The 14 graduates of the first-ever NC REAL Agricultural Entrepreneurship class at Vance-Granville Community College received certificates and heard words of encouragement from former NFL-star-turned-farmer Jason Brown on Tuesday, Dec. 16, in the college’s auditorium.
“Farmers are the backbone” of the local area, our state and nation, Brown, a former center for two National Football League teams, told the graduates. “All roads lead back to the farmer,” he said, describing the rewards for being involved in agriculture.
After playing college football with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels followed by a lucrative career with the Baltimore Ravens and the St. Louis Rams, Brown is now farming 1,000 acres of land in Franklin County. His First Fruits Farm and Wisdom of Life Ministry were recently profiled on CBS News for the donation of 120,000 pounds of sweet potatoes to food pantries and churches throughout the Triangle area. A Vance County native, Brown was praised by VGCC President Dr. Stelfanie Williams for being “someone who is really giving back to his community.”
Brown shared with graduates his early experiences in farming and encouraged them to consider the needs of the hungry while making decisions on the crops they wish to grow.
“It plagues me to see how we can be so smart but nutritionally poor at the same time,” Brown said. “There are kids right here in our area with the latest iPhones but yet they have no food in their refrigerators and they are nutritionally deficient.”
A rewarding career in agriculture awaits the graduates, he added. “It’s not fair and yet I can almost guarantee that with any farm practice that you are going to get into right now, you’re not going to become wealthy, but one thing that I can guarantee you is that it is the most rewarding occupation and lifestyle that one can choose,” he said.
“If your goal is to make a difference for the fruits of your labor, to be meaningful and for you to have a life of purpose, then farming and agriculture is the avenue for you to have the greatest impact on the world we live in today.”
The graduates of the course are local farmers and budding entrepreneurs. Sponsored by VGCC’s Small Business Center and the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, the course was designed to help participants succeed in developing profitable, environmentally-sound small farms or agricultural businesses.
The project was also supported by North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Project Skill-UP, REAL Entrepreneurship and the Vance County Regional Farmers Market.
The class was the first-ever partnership of a community college Small Business Center and Project Skill-UP, according to Jeff Jennings, program officer for the Tobacco Trust Fund.
“Congratulations on being the first community college that brought in the NC REAL agriculture curriculum,” Jennings said. “This is probably going to serve as a model for other community colleges planning to teach this course.”
Graduates were: Angela Asbell-Bumgarner of Warrenton, Troy Bumgarner of Warrenton, Kathy Burke of Raleigh, Tina Carey of Oxford, Al Crawford of Macon, Henry Crews of Henderson, Victor Hunt of Middleburg, Debra Lucas of Wake Forest, Gordan Lucas of Wake Forest, William Murphy of Oxford, Mamie Pleasants of Oxford, Zane Styers of Youngsville, Marion Williams of Henderson and Jeremy Wyche of Henderson.
Carrie Harvey, the owner and operator of Harvey Hills Farms in Granville County, served as the instructor.
Kim Jordan, vice president and market executive for Citizens Community Bank, awarded $100 to graduates Henry Crews and Marion Williams for having the best business plan among all of the entrepreneur participants.
The Vance County Farm Bureau sponsored a reception and exposition following the graduation ceremony in the Student Lounge on VGCC’s main campus.
Classes were held on Tuesday evenings from late October through mid-December. It was also the first class offered by VGCC at the Farmers Market, which opened earlier this year.
The course is a new variation on the “Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning” (REAL) programs that the VGCC Small Business Center has offered in the past.
“This course is the best example of what community colleges do — communities and agencies coming together to provide educational opportunities to meet the needs of the community,” said Tanya Weary, director of the Small Business Center.
“We are excited about the future of the program,” added Kyle Burwell, coordinator of VGCC’s Human Resources Development program.
Weary and Burwell collaborated to organize and facilitate the course.
The next class in Agriculture Entrepreneurship will be held in the Hix Gym at the Oxford Recreational Complex from Feb. 3 through March 16. Classes will be on Tuesdays from 6 to 9 p.m.