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Director's Log

Director’s Log | September 2023

Sarah Langer Hall headshot
IEI Director Sarah Langer Hall

To say I was born without a green thumb would be an understatement. Like many across the nation, I enthusiastically started a garden during the pandemic only to end up with a bed of rotten vegetables and weeds. It turns out I like the idea of growing the food more than I like the work. Thank goodness for farmers! 

Exactly one year ago, IEI had the opportunity to partner with the 2022 Farm Aid festival in Raleigh. Our team used this opportunity to engage with farmers and festival goers about emerging issues related to North Carolina’s largest industry: agriculture. We surveyed attendees about what issues they think contribute to a strong food economy in our state, and then asked the same questions of our greater audience. Buying direct from family farms; farm to table Initiatives; and nurturing new and beginning farmers were the top areas identified by survey participants. You can read a summary of the survey results on our website

We headed back to Farm Aid this year, this time in Indiana, with a particular interest in the workforce and what is attracting young farmers to try farming (in 2017, the average age of a North Carolina farmer was 58). One panelist talked about his hydroponics container and the surprise young people have to see a clean space equipped with a TV and speaker – more of what they are used to. It brought me back to our InnovateNC initiative (2015-2017) and learning about the work of MG3 Farms in Robeson County. Another young farmer was moved to the industry to grow crops that could capture carbon emissions and other environmental benefits – turns out they can be an economic driver as well. As IEI continues to research potential future program areas, workforce will certainly be top of mind, as well as community and economic development. 

Speaking of engaging with communities, Team IEI is out and about this fall, meeting and convening with our partners and local leaders across the state. 

  • In September, we joined the Talent First Economics Community Cohort Eastern Region team in Snow Hill for their regional action planning meeting – the first of five regional meetings held this fall by members of the cohort.
  • Our Faith & Community team also connected with community leaders in western North Carolina in September as part of the NC Rural Center’s Summer Road Trip.
  • In October we’ll continue to support other Talent First Economics Community Cohort teams as they hold regional action planning meetings in the Cape Fear region and Piedmont-Triad. Dates and locations will be announced soon! 
  • Our BAND-NC team is partnering with the Dogwood Health Trust next month to celebrate all of the western North Carolina counties completing their digital inclusion planning. 
  • Faith & Community and BAND-NC are also partnering up for a virtual peer network session in October to discuss how faith communities are increasing digital connections in their communities.

As you can see, we have a busy fall season ahead of us, and this is only just the beginning. Once again, I’m thankful for the support and guidance of our staff, leadership, partners and sponsors. We’ll see you on the road!