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Farmers' helpers 

Abdul Chaudhry

Abdul Chaudhry came to the United States from Pakistan in 1979 at the age of 19. He had grown up on a farm, and so settled on a farm in Randolph County, N.C., earning a business marketing degree from UNC-Greensboro. Chaudhry Halal Meats, which he opened in Siler City in 1997, now processes more goat and lamb than the rest of North Carolina and South Carolina put together. He offers halal and kosher processing and other specialized services for red meat.

Last month, Chaudhry filled a key missing link in the farm-to-table journey for locally raised chickens and other fowl when he opened a small processing plant for poultry at his site, eliminating the need for local farmers to take their chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and quail out of state for butchering. Chaudhry's new capability makes it possible for local grocery retailers such as Weaver Street Market to expand their inventory of local poultry, which in turn sustains small farms and makes it easier for shoppers to eat locally.


Noah Ranells

Noah Ranells has two jobs: He is the co-owner of Fickle Creek Farm in Efland, and he is the agricultural coordinator for the Orange County Economic Development Commission. In the former role, he raises chickens, goats, sheep, steers and pigs and runs a bed and breakfast. In the latter, he is helping to build infrastructure to support small local farms like his own, because, as he says, the way to sustain sustainable agriculture is to bring new people into it.

Ranells brings his expertise in crop science and livestock programs—along with experience in the Peace Corps and as a researcher at N.C. State—to organizing workshops, helping farmers get their products to market and supporting sustainable food initiatives such as Orange County's Community Dinner and Hillsborough's annual Hog Day.

His current projects include the creation of a shared use food and agricultural processing facility that will allow farmers and other small-scale food producers and manufacturers to pool their resources and cut costs. (See main story.)

He is also involved in setting up an incubator program for apprentice farmers called People Learning Agriculture Now for Tomorrow (PLANT), in cooperation with N.C. State and Orange Cooperative Extension. It's a series of workshops offering the basics of farming at the W.C. Breeze Family Farm Agricultural Extension & Research Center in Hillsborough (www.orangecountyfarms.org/PLANTatBreeze.asp).


Debbie Roos

Debbie Roos grew up in Atlanta but wished for a childhood on a farm.

After earning an anthropology degree, she went into the Peace Corps, ending up in a rural farming community doing what she later learned was called "extension" work.

After the Peace Corps and a graduate degree in applied anthropology, she discovered that her dream job of becoming an extension agent required a biological sciences degree. So, she interned on a farm and went back to school for a master's degree in horticulture. Roos met North Carolina farmers Alex Hitt and Cathy Jones at a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group gathering, and in 1999 Roos started work as a North Carolina extension agent.

Roos' Web site, chatham.ces.ncsu.edu/growingsmallfarms, is an incredible resource for farmers. She fulfills a traditional role as an extension agent, offering advice on crops, securing grants for agriculture-support projects and running workshops. She also helps farmers focus on marketing and compiles information that is hard to find in one place. She's always available with facts and figures—and she knows everybody. Roos' resources and networking often rescue farmers struggling with regulatory issues, such as when a health inspector tells a restaurateur he can't serve farm eggs because they haven't been graded and candled. Before Roos came along, it was harder to sort out the rules, but now help is just a phone call or a few mouse clicks away.


Jennifer Curtis

Jennifer Curtis is passionate about saving family farms in North Carolina and has worked on sustainable agriculture issues for 20 years. She is currently working with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems' N.C. Choices program to build local food systems in North Carolina that support local economies, preserve open space, create jobs and provide fresh, safe and nutritious food (www.ncchoices.com).

A particular focus is promoting sustainable meat production and developing new marketing opportunities for independent farmers. Curtis connects farmers, local meat buyers, processors, allied businesses and consumers—in effect, building local food systems from the ground up. It's a job not without its challenges, as 90 percent of pork slaughter and processing capacity in North Carolina is owned by one company, meaning that independent farmers are forced to travel hundreds of miles to be served.

Curtis' recent efforts have focused on working with college students statewide who are interested in bringing fair, local and organic food to their dining halls, connecting food service managers, farmers and processors to provide local, niche meat products as featured menu items. (See "How FLO can you go?" Feb. 27, 2008.)

  • People who are smoothing the road to real food

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