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Tuskegee University Holds 121st Annual Farmers Conferencef

Conservation Showcase

Dr. William Puckett spoke at luncheon.
NRCS State Conservationist Dr. William Puckett (r) spoke during luncheon. (l)

By Alice Love, Outreach Liaison, NRCS, Auburn, AL

In sponsorship with various agencies within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and partners, Tuskegee University held its 121st Annual Farmers Conference February 21-22, 2013, at the Kellogg Conference Center in Tuskegee, Alabama. 

Alabama NRCS State Conservationist William E. Puckett greeted participants during the luncheon and gave an update on Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) activities.  He indicated that currently the agency is in a continuing resolution until March 28, 2013. 

The agency priority is, and will continue to be, customers and partners.  NRCS has received program allocations to assist stewards of the land to implement conservation on the ground.  More information regarding NRCS programs can be obtained from local field offices.

Tuskegee NRCS Field Office District Conservationist Christopher Joe presented during the event.  He informed participants about:

  1. USDA programs offered through NRCS

  2. Programs application, ranking, and batching processes

  3. Partnering agency in the implementation of NRCS programs

  4. Farm Bill definition of specify underserved groups/individuals

  5. Conservation Planning and Contracting

He also addressed participant’s questions/concerns to clarify NRCS policies and procedures.

Agricultural Outreach Liaison Alice Love served on a panel with local women conservationists to share knowledge, experiences, and their impact in the agricultural industry.  The panel session was facilitated by Rhonda Benton, operator/owner of Rhema Ranch in Pike County, AL.

Panel of local women conservationist.
(l-r) Sandra Aldridge, Alabama Coalition Against hunger; Sharon Bolling Bell, City Council Member of Mosses, AL and Lowndes County Producer; Rose Hill, Owner/Operator of James Hill Farm in Wilcox Co.; Alice Love; NRCS Agricultural Outreach Liaison; Grace Okia, Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama; Rosia Jerigan, Owner/operator of Curos Farm in Bullock County, and at podium, Rhonda Benton, Owner/operator of Rhema Ranch in Pike County, AL

Women Conservationist on the panel were:

  1. Sandra Aldridge - Representative of Alabama Coalition Against Hunger (affiliate: Alabama Council on Human Relations).  Sandra works with communities to address hunger through researching and implementing special projects to raise healthy foods.  She applies knowledge gained from NRCS and conservation partners Outreach Meetings in the agricultural industry to small scale areas (rural and urban).  Participants in the programs she implements learn healthy foods can be grown on any scale from back porch gardening, back yard gardening, seasonal high tunnels, etc. 

  2. Sharon Bolling Bell - City Council Member of Mosses, AL and Lowndes County producer.  She installed a Seasonal High Tunnel on her farm with the assistance of NRCS and Tuskegee University outreach services.  Since the implementation of the practice, Sharon has provided local residents and grocery store with fresh/locally grown produce.  Her passion for the land and its ability to feed, promoted the formation of the group “SISTAS of Success”. The group works with families in the community to enhance their knowledge in regards to growing fresh produce.  They market to local venders, restaurants and grocery stores. 

  3. Rose Hill - Owner/Operator of James Hill Farm located in Wilcox County.  She and members of her family raises vegetables and livestock.  Rose is an active member of the Tuskegee Farmers’ Cooperative, USDA-NRCS participant, and participants in the Tuskegee/Wal-Mart Small Famer Initiative.  As director of the Women and Youth in Agriculture, families are engaged in working to strengthen farming practices, support new/beginning farmers, develop youth for agricultural careers –leadership, management, advisors, educators, etc.

  4. Alice Love - Agricultural Outreach Liaison with NRCS, station in Auburn with a collateral duty station on the campus of Tuskegee University.  Alice serves several counties in Alabama.  She provides outreach to customers in regards to NRCS programs and services.  As a moderator between the local field office and the customer, she works to assure timely, accurate, and prompt service is provided to all customers.  Through a partnership effort between NRCS and Tuskegee University (TU), Alice serves as a Technical Liaison on the campus of TU.  This effort has attributed to several TU students obtaining career positions with USDA/NRCS upon graduation.  

  5. Grace Okia - Serves as an office manager with “The Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama (FOCAL).  She was introduced to gardening by her husband (Biologist) - who enjoys foods grown organically.  Grace is a true back yard gardener; she states “I will plant anything and everything that can take root”.

  6. Rosia Jernigan - Owner/operator of Curos Farm in Bullock County.  Her farm consists of a small vegetable garden, fruit and nut trees, along with her primary project – Cattle Ranching.  She’s an active participant in NRCS – Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).  In collaboration with Tuskegee University and Alabama Cooperative Extension, Rosia is part of a research project to enhance the quality of pastures for cattle.  She also serves as the Secretary of the United Cooperative of Economic Development, member of the Board of Directors of the Cattleman’s Association, and USDA Farm Service Agency County Committee Minority Advisor for Bullock and Pike Counties.

Tuskegee University hosted an outstanding “Farmers Conference” filled with information and technologies addressing the agricultural industry on various levels.  We look forward to next year's conference.

Rhonda Benton
Rhonda Benton facilitated a discussion by
panel of women conservationists

NRCS DC ChristopherJoe
Macon County NRCS District Conservationist Christopher Joe presented NRCS programs.

Alphonso Elliott
Alphonso Elliott, Tuskegee Extension and Research; supporter of women contribution to the agricultural industry. 

Deborah Thomas
Deborah Thomas, Southern Rural
Black Women's Initiative for
Economic and Social Justice