Agriculture & Food: NC Cooperative Extension

Wendi Hartup works for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension as the Natural 

Resources Agent. She has been there for seven years focusing on storm water management and stream ecology education. Like many Extension Agents, she is knowledgeable about areas outside her primary focus such as how to rid the world of creepy crawlies and how to make a praying mantis feel welcome in your home. Prior to working with Extension, Wendi spent nine years teaching Alabama citizens how to test local water bodies for water quality. Wendi has a Master's degree in Fisheries Conservation from Auburn University and Bachelor's degree in Marine Biology with a Math minor from Troy University.

As the Natural Resources Extension Agent, Hartup’s responsibilities are to provide educational programs and technical expertise to citizens of Forsyth County, North Carolina in several areas: Water Quality, specifically storm water runoff, ecosystem protection practices (rain gardens, cisterns, streamside forest, wetlands, swales, etc.), and erosion; Environmental Issues such as low impact development, recycling, and conservation of Natural Resources; Aquatic Ecology; Aquatic Weed Control; and Wildlife Management.

What is Cooperative Extension and what is the mission of the organization?

North Carolina Cooperative Extension provides residents of our state easy access to the resources and expertise of NC State University and NC A&T State University. Through educational programs, publications, and events, Cooperative Extension field faculty deliver unbiased, research-based information to North Carolina citizens. We can answer questions on a wide array of topics.

Our mission: North Carolina Cooperative Extension partners with communities to deliver education and technology that enrich the lives, land and economy of North Carolinians. 

What are your main programs over the course of the year?

The programs we hold vary from year to year. All Forsyth County residents, youth and adults, are our audience and include topics such as low impact living, weatherizing your home to conserve energy, detoxifying your home, managing runoff with rain barrels and rain gardens, growing/raising your own food and much more. You can also tune in to WXII 12 every Tuesday at noon to learn from our staff.

This year I have planned over 40 programs for the general public focused around enhancing community knowledge on sustainability. These programs range from outdoor youth education programs and educational library programs to a series designed to inform the community about rain gardens, rain barrels, vemicomposting, and shorescaping. Along with these programs I will cover environmental tips during ten Community Affairs segments on WXII 12 noon news with Margaret Johnson.

I also conduct many programs for specific audiences including programs to educate teachers on vemicomposting, to certify landscapers to design, build and maintain rain gardens, to certify green industry professionals and recertify pesticide applicators to protect water resources (called Clean Streams), and to provide several NC State University Workshops for engineers.

In addition to the aforementioned programs, I am considering a summer program for pond owners on how to care for their pond as well as control common weed issues. To learn more about current and upcoming events within Forsyth County from NC Cooperative Extension visit the program page of our website here.

How has Cooperative Extension incorporated the local and organic food movement into their programs?

This has been a major component of many of our programs for the last few years; although we’ve always provided assistance on how to grow, preserve and prepare food. Each county Cooperative Extension office has addressed this differently depending upon the needs locally and the expertise of the local agents. Cooperative Extension has Horticulture Agents working with gardeners, farmers and community gardens on every aspect of growing to even selling. The community garden movement has been so strong that we have one agent who provides support (organization skills, acquire/borrow resource materials, mentors, etc.) to new gardens and already established gardens in Forsyth County.  My involvement has been providing erosion solutions and water conservation measures (mainly cistern siting, sizing, installation tips, maintenance tips and where to get them) to gardeners/growers. Our Family & Consumer Science Agents provide nutrition, food preservation and financial planning programs and our 4-H Agent provides a summer youth program with one of the most popular activities being a program where kids cook local foods with chefs. Kids love to attend this program and it fills up quickly. We even sponsor a produce box, Triad Farm 2 table, which utilizes local farms and drops at various places throughout Forsyth County.

What are Forsyth County’s biggest challenges in terms of agricultural growth and sustainability?

There are actually some really great studies going on right now to discover solutions to this very topic. I think some of our challenges are connecting new farmers to available green space, connectivity from farm to the table, types of agriculture we can actually produce in Forsyth County, small farmers affording the GAP certification that provides access to sell to institutional markets (grocery stores), and mainstream consumers actually wanting to pay more for a local product in some cases. It also takes a lot of dedication to be a farmer and it can be very tempting to give up all that hard work for a developers’ check.

What are your challenges in connecting with individuals and communities in the city?

One of our biggest challenges is getting our information out to the public and letting them know we are a service that can help provide technical assistance in just about any subject area. If we don’t know the answer, we know someone who does.

What is your vision for the future of Winston-Salem?

I would love for this area to continue with the local foods movement and expand to other sustainable practices throughout the landscape. A nice start would be to incorporate rain gardens on every property with a downspout, plant shorescape gardens along every stream and pond, eradicate invasive plants (like bamboo, kudzu, tree-of-heaven, privet, etc.) that alter natural food webs for animals, require new businesses to reuse abandoned buildings or sites, convert vacant parking lots into garden spaces, and incorporate vegetated rooftops on structurally-sound buildings.

The Resource Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization working in collaboration with the city of Winston-Salem and the local higher academic institutions.  Its mission is to promote sustainability in Winston-Salem through research, education, and community service.