by Mike Floyd, Caswell Messenger — Link to original article

“Fall turned to winter, another year gone

Over and over again

Some took their lives from the land and moved on

Some stayed on to plow it back in

And the Good Lord, He giveth and He taketh away

And the restless shall go and the faithful shall stay”

-Steve Earle

It’s hard not to feel the buzz coming off Piedmont Community College’s new CEAD project. CEAD means Center for Educational and Agricultural Development. The $32 million Agribusiness investment is on three-phase schedule for completion in 2023-2024. The site location, off I-29 is a precious gem just waiting to be polished by local Ag students as part of their curriculum.

Imagine, a huge, public drive-in farm, dedicated and built for growing and selling fresh produce!

To understand the potential, the Caswell Messenger took a ride out to Pelham last week and drove onto the undeveloped ground for a look-see.

It is a beautiful location and sits on a serene plateau facing northwest towards Rockingham County, NC, and Virginia’s Pittsylvania County.

“The location was chosen in combination with the leadership team for CEAD, Economic Development for Caswell County, the commissioners, and the College. The county already owned the Pelham Industrial Park and it’s in two parts. There really weren’t any immediate plans for that site, which is right up against the Virginia border. That’s when the opportunity came to have part of that industrial park ceded to PCC as a fiduciary agent for the project,” said Dr. Pamela Senegal, President of PCC in a recent conference call.

“There began the collection of the needs to better address our county Ag issues. The other ‘intersecting needs’ kept bubbling to the top and we realized that we needed more than just a building. That it needed to be something bigger. As we began that conversation in earnest, we realized that the 13 acres the college had in Yanceyville would be insufficient to meet the intersecting needs,” adds Senegal.

Judging by the proposed site diagram, the CEAD park will have an attractive lineup of agricultural features including an incubator farm, farm stands, a food hub, beehives (nothing better than local honey!), food and plant demos and 18 half-acre plots for enterprising farmers to lease and grow seasonal crops on site. The students that are currently in the Agribusiness program at PCC will run the incubator farm.

Dr. Senegal said, “The incubator farm will be a combination of crops as the land isn’t ideal for growing everything. There will be a conversation about what will be grown collectively.”

PCC Facility Director Ed Morrah shares, “There are about 12-15 acres from Legacy Tobacco Fields. We are going to repurpose that for our incubator farm starting this spring. We want to go ahead and move on that because it’s been about 20 years since those tobacco fields were farmed. They had been grown over with trees and what-not, but the trees were eventually cleared. Now, it’s filled with old stumps that need to come out.”

Once the planned grading and excavation work is done, the project will be turned over to the students and instructors in conjunction with the Ag Department to start applying the appropriate nutrients to the fields. After applying the nutrients, beneficial cover crops will be planted. Fescue grass, as a possible cover crop, has been discussed, but a lot of that has to do with the results of the testing of the soil. Whatever cover crop is planted, it will be plowed in, and soil samples will be taken on a regular basis to monitor the soil’s health and growing conditions.

“As far as a nickname for the park, there will be opportunities for naming. For now, the overall site location we’re going to stick with the Center for Education and Agricultural Development, CEAD. Knowing that there are going to be other components to it, there will be a food distribution hub that actually has its own unique address. The planned education building will have its own address, also. But for now, the working title for the project needs to be CEAD,” said Dr. Senegal.

At the expansive site, there will be parking at the Incubator Farm and food distribution will have its own designated parking, too. Eventually, the idea is that there will be walking trails that connect the entire site together, which can also be used for casual exercise and walking.

“The well-thought-out project comes from the power of ‘having real smart people in the room’ and having Cori Lindsay at Economic Development, Brian Miller, and the commissioners, the extension agents, the forestry division, DRF and the Tobacco Trust, on the team. These are folks who not only invested time in marketing interviews but invested dollars,” said Dr. Senegal.

Kin Watlington, the busy PCC Agribusiness Director added, “We have so much land available for agriculture, and I think the real key is with the planned food hub. It’s right near the interstate and people that have food and can distribute food will be right there, and it’s not a congested area yet like places in Durham and Greensboro. It’s an easy in and easy out. It’s a beautiful area with wonderful potential.”

Beth Townsend, PCC’s Vice-President of Advancement and Communications, said, “We’re just really excited. We are so proud of our list of partners and the number of people who want to be involved. We have a grant team that we work with in conjunction with our partners and we had an extremely enthusiastic and successful response.”

The partner list includes Caswell County Public Health, North Carolina Forestry Service, Piedmont Community College, Caswell County EMS, Caswell Economic Development, Piedmont Progressive Farmers’ Cooperative, IHR Architecture, NC Cooperative Extension, Dewberry, 4P Foods, Caswell County, Community Food Labs, the Health Collaborative and DRF, the Bridge to the Future.

“We’re excited to be part of this project that we believe is going to bring about generational change. This is the kind of a project where we literally plant the seed, and our grandchildren will reap the benefits. This May we’re hoping to have a formal ribbon cutting. As the other phases happen, we’ll think about having additional dedications,” said Dr. Senegal in closing.

For more information on CEAD, please go to:  https://www.piedmontcc.edu/community/cead/

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