Brittney Burns — Staff Writer

Macon County is one of the few counties in the state to boast a cooperate extension, which provides an invaluable resource to the community.

“We are extremely fortunate to have a cooperate extension office here in Macon County,” said Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale. “Very few counties across the state can say that. The services and classes that Alan Durden and the cooperative extension provides this county serve so many residents.”

Alan Durden, the Director of the Macon County Cooperative Extension Office, presented county commissioners with an annual update on the work of the extension office.

“Macon County Cooperative Extension is pleased to have had a successful year of educational program delivery to the citizens of Macon County,” said Durden. “Eight specific objectives were addressed by agents, program assistants and volunteers in the areas of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Family and Consumer Science, Community Development and 4-H-Youth Development. The following paragraphs describe some of the highlights of our programs and their impacts on Macon County in 2016.”

Last year, the county’s extension office’s Family and Consumer Science Programming focused on two Food Safety areas; NC Safe Plates Food Manager Food Safety Certification and Safely Preserving Food at Home, according to Durden.

Four food service employees participated in the NC Safe Plates class gaining information on preventing food borne illness and received their certification. Economic value for food safety education programs for the employees of four food service establishments is estimated to be over $200,000. A total of 46 participants attended six food preservation classes focusing on Safely Preserving Food at Home. While Botulism occurrences are rare, it is estimated that each botulism case costs the taxpayer over $725,000

Macon County 4-H partners with ten club volunteers, multiple community businesses, and parents to provide learning activities throughout the year. In 2016, Macon County 4-H provided youth with 213 hours of after-school learning and 128 hours of summer experiential learning.

“Animal agriculture adds over nine million dollars of value to the Macon County economy,” said Durden. “Other agronomic crops, including corn, soy beans, and wheat are also produced on approximately 600 acres. Cooperative Extension supports these producers with individual consultations, workshops and through participation and support of the JMS Cattleman’s Association, the Macon County Poultry Club, and the Macon County Beekeepers Association. Youth are the future of agriculture and the Macon County 4-H Youth Market Steer Club continues to grow in numbers allowing more youth to participate and learn valuable husbandry, life and leadership skills.”

In 2016, 51 Macon County Master Gardeners donated over 1,840 hours of volunteer service to Cooperative Extension. Donations to the program and Master Gardener fundraisers yielded over $2500 to support their work. Association members also donated more than one hundred hours of volunteer service to the Macon County Fair.

The Macon County Community Garden Committee is currently taking applications for  garden space in the 2017 Community Garden.  The community garden is in its’ sixth season.

There are only 24 spaces available for the season, which is set to open on May 1. Spaces in the garden cost $25 per space, and gardeners must supply their own fertilizer, seeds, and plants. If you would like to sign up, you can call the NC Cooperative Extension, Macon Center at 828-349-2046.

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) taught 677 limited resource youth in Macon County basic nutrition concepts and food safety skills. Pre and post evaluation data from 604 of those youth indicate that approximately 93% either gained knowledge or improved their abilities to choose foods according to Federal Dietary Recommendations; 71 percent increased their knowledge or now use safe food handling practice more often; and 58 percent gained knowledge or improved their physical activity practices; and 47 percent gained knowledge or improved in their ability to prepare simple, affordable and nutritious food.