Cara Pace knows she has a hard row to hoe.
By choosing to continue her family’s tradition of farming, she’ll be part of a generation that must grow more crops, to feed more people, on fewer acres of land.
But Pace welcomes the challenge, and at least one national organization is betting on her. The Future Farmers of America recently named Pace one of its 50 New Century Farmers for 2015.
“It’s going to be up to us to not only feed the world but educate the world,” Pace said.
“People have mixed perceptions about farmers – an old man in overalls with a dog in a field – but there’s a lot more to it than that,” she said. “A farmer has to be an engineer when his tractor breaks down, a salesman when he goes to market, a chemist, a politician.”
As a New Century Farmer, Pace got to learn from industry experts, visit farms and hear about the latest technology during a seminar July 12-18 at DuPont Pioneer in Iowa.
Pace is a rising senior at N.C. State University, where she is studying agricultural business management. In Iowa, she also got to network with other New Century Farmers, who came from Washington state, Maryland and 19 other states in between.
In getting to know her peers, Pace said she got insight into massive dairy farms in Indiana, New York strawberry fields and almond operations in California. As the only student to hail from a tobacco farm, she was able to impart her knowledge of North Carolina’s largest cash crop.
“We all were there with that same thread of agriculture running through us,” Pace said. “We were all from family farms.”
Since she was a child standing on a stool to reach seed trays in a greenhouse, Pace has been infatuated with the process of growing tobacco and other crops on her family’s farm near Archer Lodge.
In high school, she became an advocate for farmers, taking leadership roles in the FFA at Clayton High.
And her activism has continued in college. She is president of N.C. State’s Agronomy Club and a member of the N.C. Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers group.
Internships with R.J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem last year and AgCarolina Farm Credit in Smithfield this summer only furthered her interest.
It wasn’t a surprise to her family then when she was named one of this year’s New Century Farmers.
“She really does advocate for agriculture every way she can,” said her mother, Deborah.
The Paces have been farming land in Clayton and Archer Lodge for generations. Today, Pace’s father, Jerry, and uncle, Joel, grow tobacco, grain sorghum, wheat and soybeans on 700-800 acres.
Pace’s sister, Michelle Pace Davis, has also followed the family’s farming tradition but in a different way. She teaches agriculture and helps with the FFA at nearby Corinth Holders High School.
When asked if she’s happy her daughters have taken an interest in agriculture, Deborah Pace joked, “I’m not sure if they had any choice.”
“We really believe in succession,” Deborah said.
“So many of the farms in this neck of the woods are gone; they’ve grown houses instead of plants,” she added. “To know that this has been in our family for so long, you’d hate to see it go.”
Jerry Pace said because a lot of younger people are two and three generations removed from the farm, they might not see the value in maintaining local agricultural operations. They don’t know what it takes to produce food, he said.
“I do think technology is a big tool now though,” Jerry said. “That’s one way to promote agriculture is through social media.”
Pace said while her interest in farming stems from her family’s tradition, groups like the FFA and 4-H are great ways to spark interest in young people from more urban backgrounds.
“It pulls them in and educates them,” she said. “I love advocating for farmers, but I don’t think we have enough agvocates.”
Pace and the other New Century Farmers had to apply to earn the distinction. While this year’s seminar is over, she’s already looking forward to attending an alumni conference in the future.