making it beautiful, bountiful, and becoming of Polk? For this, we need labor. People working the land, investing sweat equity into the production, are who turn dirt into dinner.

Young farmers throughout the country are casting about for opportunities to farm, learning the trade, and will eventually need to settle. Matching unused land with skilled, eager new and beginning farmers will become a critical need.

For example, Polk County is home to many seasonal residents and horse farms. Horses and well-managed horse farms require a lot of attention. I had a conversation with one resident who hopes to eventually have a live-in farmer to farm a pasture, taking care of the property and horses all the while. This type of mutually-beneficial transaction could be a great boon to our area and contribute to a base of new farmers in our community.

The influx of young farmers could have a tremendous impact on the image of Polk. A dedicated, passionate set of young farmers could transform the image of the community. Recently, in Columbus, there opened a pottery studio. Imagine if the bohemian contingent increased, etc

Capital – Farmers need equipment… tractors, forks, spreaders, etc. There is a certain amount of available capital in the farming community. My roommate tends a garden at our house, and he occasionally borrows our neighbor’s truck.

Our neighbor was talking about selling the truck that my roommate uses for the garden, and when he does, my roommate noted that he wouldn’t be able to use it.

I heard a story on NPR about crowd-souring solutions to small government projects. Namely, in Boston, where fire hydrants become covered with snow, a Code for America fellow developed an app where people could adopt a fire-hydrant to dig out in the snow. Read more

It got me thinking, what if we could create a collaborative community where farmers could list spare capital they have available to share. It could be a map, database or other method of communicating the physical capital available in a community.

For a small farmer/gardener, it seems like there are select tools with flexible use schedules that could be shared with others. I researched this further.

In the county, Soil and Water has a shared-use drill and Cooperative Extension had a sprayer for control of a certain invasive. In the case of the sprayer, the tragedy of the commons occurred. A user didn’t add oil, and that was the end of it. The drill, however, is managed by a local hardware company. Much like a Rug Doctor rental, there is more accountability.

Such a program would require a web app of some sort as well as, I think, a manager. Someone would have to coordinate the distribution of available assets so that X farmer doesn’t get Y piece of equipment, because he plans ahead, icing Z farmer out of the program. But it would be cool.

Collaboration among farmers, fostering a sharing economy and increasing the number of young participants in farming would be, I think, an overall boon to the community and a progressive step to strengthening our local food system.

Eating Local Round 2: Practicing Preparedness

Giving local a fighting chance…

Sunday morning I started my second week of local eating.  After all my difficulties sticking to it last time, I wanted to be sure I took the time to plan and prepare for this week.

Saturday I went to the Columbus Farmers Market and used my EBT to “double my buck” and buy lots of great stuff.  I got ground beef, sirloin roast, and short ribs from ChinquapinFarm in Tryon, NC.  I also got a half of a chicken from Mountain Valley Farms out of Saluda.  Once my proteins were covered I stocked up on things I don’t have in my own garden.  I got amaranth leaves, or as the Jamaican’s call it, Callaloo, from Adawehi and I got some spinach from them as well.  (I just remembered this as I was writing…so it looks like spinach is on the menu for tonight).  Additionally I got crowder peas from the Lynchs, and sweet corn from the Searcys.

Friday I had to ride out to Harmon Dairy, where I was gifted with two crimson sweet watermelons, okra, heirloom tomatoes, ground wheat, and squash!  I was fully prepared and stocked up for the week.

Sunday night I prepped meatballs filled with tomatoes, basil, and peppers from my garden and baked them in the oven while I canned tomatillo salsa.  I then chopped up one of the watermelons and several tomatoes so I could whip up some sauces quick after work (with the tomatoes…not the watermelons…that would be odd).  After canning salsa I was too tired to get anything else ready for the week, but this was a pretty good start.

Southerners know what’s up….

This week I have been digging into some true southern stabples.  Okra cooked up with sweet corn, tomatoes, and peppers with a side of crowder peas was on the menu last night.  Today’s lunch was egg salad, watermelon, and a cookie (not local, but I can’t pass up a free cookie).  I have to say that I could have okra skillet every night…

Tonights menu will not be very southern, more Italian actually.  I am going to attempt to make gnocchi with a spinach tomato sauce.  I also want to try my hand at making some crackers to have for a snack at work.  It’s always exciting to experiment in the kitchen.

Planning paid off….

So, even though eating local does take a little planning and thought, it really is rewarding.  Every meal I have eaten is delicious and I can taste the nutrition oozing from each bite.  Planning ahead lets me go home, sit back, and relax before diving into a whole meal prep.

PS:  I have no pictures to share because my phone was dropped in a large pool of water (I won’t say what kind of water….but needless to say, my photos have been lost to the cyber world).

Until next time!




My week of local eating…I blew it.

So…dear readers…I’m afraid I failed pretty hard at my week of local eating.  I started off strong, with ambitions of local gnokki, innovative squash dishes, and tasty peach desserts….but time got away from me.

Lesson 1:  Eating local takes a little forward thought

Working a job that involves both early mornings and late evenings requires one to either:

1. Plan meals and have some things prepped or

2. Eat whatever is placed in front of them and/or whatever prepackaged frozen meal that excites the weary and worn-out taste buds.

I’m afraid that I did the latter.  Last week I had two late night classes to teach, on top of finishing out my AmeriCorps term and graduation.  Needless to say, without the prep work of pre-chopping vegetables or pre-cooking potatoes, I was ill-prepared for the week of local eating.

Lesson 2: You don’t have to make an extravagant meal

Because of my love for cooking, it is hard for me to cook without wanting to make a multiple dish meal that takes about two hours to prepare.  That being said, when I’m tired, cooking is the last thing I want to do.  However, I have learned that a simple dish of sautéed squash and kale with a fried egg makes a delicious meal, and takes all of about ten or so minutes to prepare.  On my next eat local week, I am going to remind myself that sometimes the most simple of dishes are just as satisfying as the complex.

Lesson 3:  Eating even 50% of my meals local was better than 0%

Although I am beating myself up, I did eat a lot of local goodies.  Being on a tight budget makes me get creative with my meals, and a garden really helps out with this.  I have a plethora of potatoes, tomatoes, squash, peppers, kale, eggs, okra, beans, and so much more that I can cook from my own garden.  It is also not uncommon for me to walk into my office and find that some happy gardener has gifted me cabbage or other delightful veggies.  So even though I didn’t give 100%  I still helped reduce my carbon footprint by avoiding produce that has been shipped 1000’s of miles.

My spring garden. Believe me, it looks like a weed pile right now….


So next week, I plan on killing it.  I have time to go to the farmers market this coming Saturday, and I plan on using my double EBT tokens to stock up on local meats, trout, and produce.  Bring it on eat local week two.


Join me next week to see how round two pans out!


Sydney Klein

Eating local when you’re busy and broke

Tuesdays are always a busy day for me.  I wake up realizing that I will work until around 8pm.  When you wake up at 7 and think…13 hours until my day is my own again, you feel overwhelmed, and breakfast is the last thing you want to do.

So usually on Tuesdays, I skip breakfast, even though I know I will be hungry by ten and have to figure out what to eat while juggling 10 things at work.  This is why I was so happy to come in to work and find out that Dawn had brought in local goodies for lunch.  On top of that, I will be farm sitting at TK Farms, and while I got a tour of my responsibilities I scored some local bacon.

I was pretty hangry (grumpiness associated with being too hungry) by lunch time, and so the bacon, field peas, and various vegetables were a welcomed meal.  That is the great thing about the local food community.  The joy you get from growing and sourcing your own food makes you always want to share.  Living on an AmeriCorps stipend has been hard, and rewarding.  I have learned that healthy food can wreak havoc on your budget, but in the long run it makes you function at a higher level.  I love to share what I have grown, and I love to have food shared with me.  Lunch was a delicious and upfliting reminder of why the local food movement is more than just growing local.  It’s about community and coming together to share the harvest.

I spent my night helping folks at Ashley Meadows plan their fall gardens.  My meetings here always make me happy.  It is so amazing to see the joy that the families get from growing their own food and planning ahead for the months to come.  I am always surprised by what they want to grow, and their innovative ways of gardening on a budget.  The night spent planning fall gardens made me happy to go home and cook a tasty local meal of baked trout from Mountain Valley Farms, roast potatoes from my home garden, and sautéed cabbage and zucchini.  The cabbage was grown at the Mill Spring Ag Center and the zucchini was a gracious gift from one of the kids at Ashley Meadows.  (It was longer than his arm!)


My week of eating local hasn’t forced me out of my comfort zone, but has made me appreciative of the community and love built around the farming community in Polk County.


Until next time!DSC_5465

Sydney Klein

Agricultural Outreach Coordinator


The pantry of temptation

As you know, I have spent a few days at my parent’s house in Hickory.  I have always treated their home as a retreat from my impoverished empty fridge and barren cabinets.  I have been behaviorally trained to go home and gawk at their numerous fancy cheeses, tasty spirits, and pantry that is busting at the seams.

See….and this is just the dry goods. You can’t see the chocolate and treats tucked around the corner….


Needless to say, yesterday, as I lounged around, I could hardly resist the temptation of Hersey kisses and mixed nuts, two things I don’t typically keep at my house.  The first, because I’ll eat the whole bag, the latter because they are pricy!  It was a good thing I had a hearty breakfast of eggs sautéed with cherry tomatoes and kale from the ag center garden and chickens.  I also had a half of a delicious cantaloupe from the market.

My mom and I finished our canning marathon by making peach jam and canning tomatoes.  We decided to have a light lunch, and salad is always a hit at the Klein house.   I had brought down some greens from Adawehi, and we topped them off with Cherokee Purple tomatoes from the garden and some leftover smoked London broil from the night before.  I realized salad dressing was not an option, so we opened up the can of Salsa Verde I had made from the tomatillos I grew at the ag center.  I have to say it was a bit bland, but overall satisfying.

Roast tomatillos

Dinner is the big deal….

Every meal at the Klein household consists of two meals in one.  It’s either brunch, or linner (lunch dinner).  My dad has always worked through his day without lunch, a personality trait I sadly have inherited, so he does not see the point of having lunch when you can have a huge dinner.

I wanted to be sure he had a hearty meal to come home to, so I got off the couch and got to cooking.  I began by broiling the eggplant, paddy pan squash, potatoes, and cherry tomatoes from the farmers market and garden.  I then made some meatballs with ground beef from a local cattle farmer in Hickory.  I did cheat a little, and add some oatmeal and dried spices to the meatballs, because that is the only way to get a really delicious, stick together type.  I then browned those with onion, pulled them out of the pan, and deglazed the pan with tomatoes and their juices from my parent’s garden.  After adding all the goodies back to the pan we let it simmer on low with basil, thyme, and oregano from the garden until my dad got home.

The amazing heirloom tomato pasta

My parents had theirs with some quinoa pasta and parmesan, but it was really tasty on its own.  They asked me if I would like to move home and be their personal cook.  I would if they could pay me salary with benefits!

 I love to cook.  I almost went to culinary school, actually, or at least considered it heavily.  But I decided that food is my hobby, and cooking with local ingredients is always an adventure.  I mean, how many ways can you really cook a zucchini??  A lot I tell you.  A lot.  This week of eating local is going to let me expand my recipe box , explore my taste buds, while working under a tight budget.

My goal tonight is to try and make Gnocchi from my potatoes and some local wheat.  Wish me luck!

Until next time….DSC_5465

Sydney Klein

Agricultural Outreach Coordinator


Eating local away from home

So, I spent my first day eating local at my parent’s house in Hickory.   I made sure they knew about my meal plan, and were able to hit up the farmers market on Saturday.  Before leaving for my parent’s I had a tasty meal of local eggs from the chickens I have been raising at the ag center along with a half of a tasty cantaloupe I got for $1.00 at the farmers market last week.


I was so excited to come home and find that my dad had sucked it up and bought a tasty local London Broil and a whole table of fresh produce!  My dad is pure carnivore.  He also has heart disease.  His love for beef cannot be cured, and despite my pleads for him to at least switch to grass fed, he can never justify spending the money on local, healthy, happy cows.  This is just one issue when it comes to local.  With corn and soy being so heavily subsidized, our fat cows at the grocery store do not represent the true price of raising beef.  If we had to pay the true cost, we would eat a lot less, and I think health problems would be greatly reduced…but I digress!

My parents usually only eat breakfast and dinner.  When I arrived they were cooking bacon and slicing tomatoes from their garden, I have to say I could not resist the bacon…and I may of had a slice.  I’m only human.  For my lunch (since my parents are weirdos) I had 2 ripe southern peaches from the farmers market.  I could eat a whole bushel of peaches in two days, but my digestive system would not be happy.

And then we went to Walmart….

My mom had a ton of tomatoes to can, but no jars or lemon juice, so we made a trip to a local Walmart.  Since the economy in Hickory has died, Walmart is the closest thing we have to a grocery store.  It’s cheap and easy, so many Hickory residents buy everything their heart desires there… but sadly it overwhelms the shopper with processed foods, and many of the vegetables fail to evoke excitement.  Much of the money that is spent there leaves our city and travels the globe, leaving our economies in a never ending cycle of poverty.   As we were checking out.  I couldn’t help but snap a picture of a this guys cart, and I felt kind of sad that this was how he fueled his body.  Living on a small AmeriCorps budget has taught me that its very easy to go this route, but after a couple weeks of eating processed food, your body begins to slow down, you gain weight, and you just feel yucky.  It made me appreciate my ability to access fresh foods and to have the space and knowledge to grow many things I need in my own backyard.


We spent the rest of our night canning and enjoyed a tasty dinner of London broil smoked on the grill with hickory wood from our own backyard, with green beans, and roast beets.  We topped it off with poolside local beers from Duck Rabbit and Bad Penny breweries out of Raleigh and Farmville, NC.  Overall it was a great day.  Food and family always go hand in hand for me, and it’s always fun to pretend i’m a kid for a day or two.

Until next time!



Meet our Summer Interns: A Gift of Gardening

This summer I started my first job. I’m a summer intern at the Mill Spring Ag Center, and honestly it isn’t something I would see myself doing as of a year ago. I decided to apply for this internship so I could help a small hobby of mine blossom into something more.  So far it has been a very enjoyable experience and I’m learning a lot about gardening, what exactly local food means and supports, and agriculture in general. I am able to be here thanks to a grant from the Polk County Community Foundation and I really appreciate the opportunity – thanks Community Foundation!

Gardening first became a hobby of mine when I was a child. My family,  mostly my grandmother, created my fascination with gardening. Most years at my home we would have a small flower garden, not anything too intense.  But my grandmother always kept a vast supply of plants around herself, and loved them all equally.


Grandmother always amazed me when I was younger because she was an old lady(sorry Meme) but still mustered up the energy to travel around her home each day to take care of all her plants. My sister and I would stay at her house for a day and instead of playing with toys and being glued to the television we would go outside and help tend to her plants, harvest muscadines to make jam from, or just walk around in the woods and ask her what this and that was. She couldn’t always answer, but she tried her best just for us.

Even when my grandmother got sick she still tried her best to take care of her plants. I hope when I grow older I still take the time to care for plants as she did. It may not seem like an important enough task to some, but it was to her, and it is to me. I thank my family for giving me the gift of gardening, and helping shape me into the person I am today.




Meet our Summer Interns: A continuing road…

I had just arrived home after a semester away at an environmentally based boarding school. After all the gardening and community projects we had done there I felt as if, when I came home, I needed to give back to the community in which I live. Before the semester ended I received a message from my Agriculture teacher at my sending school. He mentioned an internship at the local agricultural center which was being supported by the Polk Community Foundation. Conveying it might be a good fit for me considering the Environmental Seminar class I had recently taken I jumped at the thought of it! An internship just a couple miles from where I live, focused on what I had been learning about all semester- sustainable, healthy, local food. It was like a dream come true for someone who eventually wants to go into the Agriculture field. So, long story short I applied, waited to receive an email indicating whether I got the internship or not, got the email, got the internship (YAY!!!!) and have since had my hands in the dirt for the last month and a half. It hasn’t always been easy with the long hot days, but it’s always worth it, when you spot the seeds you planted a week ago already sprouting or you help someone start the garden they’ve always wanted. So, here’s to another couple weeks of the greatest internship to be had! Thanks ag center and thanks Community Foundation!