2020 Graham County Plan of Work

Approved: January 16, 2020

I. County Background

Graham County, located in the mountains of southwestern North Carolina, is small, isolated and rural. Citizens have identified the local people and the vast natural beauty of the area as the county's two greatest assets. The county possesses many positive qualities as well as many challenges. A new statewide needs assessment was conducted in 2018 and completed in Fall of the same year. Input for the needs assessment was gathered through individual surveys, as well as community meetings. Based on much of the information gathered, Cooperative Extension will continue to focus on community development, 4-H youth development, and consumer horticulture as the primary focus of programming.

Community Development & Consumer Horticulture

The median household income for Graham County residents is lower than state or national averages. Fifty percent of school-age youth qualify for the free/reduced lunch program. The county consistently has double-digit unemployment and frequently has the highest unemployment rate in North Carolina. As a result of these and other factors, the county has been classified by the Department of Commerce as a Tier 1 – Economically Disadvantaged County. Although national and state economies have improved somewhat, financial insecurity continues to cause concern at the local level. These challenges have negatively impacted local businesses, farm producers, the budgets of local governments and led to the loss of businesses. Added to these economic hurdles, growth in industry and development will be limited by the steep terrain and by the amount of land available for construction. Illegal drug use, Hepatitis C and HIV are also approaching epidemic proportions, which negatively impacts the county as well.

The Extension needs assessment, tourism surveys, community surveys, community forums, interviews, school surveys, and recent focus group conversations reflected these concerns. Respondents consistently rank improving the local economy through agriculture, youth development, workforce development, and expanding agriculture businesses as high priorities for Extension programming. In addition, teaching workforce skills, increasing family income through agriculture, increasing local food sales and support of the local farmer's market were seen as ways to improve the local economy. Extension advisory leaders support efforts to provide educational programs in entrepreneurship, workforce development, farm economics, energy conservation, family finances, and promoting the buy local campaign to address these issues.

Graham County farm families are looking for new and innovative ways to supplement family income. With a decent tourism base, a large number of summer residents, and a new focus on locally grown foods, the local farmers market, as well as other local growers, improve to meet the demands of this new clientele. Results from the needs assessment suggest that emphasis be given to farmer's market stability, agricultural careers for youth, developing new agriculture and value-added markets, insect and disease control, soil/plant nutritional improvement and promoting agriculture to youth and families. Furthermore, the addition of about forty high tunnel greenhouses has set the stage for the development of horticultural markets here in Graham County.

In addition to working to strengthen agriculture, Extension must also address the need to build community leaders and skilled workers for the future. Current and future leaders must be equipped to make tough decisions in a fast paced environment. Workers must be able to learn and adapt quickly to changes in the workplace. Communicating effectively and working effectively on a team will be important skills. Extension will focus on building adult and youth leaders through volunteerism, community service, citizenship, serving on local committees, and teaching others. Strong community leadership and a skilled workforce will improve the local economy and improve the quality of life for citizens. Finally, the addition of a new Extension facility in 2012 equipped with a teaching kitchen and meeting room has enabled Extension staff to increase their number of programs by about 50%. The loss of an FCS agent in Graham County continues to prove challenging, but staff have continually proven that they can absorb the workload.

School to Career

While the dropout rate in Graham County has reduced over the years, youth can rarely stay in Graham County due to a severe lack of employment opportunities. Residents have been, and continue to be, discouraged over this fact. In many cases, this leaves youth feeling that obtaining a good career is too big of a challenge, or in some cases, not worth the effort at all. Cooperative Extension feels that it can play a pivotal role in helping youth identify and make good career choices that could keep them closer to home. Through working with local schools and using one-on-one efforts, Extension can help youth in Graham County realize the value of a good education and the realization of a rewarding career. In addition, the needs assessment of 2018 clearly identified careers in agriculture for youth as one of the top needs with the greatest impacts. Cooperative Extension in Graham County is planning once again to incorporate several "spin clubs" during 2020 that hopefully will spur the interest of youth in agriculture.

HEALTH, Physical Activity & Chronic Disease Reduction

Focus groups, surveys, and needs assessment results, along with recommendations from school personnel, the sheriff’s department and other county departments, revealed that a majority of citizens are concerned with improving individual health and wellness, especially among the county's youth. The need to address obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases ranked high as a community need. Recent studies completed by the school system and health department reported that a majority of citizens are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. Other demographic data revealed high rates of diabetes and heart disease, along with extremely high rates of Hepatitis C and HIV within the population. Proper diet and following recommendations for physical activity can improve citizens’ quality of life and reduce risk factors for obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Increased education concerning the dangers of drug usage can address the critical issue of blood-borne diseases. In 2020, Cooperative Extension will focus on educating 4-Her's, concerning healthy eating, as well as food selection, preparation, and preservation in order to try and provide solutions to some of these problems. Healthy lifestyles will also be addressed. These identified health factors are having negative impacts on the stability of local families. Extension must focus on providing educational programs that support and strengthen families in Graham County.


NC Cooperative Extension has an important role to play in the future of Graham County. Through Extension efforts to impact county agricultural enterprises, support and improve community development, and address health and youth issues, agents can help citizens find solutions to community problems and empower people in the decision-making process. As a result, people can become stronger, healthier, more resilient, more productive, and more involved citizens. In conclusion, empowering people to be good citizens, workers and leaders; helping build strong, healthy and resilient families; and strengthening the local economy through workforce development and agriculture will be the goals of Graham County Cooperative Extension in 2020.

II. Objectives to Address the Cooperative Extension Long Range Plan

Our community development programs build strong and thriving communities.

Our 4-H youth development programs grow the skills young people need to succeed in life and career.

Our consumer horticulture programs teach families and communities about environmentally friendly methods for gardening and controlling pests.

III. Relationship to County Government Objectives

At the current time, Graham County does not have a written strategic plan. Extension staff members work with county government by serving on a variety of committees, participating in county-wide disaster preparedness efforts, providing research-based information, keeping officials and department heads informed about Extension programs, and working on various projects as requested by the county manager and/or county commissioners.

IV. Diversity Plan

The 2010 Census indicated that there were slightly over eight thousand eight hundred year-round residents in Graham County. Of these, over 90% classified themselves as "White." The rest classified themselves as "American Indian" (the vast majority of these being Cherokee), followed by Hispanic, Black, Asian, and Pacific Islander. The greatest change was in the Hispanic population. The Hispanic population increased by 223%, but the actual number remains small.

The Snowbird Indian Reservation is located in Graham County, but is considered part of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). The Snowbird Reservation is home to the majority of Cherokee living in Graham County and citizens there are served by staff from EBCI Cooperative Extension. The actual number of Cherokee living outside the reservation is small. Graham County and EBCI Cooperative Extension work together to provide quality educational programs to youth, adults and seniors living in the Snowbird Community.

In addition to collaborating with the EBCI, Extension staff members work with all school-age youth in grades K-5. On a larger scale, Graham County Cooperative Extension programs are advertised in the local newspaper. Furthermore, the Extension monthly newsletter is sent to over 500 households. Educational programs and Extension events are marketed and open to all residents in the county and in surrounding communities.

V. Primary Delivery and Evaluation Methods

Delivering timely, relevant educational programs that meet critical local needs is the cornerstone of Extension’s mission. Extension educational programs are designed to equip the citizens of Graham County with the knowledge, skills and tools needed to improve their economic prosperity, environmental stewardship, and quality of life.

An Extension program delivery system is a planned and organized eclectic mix of educational methods used during an educational program. Extension educational methods are the specific ways by which research-based information is shared with targeted learners. Extension educators in our county employ a wide variety of hands-on, experiential, educational methods such as interactive workshops and classes, demonstrations, field days, and tours that allow learners to fully engage in the learning process, test new knowledge, and/or practice new skills during the educational session. Equally important, this plan will also include educational methods such as seminars, client visits, fact sheets, newsletters, on-line applications, and home study kits that serve to support and reinforce learning as well as provide motivation for continued learning.

Armed with the most current literature on effective teaching and learning, Extension educators also skillfully select educational methods based on the learning style preferences and special needs of the targeted learners. These client-focused methods afford learners the opportunity to gain the necessary knowledge and skills to change their lives in meaningful ways. Another key feature of Extension program delivery is the staff commitment to being customer driven and customer focused. As such, in addition to the County Extension Center, Extension educational programs are delivered in community centers, on farms, and other locations in order that programs to be available, accessible to, and fully utilized by, the citizens of Graham County.

In Extension, success is defined as the extent to which our educational programs have made a difference in the lives of the citizens of Graham County. Evaluation strategies are employed to make observations about whether any changes occurred as a result of educational programs, and subsequently, the significance of those changes. As an educational organization, the changes we seek focus on key outcomes such as the knowledge and skills participants gain from our programs. More specifically, in this plan, agents are using quantitative research methods such as retrospective testing, pre- and post tests and/or surveys to measure change in knowledge gained, the application of that knowledge, number of new skills acquired, and types of new skills developed.

Extension, as a results-oriented organization, is committed to also assessing the social, economic and/or environmental impact that our programs have on the individuals who participate, their families and communities, and ultimately the county as a whole (i.e. true significance of the changes stemming from our programs). Agents plan to measure these impacts in both the long- and short-term. In this annual plan (short-term), agents have outlined financial impact and cost benefit analysis as primary evaluation methods. Another value held in Extension is actively listening to and dialoguing with targeted learners. Therefore, this plan also includes qualitative evaluation methods such as testimonials from program participants, interview data, and focus group results.

VI. Membership of Advisory Leadership System

4-H and Youth Development
Debra Brittain
Angie Jenkins
Bay Snyder
Karen Taylor
Brian Stevens
Clancy Stevens
Ransom Cornette
Candy Carver

Local Food Systems
Laura Mathis
Wanda Collins
Elsie Hyatt
Carol Lawson
Jessica Wehr
Marshal McClung
Hoot Gibbs
Karla Jones
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Billy Cable
Tommy Collins
Terry Rattler
Crystal Rattler
Mike Kelly
John Lovin
Raymond Norton
Karen Anderson
Billy Corbin

VII. Staff Membership

Randy Collins
Title: County Extension Director and Extension Agent, Agriculture
Phone: (828) 479-7979
Email: randy_collins@ncsu.edu

Pam Adams
Title: 4-H Program Assistant
Phone: (828) 479-7979
Email: pam_adams@ncsu.edu

Marti Day
Title: Area Specialized Agent, Agriculture - Dairy
Phone: (919) 542-8202
Email: marti_day@ncsu.edu
Brief Job Description: Responsible for educational programs for dairy farmers, youth with an interest in dairy projects and the general public with an interest in dairy foods and the dairy industry.

April Dillon
Title: Area Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development
Phone: (704) 482-4365
Email: april_dillon@ncsu.edu

Lauren Greene
Title: Area Specialized Agent, Agriculture - Poultry
Phone: (336) 651-7347
Email: lauren_greene@ncsu.edu

Adam Griffith
Title: Area Agent, CRD
Phone: (828) 359-6935
Email: adgriff5@ncsu.edu

Marissa Herchler
Title: Area Specialized Agent, Agriculture - Animal Food Safety (FSMA Programs)
Phone: (919) 515-5396
Email: marissa_herchler@ncsu.edu
Brief Job Description: Marissa is an Area Specialized Agent for animal food safety, with emphasis on the new Food Safety Modernization Act rules, as they apply to feed mills in North Carolina. Please contact Marissa with any FSMA related questions, or PCQI training inquiries.

Amy Holder
Title: County Extension Administrative Assistant
Phone: (828) 479-7979
Email: amy_holder@ncsu.edu

Craig Mauney
Title: Area Specialized Agent, Agriculture - Commercial Vegetables and Fruits
Phone: (828) 684-3562
Email: craig_mauney@ncsu.edu
Brief Job Description: Provides educational opportunities, training and technical support to commercial fruit and vegetable growers, agents, and industry in Western NC. (My office is located at the Mountain Horticulture Crops Research and Extension Center not the Henderson County Extension Center as is noted by IT on this website. Please do not contact the Henderson County Extension Center as I am not located there.)

Ashley Robbins
Title: Area Specialized Agent - Dairy
Phone: (919) 542-8203
Email: ashley_robbins@ncsu.edu
Brief Job Description: Marti Day and I are the Area Specialized Dairy Agents - the county-based arm of the Cooperative Extension Dairy Team. We are out here in the counties to help you set and reach your farm, family and business goals. We have collaborative expertise in the areas of Waste Management, Udder Health, Cow Comfort, Nutrition and Forage Management with specialties in (Ashley)Reproduction, Records Management, Animal Health and (Marti)Alternative Markets, Organic Dairy, Grazing Management, and On-farm Processing. We hope to provide comprehensive educational programs for our farmers, consumers and youth for every county across the state. We are here for you by phone, email or text and look forward to working with you!

Elena Rogers
Title: Area Specialized Agent, Agriculture - Food Safety - Fresh Produce Western NC
Phone: (828) 352-2519
Email: elena_rogers@ncsu.edu
Brief Job Description: Provide educational programs, training and technical support focusing on fresh produce safety to Agents and growers in Western NC.

Debbie Stroud
Title: Area Specialized Agent, Consumer and Retail Food Safety
Phone: (919) 515-9149
Email: dlstroud@ncsu.edu
Brief Job Description: Area Specialized Agents in Consumer and Retail Food Safety help to ensure that Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) Agents have access to timely, evidence-based food safety information. This is accomplished by (1) working with FCS Agents in their counties, (2) developing food safety materials and (3) planning and implementing a NC Safe Plates Food Safety Info Center.

Amanda Taylor
Title: Area Specialized Agent, Nursery and Greenhouse, Western Region
Phone: (828) 475-2915
Email: amanda_jo_taylor@ncsu.edu
Brief Job Description: Provides programming to commercial nursery and greenhouse producers in Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey Counties.

Skip Thompson
Title: Area Specialized Agent, Agriculture - Aquaculture
Phone: (828) 456-3575
Email: Skip_Thompson@ncsu.edu
Brief Job Description: Provide educational opportunities and technical support to the trout and carp aquaculture industries in 42 counties and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) in western North Carolina. Fish health, production management, and waste management educational programs will assist trout farmers, fee-fishing pond managers, carp ponds and trout fingerling producers with the management and sustainability of their facilities.

Mitch Woodward
Title: Area Specialized Agent, Watersheds and Water Quality
Phone: (919) 414-3873
Email: mdwoodwa@ncsu.edu
Brief Job Description: NC Cooperative Extension's Goals include: - NC's natural resources and environmental quality will be protected, conserved and enhanced. - NC will have profitable, environmentally sustainable plant, animal and food systems. Protecting our environmental resources, particularly drinking water quality, is a top priority in NC. NC Cooperative Extension is a leader in teaching, researching, and accelerating the adoption of effective water quality protection practices.

VIII. Contact Information

Graham County Center
39 S Main St
Smith Howell Building
Robbinsville, NC 28771

Phone: (828) 479-7979
Fax: (828) 479-2000
URL: http://graham.ces.ncsu.edu