Name as it appears on the ballot: Jenna Wadsworth
Party affiliation: Democratic (Please note this is a nonpartisan race)
Campaign website: www.JennaWadsworth.com
Occupation & employer: Vice-Chair, Wake County Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. Small business owner / Consultant. Hobby farmer.
1. Why are you running for the position of Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor? In your answer, please explain your understanding of the role and why it is important.
The Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD)’s mission is to conserve and preserve our natural resources—including soil, water, and wildlife—through voluntary technical, educational, and fiscal assistance to landowners and land users. In recent years, we updated our vision statement to reflect a core priority of our work, committing to ensure a future where “Wake County’s watersheds provide clean, abundant water for its citizens and environment.”
I am currently the Vice-Chair of the Wake County SWCD Board of Supervisors—a role I’ve been humbled to serve in for the past 12 years since, together with the voters of Wake County, we made history in 2010 when I became the youngest woman ever elected to public office in North Carolina. Since then, we’ve been able to develop innovative solutions to problems like farmland loss—especially in the face of mounting development pressures—and advance environmentally friendly policies that benefit all of our community members.
As a Supervisor, I co-authored the County’s Agricultural and Economic Development Plan that helped develop market opportunities for local food producers. I led in building innovative public-private partnerships that created training opportunities for farmers in transitioning to new best management practices (BMPs) with an eye towards soil health, as well as created opportunities for nontraditional farmers to enter into the agricultural field. As Vice-Chair of the Board, I’ve implemented numerous programs and funding opportunities for both traditional and nontraditional farmers to successfully get locally grown products to market, which helps to reduce fossil fuel emissions in our food chain.
I was a leader in helping our District secure its first ever conservation easement on a farm in Raleigh that is connected to a tributary leading to a major drinking water source, and we’ve established several additional easements since that time to further conserve natural resources, despite mounting development pressures. We’ve also received multiple soil health grants so that we can train our agricultural community on best management practices that reduce strain on natural resources while allowing crops to be more nutrient rich over time. This is work we’ve done in addition to reducing urban runoff and erosion. Furthermore, the District uses very thoughtful methodologies and rubrics in determining who receives funding for conservation projects which use county, state, and federal funds. These rubrics are publicly available and are scrutinized yearly. Any changes are adapted by the entire Board to ensure fairness in equitable distribution of funds.
For more than a decade, I’ve volunteered in countless classrooms to teach our children about our natural resources and the science behind climate change. I’ve been the biggest proponent of environmental education programming on our Board, and have actively participated in—and even led several of—our Big Sweep cleanups that have engaged volunteers throughout the county in removing thousands of tons of trash and recyclables out of our drinking water sources.
My record of working with people of diverse backgrounds and differing political affiliations to accomplish real policy successes for the people who call Wake County home has made and will continue to allow me to be an effective Supervisor. I know I was elected to serve everyone in this community, and I truly believe that is what I have done. I have been outspoken in regards to ensuring our work is viewed through both an equity and equality lens. I moved to ensure our Board Meetings continued to be livestreamed even after Governor Cooper lifted the State of Emergency to ensure increased participation from community members throughout Wake County, which allows more working class, disabled and chronically ill, and those who cannot readily access transportation (public or private) to attend and stay involved with our work. This enhances accountability.
I’ve also advocated for increased opportunities to work with community partners outside of economically affluent or highly urbanized areas in our county. We are currently partnering with the Juniper Level Baptist Church, located in a historically Black community, to help their foundation secure funding for a wetland educational center that will provide this community with educational teaching services and outdoor resources. We are sponsoring their Division of Water Resources (DWR) Water Resources Development Grant (WRDG) application for an Engineering and Feasibility Study. We are excited about further involvement in this transformative project.
We have also engaged with communities disproportionately affected by tailpipe pollution, redlining, and gentrification in our watershed cleanup work through the aforementioned Big Sweep program. In the Spring of this year alone, roughly 3,000 lbs of trash and recyclables were removed from waters surrounding Chavis Park in Southeast Raleigh.
If re-elected, my top three goals in my next term are:
a. To meaningfully address climate change through education and training, resiliency planning, implementation of best management practices, and by using the platform of this office to publicly advocate for climate-smart policies.
b. To continue to serve ALL people who call Wake County home to the best of my abilities so that together we can build a more just, sustainable, and equitable future.
c. To support our agricultural and local food communities in a way which ensures the conservation of our natural resources while addressing food insecurity, land use, water quality, and the environmental education of our people.
To learn more about my candidacy and this office, you may watch this short, informative video: Re-Elect Jenna Wadsworth (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDytqx7d5QI&feature=share&si=ELPmzJkDCLju2K nD5oyZMQ)
2. What are the three most pressing natural resources issues in the county? How do you plan to address these issues? Please be specific.
In the past several years, the Wake SWCD has engaged in some of our most innovative projects and collaborative partnerships with community leaders in conservation in order to best protect, conserve, and preserve the vital natural resources in Wake County.
As a Supervisor, I have voted to provide educational and financial assistance to land owners and users who qualify for crucial technical assistance necessary to protect water quality, properly manage agricultural resources, and conserve the county’s natural resources and wildlife. As Wake’s population continues to increase, so do the number of natural resource concerns the county will face as a result of increased and/or irresponsible development; poor urban planning; lack of mass transit investments at a fast enough pace; and builders who, as well as local governmental ordinances which, don’t take into consideration the knowledge and expertise of existing organizations and departments known for their work in sustainability and conservation. I want people to call Wake County home, because that means people are continuing to settle here for the high quality of life offered to residents. As a county, we should be working to prioritize environmentally responsible development, which means growing in a sustainable way which prioritizes existing environmental areas while supporting opportunities to increase green spaces in a climate-smart manner.
All that said, there are many natural resource issues and key priorities to address over the coming years. I would contend the top 4 priorities are: supporting our farmers–especially in the face of mounting developmental pressures; providing high quality environmental education programming; ensuring water quality for our community; and meaningfully addressing climate change (which I elaborate on further in my response to question 7).
Supporting Farmers: Farmland loss is a considerable problem we’re facing. Wake still has roughly 691 farms situated on over 77,000 acres. Hailing from a family farm, I’ve tirelessly advocated for agriculture and farmland preservation. I have been an outspoken supporter of the District’s Keeping the Farm Workshop, which provides hundreds of farmers yearly with the resources necessary to keep their farms in their families for generations to come. Since the COVID pandemic began, we have actually put recordings from recent years online so farmers all over the county and the state can access trainings and information vital to their success.
We should examine the possibility of placing easements on land and further support our farmland preservation work when that is the best opportunity to keep that land from becoming development property. We’ve also worked with County Commissioners to establish protections for farms enrolled in our Voluntary Agricultural District program (VAD) and our newer Enhanced Voluntary Agricultural District (EVAD) Program. As of FY 20-21, there are over 9,504.02 acres enrolled into this free farmland preservation program. The VAD Advisory Board approved an additional 11 applications in 2020-2021 totaling 750.6 acres. Our tireless advocacy work has led to an official Wake County board and commission which prioritizes agricultural producers, called the Wake County Agricultural Advisory Board.
The Board of Supervisors is also currently engaged with Wake County Commissioners and county staff in developing the new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) which will have protections for farms and ensure development is mindful of existing agricultural operations. Furthermore, the new UDO will even encourage developers to leave more open space and consider converting said space into agricultural production for additional incentives. This will also help to address localized food insecurity and water quality issues by reducing impervious surfaces and runoff issues.
Environmental Education Programming: As a Supervisor, I have proudly supported environmental education programs for our children as a zealous advocate for and volunteer with our programs for grades K-12. I care deeply about Wake County’s future, which is why I have spent countless hours in classrooms and at after-school programs with our students to teach them about soil science and water conservation. With the help of the Wake SWCD’s excellent environmental education coordinator, I have planned lessons, designed worksheets, and created soil centers where students could see how healthy soil helps create products used in their everyday lives. The District also has a yearly 4th and 5th grade conservation poster contest; provides free environmental education materials to teachers through our engagement with the Food, Land, and People program; and sponsors scholarships for the weeklong Resource Conservation Workshop at NC State for high schoolers interested in pursuing conservation careers. The environmental education of our citizenry—and most especially of our youth—is of paramount importance to me because I believe that it is through the fostering of future stewards of conservation that we can leave this world a little better than we found it.
Enhancing Water Quality: Folks want to know that when they go home at night, cut on the tap, and use water to cook food for their families that what they are consuming is safe. The Wake SWCD has worked diligently to help clean-up both Falls Lake and Jordan Lake, while also placing a priority on improving water quality in other waterways. Wake County has 44 watersheds. Of those, 21 provide drinking water. 24 watersheds are impaired and impacted—including, among others, Swift Creek, Falls Lake, Jordan Lake, and the Neuse River. These have been priority watersheds for the projects Wake SWCD has cost-shared projects and provided technical expertise in over the past years. We have been at the forefront of conservation, and my voice has often led the charge to ensure we are always moving forward in how we address our changing landscape.
We also lead the Big Sweep program which recruits hundreds of volunteers a year to clean tons of trash out of our drinking water. This Spring alone, 618 volunteers removed 26,000 lbs of trash and recyclables out of watersheds in 906 acres in Wake County. In past years, this was approximately the total amount of trash and recyclables collected the whole year with the help of our volunteers. In a Big Sweep cleanup on July 21st, volunteers from S&P Global removed 4,660 lbs of trash from the Kellam-Wyatt property that day alone. A September 10th Big Sweep clean at Crabtree Creek at N. Raleigh Blvd. resulted in the removal of 2,543 lbs of trash and recyclables. I’m proud to have advocated for a full-time Big Sweep coordinator to be on staff so we can do this work year round.
3. Identify examples of how the district can best balance agricultural/rural and urban interests in regards to soil and water conservation.
I still believe that one of the best examples of how the Wake SWCD can balance agricultural, rural, and urban interests in regards to our work with soil and water conservation is the demonstration horse farm at Black Horse Run. Black Horse Run is located in the Falls Lake Watershed, and is a mixed-use development containing both agricultural space and suburban neighborhoods. Through the installation of various projects to filter runoff—including a rain garden, a rainwater collection system trapping water runoff from the barn roof that is directed to underground cisterns, and a manure composting system—the Wake SWCD installed projects which are now used to educate the public on reducing nonpoint source pollution into nearby waterways. We also installed livestock exclusion fencing to prevent the horses from having unrestricted access to streams on the property, resulting in their opting to drink from automatic waterers which were installed throughout the pasture. A 25-foot buffer of thick, native vegetation was created between the stream and the pasture in order to further filter nonpoint source pollution from pasture runoff while decreasing erosion. In the adjacent housing development, we used Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP) funds and technical assistance to reduce stormwater runoff resulting from impervious surfaces. Two landowners, in particular, practically had a small creek running through their yards during heavy rains because the velocity of stormwater runoff had created an extreme case of gully erosion. A stormwater ditch was installed and outfitted with composting materials to help decrease the velocity of the runoff and filter the pollutants before recharging the groundwater supplies. One of the landowners worked with the SWCD to install a rainwater cistern which he uses to water his garden.
4. What funding issues are facing the Soil and Water Conservation District? How would you ensure the district receives full funding? Are there alternative funding sources the district could explore? If so, what are they?
When I was first running for a seat on the SWCD Board of Supervisors back in 2010, the District’s most significant funding issues included limited staffing resources and a lack of grants to fund innovative projects related to soil health, wildlife, and watershed cleanups. The 2008 recession hit the District hard, with it being cut more than any other county department. Technically, we weren’t even an official county department at the time, given our quasi-governmental status. We are, however, now officially recognized as a Wake County Department as our relationship with the County and its Commissioners has led to a more substantial commitment to prioritizing the needs of our agricultural community and investing in community-led conservation practices. Staff and Supervisors, such as myself, have been vigilant in developing relationships with County Commissioners and Legislators, along with key departmental staff at the county, state, and federal levels, to ensure we can work together to address natural resource concerns by receiving adequate funding. These relationships are often the result of SWCD staff taking the time to explain to decision makers why our work matters and what impact we have on quality of life for people who call Wake County home. SWCD staff does this, among other ways, by creating thorough annual reports detailing our work and through taking decision makers out on site visits across the county to see our work firsthand. Understanding is key in ensuring our success.
The Wake SWCD works with landowners and land users to provide both technical and—when strict funding criteria are met—fiscal assistance on projects. State and Federal cost-share assistance programs help citizens install invaluable conservation practices in the county—with many of these practices benefiting the larger population and area than where they are installed. The most-used resource by the Wake SWCD is the North Carolina Agriculture Cost Share Program, which helps us address problems stemming from nonpoint source pollution on agricultural lands. This voluntary cost share program allows us to work with farmers and agricultural land renters to identify best management practices (BMPs) best suited to the specific farm in order to develop and enact conservation plans that oversee the implementation of those BMPs that will allow that farmer to be successful. We rank applications received by criteria which takes into consideration the most pressing natural resource concerns in Wake County. The Ag Cost Share program more directly benefits the farmer through cost sharing on programs that help to minimize farm field erosion that reduces the need to apply nutrient-containing substances to the crop or area through practices like conservation tillage, planting of critical areas, prescribed grazing of livestock, the installation of agricultural wells, sod-based rotation, and an assortment of other practices. The North Carolina General Assembly continues to fund this program because it preserves the family farm, our state’s original business engine, while helping it move into the future with increased productivity.
Another voluntary, incentive-based program which we use to improve water quality in Wake County is the Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP). Similar to the Ag Cost Share Program, CCAP works to install BMPs, usually after a conservation plan is created. However, the CCAP focuses on urban, suburban, and rural lands not directly involved in agricultural production, which has resulted in partnerships with homeowners, businesses, schools, parks, and other landowners in order to provide educational, technical, and financial assistance in stormwater management and in bettering water quality.
In FY 20-21, the Wake SWCD staff, along with our partners at USDA-NRCS, wrote conservation plans for 2,547.90 acres of farmland in the county. The District implemented BMPs on 1,531.28 acres and distributed over $133,566 in financial assistance funds which prioritized soil health and water quality. Our staff visited 319 farm tracts and encumbered $191,279 in state and federal cost share funding.
As of September 2022, staff has reported that, in the prior 12 months, $212,830 worth of cost-share projects were put on the ground. This means that SWCD conservationists both designed and installed BMPs and other valuable conservation practices on 130 different tracts on 456 acres of land in Wake County.
I believe our work over the past two fiscal years is particularly impressive given the changing realities we faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I cannot say enough good things about how impressive and dedicated the talented individuals who work at the Wake SWCD are, and I know that nearly all of my successes in this office are largely due to the hard work and highly-technical expertise of these folks whom I admire with all my heart. We now have 8 county employees, which is one of the largest SWCD staffs in the state—which is yet another indication of how far we’ve come during my tenure. We recently expanded the number of Conservationists on staff, which will allow us to provide more technical expertise to landowners and land users in the county. We also were supported by the County in creating our own Farmland Preservation Coordinator, which is an exciting opportunity to further invest in our agricultural community. Our positive relationship with County Commissioners also helped us prove the value of having a full-time Big Sweep coordinator, which now allows our Environmental Educator to spend more time working with our teachers and students throughout this county which boasts one of the largest public school districts in the country. I see all of this as progress from where we started.
Our FY 22-23 allocations are as follows: $55,855 in Ag Cost Share (which is up from around $53,000 in FY 21-22); $9,651 for Impaired / Impacted Watershed work; $13,155 in AgWRAP funds; and our CCAP allotment is currently unknown until after the statewide Soil and Water Commission meets later this fall to rank submitted project ideas from our multi-county area before awarding funding.
Additionally, we apply for grant funds to further stretch the dollars that implement BMPs. In FY 20-21, the District began implementation of a three-year grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) called “Advancing Soil Health through BMP Adoption and Installation.” The grant provides $95,820 in financial and technical field assistance to farmers via training on the benefits of cover crops and increasing grazing cover. In shorthand, this grant helps ensure long-term soil health in Wake County. During FY 20-21, staff completed 19 NFWF Cover Crop Contracts on 750.14 acres and paid out a total of $54,451.70 in grant funds to Wake County farmers. Perhaps more impressively though, the cover crops installed through the grant reduced 437 tons of sediment, 5,000 pounds of nitrogen, and over 200 pounds of phosphorus from entering Wake County watersheds.
The District is also a member of the Piedmont Conservation Council (PCC), which is an association which helps us secure additional grants and develop lasting partnerships with like-minded entities in order to advance our conservation work. We partnered with PCC on the Beechtree HOA Black Creek Stream Restoration Project to restore 1,000 linear feet of perennial streams. A perennial stream has continuous surface water flow, especially in years with average rainfall totals, as compared to intermittent flow. A total of 2.3 acres of floodplain wetlands will be restored, with an additional 3.1 acres of floodplains enhanced. Due to this work, it is now possible to improve an additional 2,300 ft of streams if there is future restoration or enhancement work in this area. Funding for Black Creek Stream Restoration Project resulted in securing a total of $640,000 between a $400,000 Clean Water Management Trust Fund Grant (CWMTF), $90,000 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 319 Grant, $75,000 N.C. Division of Water Resources Grant (DWR), and $75,000 from the Beechtree Homeowners Association (HOA).
In summary, these various grants and cost share programs make a big difference in the lives of Wake County residents. I believe in being mindful about how we spend state and federal resources, because that money comes from somewhere and it could just as easily be used somewhere else. SWCD staff and Supervisors are respectful of that, and we strive to get the biggest bang out of a buck because we know how to stretch a dollar. For every dollar of state or federal money spent, many more come back in increased productivity and efficiency of the farmer, in decreased costs to taxpayers having to pay for drinking water purification and sediment removal from their water source, in increased travel and tourism dollars for enhancing open space or scenic recreation areas, and in jobs kept here in the county and state by the engineering and project staff employed to install the BMPs. We are consistently performing at a high level at the Wake SWCD, and we will continue to seek out additional grant and funding opportunities, but I do think it is worth giving credit where credit is due and recognizing how we have overcome our past difficulties in funding our workload.
5. Many residents don’t know what the Soil and Water Conservation District actually does. In what ways would you reach out to residents to educate them?
Since I first ran in 2010, educating and informing the public about the work of the SWCD has been a personal mission of mine. We admittedly aren’t as big and flashy as other county departments, but the work we do is critically important. Every time I go into a classroom and volunteer with children, I’m teaching people about our work. Every time staff provides support and connectivity to the agricultural community through speaking on panels or serving on leadership boards, more people learn about the work we do. Simply put, I believe by continuing to serve our landowners and land users by providing the highest quality service we can, our work will speak volumes and will receive accolades that will help raise awareness about what it is that we do.
I also know that we have seen significant benefits from becoming a fully recognized County department, in large part because of the County’s communications team which regularly highlights our work and programs via their social media platforms and WakeGov TV. We have also been able to raise awareness of our farmland preservation work thanks to the County Commissioners officially creating the Agricultural Advisory Board.
Additionally, I regularly speak on building progressive opportunities through agriculture and climate justice to various groups and have been interviewed by The Nation, PBS NewsHour, NBC News, The Advocate, and other publications. Last year, I spoke with a group of Food Councils throughout the state (and I even got to introduce Congresswoman Alma Adams) on food sovereignty and resiliency, especially in the wake and aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although, I want to publicly contend that we are very much still in a pandemic. To see more, begin at the 4 minute mark: https://fb.watch/fWVwEYncez/
I also led a workshop and information session during NC State University’s 2021 Environmental Justice Symposium. To hear my remarks, watch here: Hungry for Change Fighting for Progress in North Carolina Through Agriculture (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSmLU3evTmI&feature=share&si=ELPmzJkDCLju2 KnD5oyZMQ)
In addition to filming informational videos and interviews, I regularly attend candidate events and community meetings to introduce myself and let folks know about the resources they have available through the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District. The environmental education of our citizenry is the most lasting and meaningful service we provide to the people in this county. As more people learn of the services we provide, we have seen a perpetual increase in the demand of our educational outreach activities. We will do what we always have—which is to keep on keeping on, and as our staff grows and continues to receive support from both Supervisors and conservation partners, we will be able to educate, inform, serve, and inspire even more people.
6. What is the district’s role in making sure residents’ water–including those people who use wells―is safe to drink? What role, if any, should the district play in safeguarding the local water supply from emerging contaminants?
The Wake SWCD’s mission is to conserve and preserve our natural resources—including soil, water, and wildlife—through voluntary technical, educational, and fiscal assistance to landowners and land users. The role that we play in protecting drinking water quality and safeguarding the local water supply from emerging contaminants is shaped by that mission. The word I want to focus on in our mission statement is “voluntary.” By order of General Statute, the Wake SWCD is a non-regulatory entity.
It’s worth noting that groundwater quantity issues are part of the ongoing workload of our local planners and the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Division of Water Resources. They are the permitting and regulatory agencies who tackle community wells issues that withdraw large quantities of ground water. The mission of DEQ states it “is responsible for the environmental protection and quality of the State’s surface water and groundwater, and to ensure safe drinking water for its residents.” Their website goes on to state that DEQ’s authority is granted by both the EPA and the General Assembly, along with other relevant commissions, to “monitor compliance and conduct regulatory enforcement for environmental violations,” which includes “evaluat[ing] environmental water quantity and quality.”
It would be unprofessional to suggest implementation of permanent measures of any kind on matters that are not within the Wake SWCD’s, or even Wake County’s, jurisdiction. Public water supply sources in Wake County are managed by either the City of Raleigh or the Town of Cary. Although we partner with municipal and non-profit organizations to educate our citizens on good stewardship of water resources, only Raleigh (and the towns where it supplies water) and Cary should determine supply status, restrictions, and management. It should be noted that the Wake SWCD generally does not do water quality testing, although many residents have contacted our offices regarding such testing. In these cases, staff refers folks to Wake County Environmental Services or the relevant municipality.
Even without regulatory power, the District has successfully worked with landowners to protect natural resources—especially our water quality—for more than half a century through voluntary conservation efforts. Our conservation plans and best management practices (BMPs) installed on the land help to conserve water and other natural resources, as well as improve water quality and soil heath. The BMPs that the Wake SWCD uses to protect water quality reduce the amount of nutrients entering the water sources of our surface waters and groundwater. Furthermore, we have always promoted voluntary conservation of our water resources by citizens, landowners, and businesses.
That said, the Wake SWCD farmland preservation efforts help to maintain large areas for groundwater recharge. Active and healthy farms and forests are the best sources of groundwater recharge. So, designing water control structures on crop fields can help to slow or direct water, which ultimately impacts water quality. Through conservation planning, we can help to avoid contaminant issues by properly planning agricultural wells, chemical mixing areas, and other projects. Educating agricultural producers on sustainable soil management and emphasizing Integrated Pest Management will also help protect water quality. We also educate private landowners when it comes to the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers which are typically overused and result in nutrient issues in our water supply.
Lastly, we do receive cost share money from the state through the Agricultural Water Resources Assistance Program (AgWRAP) which can be used to help farmers fund agricultural use watering wells for livestock or irrigation. These wells are installed with the knowledge of the agricultural producer that the water in the well is not for human consumption.
7. Are there any other issues you would like to address that have not been covered by this questionnaire?
CLIMATE CHANGE: I am committed to preserving this one, precious, beautiful planet we call home. I am a proud climate activist and, for the past twelve years in elected service, I’ve been fighting to protect, preserve, and conserve our natural resources and wildlife, all while educating the next generation of young minds who will be on the frontlines of this climate crisis. It is a core belief of mine that we have an inherent responsibility to speak up for our environment and fight to preserve our natural spaces before it’s too late.
Climate change is most assuredly one of the greatest threats to us all, but I believe that is especially true for our farmers. It is imperative to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis on our agricultural sector, especially in the wake of more frequent and intense natural disasters. Climate change causes unpredictable yields, as well as premature blossoming of crops; alters planting and harvesting dates; and increases the frequency of damage caused by weather events. Left unaddressed, climate change can result in dire circumstances, including the inability to produce crops and the eventual loss of the farm through bankruptcy, which has understandably contributed to declining mental health and a stark increase in the number of farmer suicides. North Carolina’s farmers and our most vulnerable folks are on the frontlines of the fight against climate change, or at least they must be, in order for us to realize any true progress in mitigating what Mother Nature has in store for us in the coming years.
I believe writing a relief check in the aftermath of devastation brought about by extreme weather cannot be our only solution to dealing with natural disasters. While such money can unquestionably provide short-term relief to folks who have seen a season of work go down the metaphorical drain, it is both economically unsustainable and environmentally unsustainable to push conventional practices and support factory farming in the long-term. We need to build resiliency into both our farm and community planning, and move to more sustainable agricultural models and crops in order to continue feeding our state and the rest of the world that is depending on us. We must vigorously advocate for transitioning to best management practices—prioritizing conservation while fostering long term economic success. This is something I’m really proud to say the Wake Soil and Water District has done and continues to do well.
We must innovate and work towards creating a future where our farmers don’t have to rely on subsidies and bailouts to survive. We want our farmers to thrive. Young people, as well as both nontraditional and marginalized folks, are apprehensive about exploring a career in farming that means a future spent working one of the hardest jobs at all hours of the day with a very low profit margin, high risks, dependence on political leaders to create financial lifelines, extreme uncertainty, overwhelming stress, and difficulty in safeguarding their mental, physical, or economic health. It is my enduring belief that building resiliency into and fostering sustainability in our agricultural systems could combat many of these worries and offer a more prosperous future for those who choose to devote themselves to both growing and raising our food and fiber.
We should pursue regenerative, organic, vertical, and urban farming. These are priorities of mine moving into what I hope will be my next term. In many ways, the NC Department of Agriculture, as well as the local Soil and Water Districts across the state, aren’t as well equipped at supporting and encouraging more modern models of farming and that’s true for a host of reasons, many of which are historical and political in nature. Nevertheless, I still believe we can move an industry largely left in the past into the future while creating greener jobs, building more resilient local food systems, tackling food insecurity, and supporting family farmers throughout the county. In doing so, Wake will continue to set a high bar and lead by example for farmers throughout North Carolina who are questioning how they can continue to keep doing what they love even as they are faced with issues arising from the climate emergency we are living through at this moment.
It is also incumbent upon us to educate the next generation who will inherit the land, which is why I support putting gardens on every school ground. This was a key part of my platform in 2020 when I ran statewide for Commissioner of Agriculture and it is a vision I am very much still committed to. It is my hope that our District will be able to find alternative funding mechanisms to help realize this goal in Wake County in the coming years, until the State decides to step up and invest in our school children’s health, wellness, and agricultural education in a more substantial and substantive way.
To further signify my commitment to meaningfully addressing the climate crisis, I have once again signed the No Toxic Money Pledge, which states: “I will take no money or gifts from Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, or their affiliates, including from their Political Action Committees (PAC), lobbyists, and executives. In addition, I support a moratorium on all of their new fossil fuel infrastructure projects.” I also signed The Green New Deal Pledge, which states: “I pledge that I will use my office to champion a Green New Deal in any and all ways, including but not limited to: developing and supporting Green New Deal legislation and/or resolutions; building support amongst my colleagues for a Green New Deal; and publicly advocating for the necessity of a Green New Deal.”
As I see it, building a more sustainable future is both a moral and economic imperative.
HISTORY, VISIBILITY, AND REPRESENTATION: I grew up off a dirt road on my grandparents’ farm in Johnston County which raised hogs, cattle, chickens, corn, cotton, tobacco, and soybeans; I now run the operation with my father.
I am a graduate of both the NC School of Science and Mathematics in Durham—where I, just this month, completed nine years of service on the Executive Board of Directors for the Alumni Association—and NC State University—where I served on the Steering Committee for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Oaks Leadership Scholars program. I’m the Co-Founder of the progressive nonprofit New Leaders Council – North Carolina, which has trained many community leaders in our state. I’m an active member of both Local Progress and the Young Elected Officials Network. For my work with the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitors Leadership Program and USAID, I was appointed to the NC Advisory Committee of the US Global Leadership Coalition. In 2020, I had the honor of being named one of Raleigh’s Thirty in their 30s by Raleigh Magazine. I’m passionate about building equity in the Southeast for B.I.P.O.C. farmers, especially those engaged in hemp and cannabis production.
In 2020, I was the Democratic Nominee for North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture. While we did not win that fight, we ran an exciting, inclusive campaign that garnered nearly 2.5 million votes against an entrenched sixteen-year Republican incumbent. We ran on a progressive platform of supporting small, family farmers; legalizing cannabis; combating climate change; advocating for farmworkers; addressing childhood hunger; and expanding both broadband access and healthcare options in our rural communities. If elected, I would have been the first out LGBTQ+ member of the Council of State and the youngest out LGBTQ+ statewide elected official ever in the country. Resultantly, our campaign website was archived in the Library of Congress’s historic collection of internet materials on LGBTQ+ Politics and Political Candidates.
While I’m still disheartened by the loss of that election, I’ll never stop fighting to build a more inclusive and progressive South where we all feel welcomed, valued, and safe. Being able to use my voice to amplify the idea that LGBTQ folks are human beings who deserve love, respect, equality, and dignity—the same rights and freedoms as everyone else—has been a really powerful experience. It has moved and molded me. It has inspired me when the days are long and hard and dark because I can imagine a brighter future where everyone can live authentically and do so proudly. That’s worth everything.
I know that representation and visibility matter. I think it matters that I’m a millennial, Progressive, disabled and chronically ill, queer, working class woman. I believe my own experiences have helped me to become a more empathetic and responsive leader, accountable to those who often feel neglected in our politics and society. There is so much work left to be done in this world to achieve equity and equality for those who are marginalized by our existing power structure, but I’d like to keep doing that work in our community if voters will allow me.
WORK ETHIC AND SWCD EXPERIENCE: I am the only incumbent running. This is a nonpartisan contest at the bottom of the ballot, and one that is, rather unfortunately, considered pretty low information. I am the only Democrat running. There will not be a Democrat sitting on this five-person, countywide board if I’m not re-elected. As a point of information, there are 2 seats up in this election. There is one candidate, Brian K. Lewis, who has virtually attended several Wake County SWCD Board of Supervisors meetings since he filed and has been engaged. To my knowledge and that of our extraordinarily talented staff, none of the other candidates have ever even attended one of our Board meetings. This is in spite of the fact that I have championed keeping our meetings virtually livestreamed so anyone, anywhere, could attend and participate in our work. Furthermore, these individuals have not reached out to staff to learn more about either the role of Supervisors or any of the duties and responsibilities of this department. Truthfully, as someone who has devoted myself to this office for over a decade, I’m disheartened that others who very well may be elected this fall have done little to express a meaningful interest in doing this important work to safeguard our county’s natural resources other than paying a $5 filing fee to have their names listed on the ballot. We all deserve better than that.
ENDORSEMENTS: I have been endorsed by the following organizations: The Sierra Club; The LGBTQ+ Victory Fund; LPAC; The Wake County Democratic Party; The Wake County Libertarian Party (in addition to the Libertarian candidate running); The Raleigh-Wake Citizen’s Association (RWCA); and the Wake County Voter Education Coalition. The last two organizations specialize in GOTV and pollworking, targeting historically marginalized and racially diverse communities which are too often underserved by our political leaders.
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