a small group of Hatteras Islanders accompanied Saltwater Connections
coordinator Susan West to the Conetoe Family Life Center in 2012 there
was no hint of what good things would result from that visit.
The Community Gardeners and Coastal Harvesters of Hatteras went
searching for inspiration from an established community garden in the
small town of Conetoe (pronounced con-e-ta) about 160 miles inland just
east of Wilson, N.C.
They were astonished.
“It is not a garden. It’s a farm!" West said. "They were really
generous, giving us field peas and okra. Their generosity was
really touching. But it was more than a garden. It was also
about mentoring the kids.”
West continued, “They (the youth) are instructed in how to speak to
adults, what words you cannot use. They write grant proposals and
market their produce. There is an unwritten rule that anyone in
the community who needs produce can just go get it. It is
Three years later, there is an innovative food exchange and an equally
important cultural exchange well underway between the Conetoe folks and
Cape Hatteras Secondary School of Coastal Studies food and nutrition
The idea for the initial visit came about at a 2012 Saltwater
Connections meeting in the Avon Fire House during a discussion about
the need on Hatteras for fresh, easily accessible produce.
Mikki Sager, vice-president and director of the Conservation
Fund’s Resourceful Communities program, suggested that islanders
might want to develop a cooperative relationship with
Conetoe. “They have no seafood. You have no
produce. Why not trade?”
The Conetoe story truly is inspirational -- a tale of positive
determination, dedication, and generosity beyond what most of us
When Rev. Richard Joyner, himself an inspiration, first went to the
Conetoe Missionary Baptist Church, he was stunned and alarmed to learn
that his new community had the worst health rating in the state.
Obesity was rampant, heart conditions were common, and healthful
nutrition, practically non-existent. During his first year, he
presided over 30 funerals of people 32 years old or younger, most of
whom suffered from ailments caused by poor nutrition.
The area was in terrible decline, having lost most of its jobs as
plants and mills closed. People needed not only food but also
He made healthy eating his first priority. He organized local
youth to help build a garden. That garden would provide fresh
produce for all the people in the community, teach the young folks
skills and provide them with something useful to do with their time.
“When the youth get to take home food to their families they get to see
how it feels to be givers rather than takers,” Joyner said.
Over time, the garden grew to encompass 25 acres. Local farmers
provided assistance and labor and even donated used farm
equipment. They acquired a used school bus and beekeeping
equipment and turned their bus into the “Bee Bus,” where 130 hives are
As the youth leaders explained, the bees contribute to the overall
success of their crops and now produce several hundred pounds of honey.
The Conetoe farmers began selling their products, including the honey,
at their roadside stand, in farmers markets, and to the local Piggly
Wiggly supermarkets. Income goes back into the farm and into an
educational fund that provides opportunities for young folks who would
otherwise have few, if any.
The Hatteras visitors were so impressed that they invited Rev. Joyner
and his kids to attend Day at the Docks in 2012 and to provide produce
for the Seafood Throwdown. They readily accepted, and local
adults offered to host them.
These young people are from a mostly Africa- American community and
most were about to visit the coast for the first time. They came
on a Friday, and on their way they stopped at the Pea Island Cook House
in Manteo where they were introduced to African-American coastal
heritage, a new concept for them.
On arrival in Hatteras village, they were taken to the Graveyard of the
Atlantic Museum, and after the tour, were met by members of the Cape
Hatteras Anglers Club who took them over to the beach for their first
experience on the beach, in the ocean and handling a fishing rod!
The young folks were alert and enthusiastic students and even caught
two fish, which they proudly donated to the Seafood Throwdown.
They took the ferry to Ocracoke for their first boat ride. Other
volunteers hosted a dinner for them at the Hatteras Village Community
Arriving at Day at the Docks the next morning, they were joined by a
busload of other Conetoe young folks and they all immediately
scattered and participated in the activities. They were all over
the waterfront! There had been “guides” arranged to help them
find their way around and feel a part of the event, but no guides were
Rev. Joyner watched and said, “It looks like all white people here. This is really good. It works both ways.”
At the Seafood Throwdown, they were an enthusiastic audience and later
they all piled onto the Miss Hatteras party boat for the Blessing of
At day’s end, when they left to return home, they took a cooler filled with fish donated by some commercial fishermen.
Thus began the Food Exchange. Their produce for the Seafood Throwdown. Our fish for their community.
They had a “pretty neat experience” and felt comfortable and welcome
here, so when it was time for a visit from Hatteras students they
looked forward to sharing their hospitality.
How did this come about?
In December of 2013 the principal of Cape Hatteras
Secondary School of Coastal Studies, Beth Rooks, approached one of the
teachers about setting up a new curriculum at the school. She
felt that, with all of the restaurants on the island, many students
would be looking for summer work and perhaps careers after graduation,
and she wanted to give them an opportunity to dev
students from a fishing community and the students from the farming
community get together for a group photo.
elop restaurant skills.
Evan Ferguson was elated! She had been dreaming of a course on
Food and Nutrition for a while, ever since she became a parent and was
now responsible for her children’s long-term health.
“Viewing Food, Inc. changed habits for me as a mother,” she
explained. “I wanted to share at least some segments of the video
with my students to illustrate the value of responsible eating.”
Her goal, in addition to restaurant skills, was to broaden the
students', and by extension, their families’, knowledge of healthy
choices and the art of making smart -- but delicious -- decisions about
selection, preparation, and overall enjoyment of the food they consume.
When they got the go-ahead in the spring of 2014, she wasted no time,
and, within three months, Dare County Schools had installed the
kitchen and Ferguson had written the curriculum in compliance with the
state curriculum, NCDPI.
Ferguson added Praxis to her license certification, allowing her to
teach Family and Consumer Sciences. And they were ready to turn
on the stoves!
Like other dedicated teachers at CHSSCS, Ferguson wanted to supplement
her less than ideal budget in order to fully exploit the opportunities
this new class offered, including creating a school garden and
introducing bee hives.
She successfully applied for and received seven grants - several of
which were pretty hefty - and was recently recognized for this
achievement by the Dare County Board of Education and the
Superintendent of Schools.
The grants covered a variety of needs, including transportation to
Conetoe, kitchen and gardening supplies and equipment, beekeeping
equipment, and technology (mini iPads). One of the grants is
intended to supplement equipment and to allow Ferguson to work with
schools on Ocracoke and Down East to “incorporate like goals and
classroom lessons.” Cape Hatteras Secondary School of Coastal
Studies will lead the way.
Grantors included Bright Ideas, Hatteras Youth Education Fund,
Education NC, Blue Cross Blue Shield NC Foundation, Saltwater
Connections/Resourceful Communities, and Burt’s Bees (Guess what they
In addition, she received numerous donations of many types from
Hatteras Island residents who heard about the project and wanted to
support it -- fresh fish to share and to cook along with other
consumables, cookbooks, lumber for the compost bin and the raised bed
garden necessary on this tide-prone island, garden tools, soil,
fertilizer, even aged horse manure. They also received cake-decorating
supplies, artwork for classroom cafe, a Champion juicer, and flower
pots. Recently, a teacher offered doors for a future greenhouse.
Ferguson is elated. “Ours is such a generous community! My
marketing background has helped me let everyone know what we are doing
and then they want to help.”
This is a STEM program, and that makes it eligible for a number of
grants that may not be otherwise available. She and Rooks have
made this a cross-curriculum program that includes the science,
technology, engineering, and math departments at the school.
The carpentry students built the compost bin and the raised bed
garden. Ferguson’s sister, Erin Del Monte, is a science teacher
at the school, and her biology class is using the new garden as a lab
and will be in charge of the beekeeping operation when it starts next
year. They travel to Conetoe, along with the Food students.
In fact, during recent Earth Day and Food Day events all four departments participated in hosting the festivities.
The students have the opportunity to “show off” their new skills in the
school with tastings a few times a year. They also supplied the
buffet for the Veterans’ Day celebration honoring local veterans that
was held in the school, much to the pleasure of all in attendance.
Recipes are shared with the staff, as part of the overall goal is to ensure they, too, have healthy alternatives.
The staf, will also be able to share in the harvest.
“A garden was always part of the plan especially as I have a long-term
plan to get local food into the school cafeteria,” Ferguson said.
That won’t be so easy, but it is being done elsewhere and she is
determined. In fact, she intends to obtain her Agricultural
Praxis next year so she may implement horticulture classes in the
2016-2017 school year.
Most of the plants in the garden were gifts from Conetoe. They
include summer favorites, such as tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, and
summer kale. Kale is important, since Ferguson recently met one
of her student’s mothers in a local grocery store and she was buying
kale. Why? “She told me that potato chips were now
banned. Her child wanted kale chips instead!”
Ferguson regularly gets such comments from parents, who are amazed by
the interest their children have developed in good eating habits and
who bring the family up to date!
She believes the students “are literally hungry for healthy
choices.” This class relates to them and to their young
lives. One student, Delaney Johnson, stated on a video created by
Education NC, “Eating healthy is really important to me and my family.”
This encourages Ferguson and Rooks. There is, of course,
end-of-year testing, but Ferguson assures me, “This is not about
teaching to the test. It is developing life skills, gaining the
knowledge to make healthy choices and bring it home to their families.”
Now, how does this tie into Conetoe Family Life Center?
Susan West and I were excited about our Day at the Docks connection
with them and wanted to take it to the next level, establishing an
ongoing food exchange. But we really did not see a clear path.
Then Evan Ferguson’s new class held promise. We asked Rev. Joyner
when he was a Seafood Throwdown judge at the 2014 Day at the Docks if
he would be willing to talk with her and see if they could develop the
cooperative relationship that Sager encouraged. He was very
enthusiastic and told us to have her call him.
She did, and it was the beginning of an enriching experience for all involved - on many levels.
Richard Joyner was “very excited and wanted to make this happen.”
They arranged for Ferguson to bring her class and her sister’s biology
class over to Conetoe. There they would deliver fresh, local fish
(cleaned and ready to cook), tour the garden, and share a lunch while
exploring future possibilities.
But the cost of transportation was $900 and not in their budget. They applied for local funding but did not receive it.
Enter Mikki Sager again. This is a nearly ideal example of
Resourceful Community action, and she wanted to make sure it
happened. She contacted one of her partners, Education NC, and
the immediate response was, “We’ll help you.” Megan Rash, CEO and
editor-in-chief, noted, “$900 was standing between these kids and
their great idea, and $900 is a lot of money in Conetoe and Hatteras.”
Not only did they provide the funding but also sent a videographer
along to create a documentary and a photographer to record the
visit. Sager, herself, traveled from her office in Chapel Hill to
participate in this important new venture.
As sometimes happens here, the weather was not
cooperative. A nor’easter had come through causing flooding on
parts of Highway 12, but it was not bad enough to stop the bus!
In fact, they made it through just before the road was closed!
Upon arrival, Rev. Joyner welcomed the islanders and thanked them for “wadin’ through the water to get here.”
Both Ferguson and Joyner had prepared their students for the
cultural aspect of this first visit. Hatteras is mainly Caucasian
and Conetoe, African-American, and there was a little uncertainty about
how they would respond to each other. That was
unnecessary! To the young people, “It was no big deal. They had
great interaction,” Evan Ferguson proudly proclaimed.
As Hannah Lovell, one of her students, remarked, “Even though we
might be different, when we get together, we are more the same, alike
than you realize.”
Rev. Joyner was happy to see that, “In these times of Baltimore and
Ferguson (Missouri), our youth can work and play together and find
common ground. That is good for us all.”
In April of this year, the students returned to Conetoe for a fuller
visit, where they participated in planting. Again, they brought
fish to share, and, in return, were given fresh produce and plants for
their new school garden. This second trip was funded by The
Hatteras Island Youth Education Fund.
Rev. Joyner instructed the students to “Choose a partner for the day,
someone you don’t know. And then be ready to come up in front and
introduce your partner and tell us what he/she wants to do when you
There were students of all grades there, even some from the elementary schools.
“The local school district is very supportive of the Conetoe Family
Life Center," Ferguson said, "and allowed students from several schools
to be excused from school to participate in the Hatteras students’
Ferguson found it “wonderful to watch the interaction, Some high
school kids were paired with first graders and had a great day!”
They even found time to make some music together around the piano and
shoot a few baskets before the day was over.
Cape Hatteras Secondary School now offers three Foods1 classes,
essential to building the program, and next year they will introduce
two Foods 2 classes. These classes will involve more intricate
recipes and sanitation techniques and, on completion, students will be
“Serve Safe Certified.” This is a sanitation accreditation that
should give the students an edge when applying for restaurant jobs.
A professional beekeeper visited the classroom this semester and is
ready to help them get started with their beekeeping venture during the
next school year. They are planning to eventually sell their
honey to support their program and supplement their grants.
Promoting and using local seafood is a major component of their
plans. While all seafood shared with Conetoe has been generously
donated by Jeff Aiken of Jeffrey’s Seafood, it is their hope that they
will be able to support local fishermen by purchasing fish in the
And, some day, we may actually have local seafood in our school
cafeterias! And next to it on the plate, fresh produce from the
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