Video & transcript: Ag Director Sam Groce talks about the future of new Chatham Ag & Convention Center

Pittsboro, NC – Here’s the transcript of the third part of our conversation with Sam Groce, the Chatham County County Extension Director, on the grand opening day of the new Chatham County Agriculture and Convention Center in Pittsboro. We discuss approved vendors, as well as the future of the Ag Center and the role it will play in the future of agriculture in Chatham County.

Gene Galin: We’re talking about classes and … Oh, approved vendors.

Sam Groce: Right. The approved vendors. Anybody can become an approved vendor or approved caterer that would like to be. They’ve just got to show that they have a Grade A certification through the Department of Environmental Health. They’ve got their Serve Safe certification, and they’ve got a million dollars worth of a liability insurance. There is a catering statement of work that they need to sign, and they need to see Laralee Eisele.

If they’re interested in becoming an approved caterer for the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center, the forms are online, but you’re welcome to call Laralee Eisele here at the Conference Center. The main number for the Conference Center is 919-542-8201, and they’ll be glad to help you get set up as an approved caterer, and get your required paperwork in.

Gene Galin: Hearing that with this space you’ve got, what, 700 to 800 seating for the auditorium? So it’s the largest space in the county, so things like the Northwood Prom and the graduation, is that stuff that’s now going to be able to-

Sam Groce: We’re not going to be able to hold graduations. We don’t have quite the space to hold graduations, but I believe that the Northwood prom has already lined up to be here this year.

Gene Galin: Great, because that way … A lot of parents have had concerns in the past where kids have had to go out of the county or gone to other venues to go to proms. This way, it stays inside the county.

Sam Groce: Right.

Gene Galin: We’ve talked about the auditorium here. Let’s talk about the office space. You mentioned in the presentation this morning that it’s allowing you to bring together a whole bunch of folks that have been cramped into spacing or all over the place. What’s this do for you?

Sam Groce: Well, we’re all on a single level now. The old building extension and FSA, Farm Service Agency, were upstairs. Our soil and water, natural resource conservation service was downstairs. Even though we were in the same building, we had to go up and down stairs to see each other. It wasn’t as easy just to run into each other or run down to somebody’s office as it is now. Our forestry guys had plywood cubicles that they had self-built out in their shop that served as their offices. Even though they have kept the shop, they have to keep the shop to keep their equipment in and work on their equipment. We have been able to provide them with real life, actual offices and place to securely store files, and to have a space to meet with clients.

We’re all now in the same building on one single level, and we have always worked together really well. There are some counties that the agencies don’t get along, but here in Chatham County, we are the agriculture and natural resources team for the county, and we do work together as a team, all the agencies together. We have a similar goal. We each have our different roles that we play, and it has just made the cooperation and the teamwork so much better because this grand opening today is not just an extension event. It’s extension. It’s soil and water, it’s natural resource conservation service, it’s farm service agency, it’s forestry. It’s the conference center folks, Laralee, Byron, Vanessa, Brian Stevens, all working together to make this even happen.

We have just really formed this really great, strong team over here where we can back each other up and we’re all playing our role. We really feel like we can be very efficient in helping serve the needs of the citizens of Chatham County.

Gene Galin: What’s going to happen with your old facility, and what happens when somebody goes over there right now and you folks aren’t there anymore?

Sam Groce: There are signs on the door that says that we have moved. Right now, there are some of the tax office reevaluation folks using some of those old offices right now, so there are some folks there. They are still using the auditorium for some meetings and things over there in the conference room, but there are signs saying we have moved, and there are some folks in and out of there.

The future of that building … I don’t know. There are several proposals out there that are being floated around that I know just because I read the Chatham Chat List, the Chatham Journal, the Chatham News, the Chatham Record. I have seen those proposals, so I know no more than the rest of the folks do other than the media.

Gene Galin: Talking about future, let’s talk about the future of this building. You had a dream. There were a bunch of people that also had the same kind of dream. You’ve made it come to fruition here in 2017. Officially open to bookings April 1st, as Renee pointed out earlier. What’s your vision of this center? What do you see as its biggest future uses? What do you see for it five, ten, 20 … There’s going to be a lot of changes here in Chatham County over the next 20, 30 years. What do you see as the future of this ag center and this department within Chatham County?

Sam Groce: Chatham County supports us tremendously. I can speak for extension. The state has given us several cuts over the years, some severe cuts, and the county has been excellent about picking up a lot of the state’s slack. We’ve got a great partner in Chatham County. They realize the importance of agriculture.

Here’s the thing, Gene. Agriculture touches everybody’s lives three times a day and more. When you get up in the morning and you start putting on your clothes, if there’s any cotton in it, a farmer grew it. If you’re putting on leather shoes, a farmer raised that animal that, after it was processed for protein, the hide was tanned to make those leather shoes. Then you go eat your breakfast. A farmer grew all that breakfast somewhere. You eat your lunch; a farmer grew it. Let’s go back and look … Overall, you’re in your house. There’s going to be lumber in your house. There’s going to be timber that a timber farmer grew. Then you eat dinner, again, the farmer’s touching your life. From makeup to soap to all these different things, a farmer is involved.

If you live in town, agriculture still touches your life because you have a landscape. You all want a green lawn. That is agriculture, and those are questions, those are programs, those are things that we do through cooperative extension. Our soil and water department, they are helping the environment. They are working with people to hold soil in place, to have grass waterways, to clean the water. Our farm service agency, they’re keeping records so that we know what’s going on. Our forestry service, they’re working to help all this timber grow and to maintain and to reduce carbon footprints.

See, everything that the future’s holding, we still have to eat. We don’t have a replicator like you have on Star Trek where food is materialized from nothing. It still has to be grown. It will still have to be grown, and people need to learn how to do this.

I see our future as being strong. We’ve just got to have the support to say, and people to realize it. Agriculture is important.

You’ve got less than 2% of the population that is feeding not the other 98% of the population. They’re feeding 100% of the population because 2% or a little less feed the entire population.

Without food, none of us can live.