Video & transcript: Ag Director Sam Groce discusses his feelings about agriculture in Chatham County

Gene Galin: Let me ask you. This is probably going to be more of a personal question, but we’ll throw it out there. What’s this mean for Sam Groce? What are you most proud of this? What are some of the things you overcame? If you’re sitting with your grandkids 10-15 years from now, and you’re talking about this, what are you just … I hate this question but, what are your feelings about this?

Former Chatham County Ag Director Sam Groce

Sam Groce: It has been quite the experience. I’ve taken all these different tests and done Myers-Briggs, and I’m 2% of the population. I’m an ENFP, and only 2% of the population fall into that. Then in Extension, we do this thing called Strength Finders. My number one strength is communication. My number two is WOO, and that’s winning others over. It wasn’t as much of a challenge. The challenge was just the little details. The challenge was getting everything to happen, and part of the challenge was patience and allowing things to happen in the time that they had to happen.

The process of getting this started, honestly, if I look back on it, I had some fun with it because to get out there and let people know what we need and what our needs were. I had done pulled together joint meetings of our advisory committees to get our people who advocate for us to go out and start talking about it. But with my friendships, with the people that I knew, I’m able to go out and talk and tell about what I feel is important and what we need to keep this thing, to keep it happening, to keep it going on, and to keep it strong here in Chatham County.

And I believe Chatham County, even with the development we’re seeing, we’re still gonna have a strong agricultural industry. There’s still gonna be agriculture here. Agriculture has changed over the past 50 years anyway. I mean on the east side of the county we have a hotbed of organic vegetable production. We still have our traditional farms over on the western and southwestern, northwestern part of the county, our cattle farms, our poultry farms. It’s great news that Mountaire is rebuilding the processing plant in Chatham County. That’s just going to strengthen our Ag. income, pull us back up where we need to be. For the next 20-30 years, I see things remaining strong, and hopefully we can keep through our 4H program and our work that we do with our associations, we can keep the interest of our young people who will then help continue the agriculture tradition and keep agriculture as an economic driving force in Chatham County.

Gene Galin: Is there a message in the building of this building and the grand opening of this building to the farmers in the western part of the county?

Sam Groce: Yes. It’s still important. You’re important. Now there was concern about it not being built in Siler City, but this is geographically the center of the county. We work with everybody. Not only do we work with the farmers, we work with the non-farmers. My earlier monologue basically, had me talking about the urban interface and getting non-farm residents to understand the importance of agriculture. So you see we’ve got programmings for everybody, from 4H to Family Consumer Sciences. We teach those life skills. We’re going to be doing cooking demonstrations today because cooking is becoming a lost art. What do people do for dinner? They go through a drive-thru, which is very unhealthy. So we’re trying to teach those life skills that may not be as common as they once were.

Gene Galin: Let me ask you this question. You had mentioned earlier the city folks or town folks. And I know on the Chatham Chatlist, whenever anyone of the Ag. folks provides information because as you know, there’s a whole bunch of questions and Chatlist has been around for over a dozen years. So you’re gonna also have classes in here, not just for farmers but for town folks including cooking classes and-

Sam Groce: Oh yes. Oh we’ve been doing that. Charlotte Glen, our Horticulture Agent, has reestablished the Extension Master Gardener Program, where we do work with a lot. People are welcome to apply for that program. She does training, and then they come in and help teach. They come in and help answer questions and take some of that load off of her to free up some of her time. We’re working with a lot of non-farm residents in the Home Horticulture Program. Debbie does the Pollinator Paradise work and the things at the Chatham Marketplace. So you see we’ve got a little something for everybody.

Gene Galin: This isn’t just for farmers. This is pretty much for the entire community.

Sam Groce: This is for the community.

Gene Galin: It’s a chance to educate non-farm folks about, hey, this is what farm folks do here in this county.

Sam Groce: Right. In Extension, the county treats us as a 100% partner, as a county department. But we are actually an extension. We’re state employees. We are a part of the university system. We are considered field faculty of North Carolina State University.

Gene Galin: So your primary mission therefore is not just for educating.

Sam Groce: We provide research-based information to the citizens of the state of North Carolina.

Gene Galin: Okay. Let’s fast-forward to 2040. There’s somebody else sitting in my seat right now. What are you gonna tell-

Sam Groce: Somebody else will be sitting in this seat too.

Gene Galin:  Somebody else will be sitting, but again, time travel’s easy when you do it this way. What do you tell the person in 2040 about the center? What do you want them to continue to do with the center? What do you want them to do with this county?

Sam Groce: Keep it alive. Keep this center alive. Don’t let the county build a building and let it sit here and just remain look like in 2040 that it looked in 2017. There’s a footprint left for expansion. We can add on. Keep the technology going. Keep it up with the times. Keep it modern. Don’t let it stay … Unfortunately the old building really wanted to stay settled in 1956. Don’t keep this building settled in 2017. Make it a 2040 building.

Gene Galin: And actually based upon what I’ve seen so far, the footprint, you’re right. It does give you that flexibility to adjust because hey, we don’t really know what it’s gonna be like in 2040.

Sam Groce: Exactly. Exactly.

Gene Galin: Anything else you want to say to the folks of Chatham County? Best memory of this whole thing? Do you want to say anything to your loving wife who you’ve had to put through all of this for years and years.

Sam Groce: Yes, my wife Julie, she’s been a trooper because I know that I have been a bear coming home, because just my personality type I do get stressed out. So they’ve had to listen to me, her and my daughter, they’ve had to listen to me complain, but they’ve also had to listen to me just come in, oh I’m so excited, this is happening, this is happening. So I mean it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions. This job in Extension, it’s been a God-send. God put me … I’ve got to express my personal beliefs here. God put me here, and when I graduated Jordan-Matthews High School in 1979, June. My dream was to be an Ag. teacher.

At this point in my life, to have been retired as an Ag. teacher who had a successful Ag. Ed. program and a successful FFA Chapter, and that’s not what the Good Lord had in stock for me. He sent me down a path that eventually led me into Extension. Never dreamed when I graduated NC State, never dreamed that I would be the County Extension Director in Chatham County. This path has been laid out before me, and there’s been its challenges, been its trials. But all in all, I’m looking back now, and I can say something that Jim Graham used to say. I love my job.

Unfortunately, fortunately for me, I feel like I’ve done my time so if nothing changes, September 1st I will be retiring from Extension. I’ll have 34 years in with the state of North Carolina with my active service, with sick leave, I’ll go with a credit of service of over 35 1/2 years. I hope that I have left things better than I found them. Not saying that we haven’t had some great people before me, but that should all be our goal, not to maintain status quo, but to keep things growing. I hope that people can say that we’re glad Sam Groce was here and that things are better because he was here.

Gene Galin: I gotta say, as a Christian, one of my beliefs is trying to make my little piece of Earth better than when I got here. Is that what you’ve managed to accomplish here Sam?

Sam Groce: I’d like to think so.

Gene Galin: Well Sam, thank you so much. Is there anything else you’d like to add, or would you just …

Sam Groce: Gene, we appreciate your support over the years and with the Chatlist and the Chatham Journal, and everything you’ve done for us to help promote our programs. We hope that you’ll continue to support Extension, all the Ag. and Natural Resource agencies in Chatham County and the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center.

Gene Galin: Well as long as your folks keep on posting stuff to the Chatlist, as I’ve mentioned to you previous times, several times before, folks love to hear what’s going on at the Ag. Center. And you folks are real good about giving out that information for all parts of Chatham County, not just the farm folks.

So Sam, good luck in your retirement. But hey, fantastic building.

Folks if you haven’t had a chance, come on down to the Ag. Center off of 64 outside of Pittsboro and just see the beautiful building that Chatham County’s put together for its community.

Thank you Sam.

Sam Groce: Thank you.