Wake County has agriculture? Though Wake County is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, agriculture is still present in around Raleigh. Wake County’s diverse population and urban areas allow for unique agricultural endeavors along with more traditional crops maintaining presence as well. It also provides opportunities to connect people to where their food comes from and for farmers to utilize agrotourism. With the headquarters of NC Cooperative Extension being on NC State’s campus, farmers in this area can be quickly connected with the research done by faculty and students. As the Cooperative Extension Summer Intern I worked primarily with Wake County’s agriculture agent doing everything from running soil samples to the NCDA lab to collecting hundreds of corn ear worms for an entomology research project. As someone that did not come from an agriculture background, the learning curve has been steep, but this summer I spent almost every day out in the field collecting data, planting, harvesting, and learning about different crops in North Carolina. I quickly learned that there is never a dull moment in the life of an extension agent. My supervisor would get calls ranging from a new landowner wanting to establish pasture for horses to a strawberry farmer worried about a fungal issue in their patch. A large part of her job is finding the most updated, unbiased agriculture research and sharing it with the public.
I worked on research plots and learned about various trials being run throughout the state. Soybean variety trials are conducted all over the North Carolina to let farmers know what soybean varieties are doing best in their area, annually. The Cooperative Extension agents have built strong relationships with farmers in the area that allow them to use their land to conduct the trials while the farmers receive free seed and are able to harvest the crops themselves. North Carolina is currently allowing an industrial hemp pilot program where farmers can get permits to grow hemp but must undergo strict testing to be sure the THC levels in their plants do not exceed 0.3%. I was able to visit several hemp farms, attend an industrial hemp workshop conducted by NC State researchers, and learn about CBD oil extraction. Hemp is an up and coming crop with huge potential to boost North Carolina’s economy and diversify the state’s agriculture. It can be grown for a variety of purposes including seed, fiber, CBD oil, and seed oil.
One of my main interests is in connecting urban residents with where their food comes from, and as part of my internship I did a project on culturally appropriate foods at farmers markets. I conducted a survey at farmers markets in Wake County assessing what fresh produce people are buying, what they would like to see more of, and the demographic information of the customers. I was able to collaborate with two interns in UNC’s public health program to add a nutritional aspect to the project. Through conducting this survey, I found that most people that shop at those farmers markets are white and have access to a car. There is a real need to make farmers markets have a more diverse variety of foods that appeals to the cultural groups of the area, as well as make markets more accessible for people that rely on public transportation.
Apart from agriculture I also had the opportunity to work with the nutrition and 4-H departments of Cooperative Extension. I assisted an EFNEP Educator in teaching a nutrition class in Spanish at a local food bank. This was a super fun opportunity for me to practice my Spanish and help Spanish-speaking adults and children learn about making healthier meals at home. Furthermore, I was a judge at two different 4-H district day competitions where elementary to high school aged kids do a presentation on a topic they are interested in. The program teaches kids valuable skills on doing research and public speaking. The kids were really impressive and it was so enjoyable to see their passions come to life.
I learned so much with the help of the mentors I was surrounded by, and was so impressed by their passion to support and engage the community of Wake County. The summer was not easy, especially on those days when I was outside in a field for 8 hours with no shade in sight, but I would not trade the experience for anything. This internship helped me meet amazing researchers doing cutting-edge work in the state and gave me so much valuable experience that has helped me narrow down what I want to do as a career. I know that I want to work in public service and education, and am planning to join the Peace Corps post-graduation as an Environmental Education volunteer in Mexico. Being able to incorporate my passion for sustainability, agriculture, the Spanish language, and education allowed me to refine my skills in those areas and feel prepared to implement them in my future profession. Professional experience as a college student is the best way to figure out what you do and (arguably more importantly) do not want to do, while teaching you applicable skills that you cannot learn in a classroom.