A Great Day for North Carolina Farmers

In suits and slacks and big smiles, last Monday TCRF field coordinators joined Executive Director Linda Shaw and Program Director Joe Schroeder for a trip to Raleigh. We were honored guests at the Family Farm Innovation Fund Award Ceremony, where RAFI’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund was awarded an additional $730,000, half of which came in the form of a matching grant from the Tobacco Trust Fund.  The amount awarded brings total funding to $2 million that RAFI will be disbursing to North Carolina farmers in 2011. After we enjoyed a hearty southern brunch of fried chicken, barbecue and banana pudding, Governor Bev Perdue announced RAFI’s award, along with the four other recipients of the Fund. The Fund totals $18.4 million and expects to directly impact 3,900 farmers by the end of 2011.

We had every reason to be proud at the ceremony. Sitting alongside the state and federal agency representatives that were our co-recipients of the award, RAFI stood out as the only non-profit organization awarded funding. We are delighted that the Governor and the North Carolina legislature recognizes the good work we’ve been doing for the past thirteen years in a program that exemplifies our values of social justice.

Linda and Joe did a wonderful job describing the merits of the program and keeping audience members engaged, even though they were the last speakers on the afternoon program. “Over the first 10 years of our program, just over $1 million in grants created or preserved 958 jobs, and resulted in over $5 million of ongoing annual farmer income,” Linda said.  “And this investment has staying power – over 80% of the enterprises that receive our grants continued to thrive after three years, many with amazing levels of growth.”

The Tobacco Communities Initiative began in 1997 and distributed grant awards in four counties to help replace lost tobacco income in rural communities. With the additional funds announced on Tuesday, we will be able to make nearly $2 million available to farmers throughout North Carolina’s 100 counties in 2011. Our field coordinators will work closely with grant recipients to ensure a high success rate among funded projects, so that we can continue to see the number of thriving, diverse family farms multiply.

None of the RAFI staff present at Monday’s event were around at the inception of the Tobacco Communities program. Now that we are able to significantly increase our impact on North Carolina farmers, we are incredibly grateful to Betty Bailey and Jason Roehrig for laying a great foundation. Careful planning and dedication on their part has grown the initiative into what it is today, a program recognized by the state legislature as a model, and valued by farmers throughout North Carolina.

At the end of Monday’s ceremony, after exchanging business cards and ideas on collaboration with various agencies, our happy crew made its way back to work, confident that it’s a great day for RAFI and a great day for the farmers of North Carolina.

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