Piedmont Community College (PCC) hosted its second annual Agriculture Summit at the Caswell County Campus on April 17.

With more than 40 people in attendance, the event focused on the impact and importance of agriculture in Caswell County and North Carolina. Representatives from Caswell County Government, Caswell County Schools, Person County Schools and Danville Regional Foundation were among those in attendance.

Shawn Harding, NC Farm Bureau President, gave the keynote address where he emphasized the importance of supporting farmers and others in agriculture to help communities thrive.

“Agriculture jobs tie people to the community and tie people to the land,” Harding said.  “Agriculture is science, math, technology, and engineering and we need to help our farmers with that.”

According to Harding, with new houses being built and solar farms coming to North Carolina, the number one issue for the agriculture community is loss of farmland. He said that NC Farm Bureau is working on ways to combat this issue.  

“The one constant in life is change, we will see change whether we’re prepared for it or not,” Harding said. “Agriculture has changed dramatically, but agriculture still remains the number one economic driver in North Carolina.”

Dr. Shawnee Seese, PCC Director of Continuing Education Programs for Business Studies and Emerging Technology and Lucas Bernard, PCC Agribusiness Coordinator/Instructor shared information about the variety of agriculture programs PCC offers. Aside from the Agriculture Technology program that leads to an associate in science degree, PCC also offers short-term agriculture programs such as Hydraulics Repair, Veterinary Assisting, Permaculture, and Mushroom Foraging and Cultivation.

Emily Buchanan, PCC’s Director of Caswell County Campus Operations, shared about how the BLAST (Breakthrough Learning in Agricultural Science Technology) program has expanded over the past few years since it began in 2021. BLAST is a hands-on program for elementary school students that introduces them to agriculture by incorporating fun into learning. BLAST started at Stoney Creek Elementary School in Caswell County with about 25 students and has now expanded to serve five elementary schools and the Caswell County Homeschoolers Association, serving more than 500 students since the program began.  

Funding for BLAST has been received from the PCC Foundation, Community Foundation of the Dan River Region, Ag South Farm Credit, Project Skill Up, North Carolina Community College System, NC Tobacco Trust Fund and Center for Community Engagement. The part-time BLAST Coordinator and Agriculture Outreach Specialist position, filled by Selena Thornton, was funded by local appropriation from the Caswell County Board of Commissioners.

“BLAST is one my favorite parts of my job,” Buchanan said. “PCC is committed to doing our part to sustain our vibrant agricultural community. One of the ways we can do this is by helping to maintain a pipeline of interest in agriculture careers. We want our youth to get excited about agriculture and understand they can have a vibrant, successful career in agriculture right here at home.”

During the Agriculture Summit, Person County native and retired educator Daniel Jackson presented the PCC Foundation with a $100,000 endowment for BLAST in honor of the late Bessie Daniel. Daniel was a Person County native who dedicated more than 20 years to agriculture in Person County. Daniel was a family friend of the Jacksons, and he knew he wanted to honor her by supporting both agriculture and education. Dr. Pamela G. Senegal, PCC President, announced that the BLAST program will now be known as the Bessie Daniel BLAST program thanks to Jackson’s generous donation.

Thornton and Leia Rollins, PCC’s Coordinator of College High School Programs, led everyone in an “ag-tivity” where they extracted DNA from strawberries. This gave everyone the opportunity to experience the types of activities Thornton facilitates during BLAST sessions.

The event concluded with a trip to PCC’s CEAD (Center for Educational and Agricultural Development) site in Pelham, NC for a demonstration of how drones are used in agriculture. CEAD will serve as an economic development and community project and is the future home of PCC’s Agribusiness Technology program.

CEAD is currently in phase one of three. Construction is anticipated to begin in 10-12 months and designs are in the process of being finalized. CEAD received a recent $500,000 federal allocation from Congresswoman Kathy Manning and a capital fundraising campaign is being planned for phase two.

For more information about CEAD, visit www.piedmontcc.edu/cead. For more information about PCC’s short-term agriculture programs, visit www.piedmontcc.edu/short-term-ag.

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