NC Tobacco Trust Fund awards $2.3M to agriculture projects

The N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund commission has awarded more than $2.3 million in grants to 22 agriculture and economic projects across the state.

The grants included projects that boost local farming initiatives and that award scholarships to students in tobacco-dependent communities.

The commission prioritized initiatives that target small farmers, as well as innovative and financially stimulating projects.

The state General Assembly created the commission in 2000 to support farmers and businesses affected by the decline of the tobacco industry. Funds come from a set appropriation in the legislature’s budget every two years. Outside reviewers, a subcommittee and the NCTTF board work together to finalize grantees.

‘Tremendous impact’

The NCTTF has awarded more than 220 grants to both public and nonprofit organizations across North Carolina throughout its history.

“Our board is very confident that these new projects will benefit a large number of farmers and communities,” said Bill Teague, chairman of the NCTTF. “We’re ready for our new grantees to get underway and make a tremendous impact on agriculture in our state.”

One new project that will be funded by a $25,000 grant is “Buy Local, Cut Fresh,” an advertising initiative by the Eastern North Carolina Christmas Tree Growers Association. Formed in the 1990s, the organization consolidates Christmas tree farmers to serve the eastern part of the state.

The association takes research seriously, working closely with N.C. State University to find new varieties of trees.

Recently, the association has seen fewer growers but increasing numbers of customers who like to “choose and cut” their own tree, said association President Misty Gil.

“We try to make an experience. It’s more than just a Christmas tree,” she said.

Another grant will assist the N.C. Wildlife Federation in reducing deer populations around farms. Guy Gardner and Judy Gardner are project managers for “Farmers Manage Deer.” They are excited to expand the program with a second grant this year that will benefit third-party communities.

The program joins hands with Hunters for the Hungry, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and several cooperative extension agencies. Last year, they encouraged more than 400 hunters to fulfill the legal hunting quota by shooting deer on farming areas, then donating venison to those who need it.

This year, with a new $130,350 grant, they are eager to connect those hunters, 120 farmers and up to 11 charities and communities to create a sustainable, self-sufficient program.

‘Everybody wins’

“This is really about educating landowners about deer management,” Judy Gardner said. “Everybody wins.”

Other grants in the Triangle area include:

• a local produce safety initiative with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.

• scholarships for NCSU agriculture majors and for tobacco-connected area community college students.

• an agricultural emergency response team project with the state Department of Agriculture, among others.

“At first glance, it could be difficult to recognize the statewide impact many of these projects will have,” said Jeff Jennings, program officer with the NCTTF. “Even though there are a number of grants awarded in this region, their projects will impact farmers and others across the state.

“A great thing about the projects is that they are multiregional or statewide, and that enables us to make our funds go further and impact more people.”