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Food & Community Development

North Carolina’s agricultural industry contributes $84 billion to the state economy–more than 17% of the state’s total income. As communities strengthen their food systems as a strategy for sustainable economic development, the NC Rural Center supports rural food entrepreneurs through our Food and Community Development programs. The Food and Community Development’s program initiatives place food at the center of economic development by providing rural citizens with the opportunity to grow and innovate their food businesses in their communities.

Our programs assist farmers, value-added producers, food service businesses, and food councils by connecting them with resources, education, funding, markets, and networks. Creating these opportunities enables rural citizens to build business capacity and skills, increase productivity and income, and participate in the local and statewide food system.

“New Ground Farm is a new fresh vegetables and fruits farm… This is our first year working the wholesale market and training from the Rural Center has helped a lot.”

Millard Locklear

Pembroke, North Carolina

Our Projects

Rural Food Business Assistance Project

The Rural Center has partnered with USDA Rural Business Development Grant to launch the Rural Food Business Assistance Project. The Rural Food Business Assistance Project provides direct technical assistance and training to agribusinesses and builds regional support networks of organizational stakeholders supporting local farmers, value-added processors and food service businesses.

Technical Assistance and Training
The project provides comprehensive case management services to clients across six rural regions. Rural Center staff provides one-on-one assistance to clients, an individualized assessment, and scholarships for business and skills development trainings. Additionally, clients co-enroll with their local community college small business center to receive referral series and networking assistance from a regional coordinator.

The Rural Food Business Assistance Project is definitely a benefit and asset to current and aspiring entrepreneurs that are farmers, value-added processors, and food service businesses throughout rural North Carolina.” -Victor A. Marrow, WIOA Program Assistant, Halifax Community College 

Regional Networks
The center has identified partners in each of six regions that have a demonstrated economic need. Each region contains a core leadership group interested in developing a food business support network. In addition to the lead partner, each regional network comprises a broad set of stakeholders including local extension centers, community colleges, small business lenders, and local nonprofit and civic groups.


Apply Now.

USDA Farm Service Agency Outreach

In collaboration with the Farm Services Agency (FSA), Small Business Centers, local extension centers and non profit agencies, the Rural Center increases awareness of FSA programs and loans through outreach, technical assistance, and financial education to farmers and landowners in rural counties across the state. Outreach seminars are planned in order to inform participants of FSA micro, farm operations, and farm ownership loan programs, assist them in completing required eligibility documents, and improving their likelihood of successfully enrolling into the FSA network and obtaining resources that will assist them with their farm operation.  

Community Food Strategies

Community Food Strategies is a multi-organizational initiative that works to empower local food councils with knowledge and organizational capacity. In partnership with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project (ASAP), Care Share Health Alliance, and Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, the Rural Center’s Food and Community Development program provides tools, trainings, statewide structure, and networking opportunities with the goal of building a community-driven equitable food system. To learn more about this initiative and local food councils across North Carolina, visit the Community Food Strategies website.

Agriventure Sandhills

The Agriventure Sandhills Food Innovation project is a program launched by the Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub in partnership with the NC Rural Center. It aims to support business growth, capital formation, and job creation in the Sandhills region by providing mentorship, networking, and capital to high potential entrepreneurs in the food and agribusiness sector. In addition to attending outreach, training, and networking events, entrepreneurs who are selected for the program receive small Food Innovation Vouchers of up to $2,500 to provide access to further expertise, technical support, proof of concept, intellectual property development, financial strategy, and other capacity-building support. By recognizing the region’s agriculture richness as one of the community’s greatest asset, the program hopes to demonstrate the value in targeting investment in the Sandhills region’s food and agribusiness entrepreneurs.

Additional Resources

Not in our regional network? Here are some additional resources that can assist you! Below are other organizations and programs that may be able to meet your community, funding, education, or networking needs. Just click on the organization name to be directed to their website. If you have additional resources you found helpful, feel free to contact us and share.

Join the conversation and work around food systems by participating in a food-focused group in your community.

NC Community Food Strategies

Center for Environmental Farming Systems

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association

Explore what loan, grant, and other financial programs your small business or farm is eligible for at the following organizations.


Thread Capital

The Conservation Fund Resourceful Communities

The Conservation Fund Natural Capital Investment Fund

Appalachian Regional Commission

USDA- Risk Management Agency 

Discover new trends, tips, and toolkits to start or grow your food business with these helpful links. Download educational materials or meet with a small business expert for some business advice. 

Small Business Network Center

Feast Down East

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP)

USDA—National Institute of Food & Agriculture

USDA—National Agricultural Statistics Service

Rural Food Business Assistance Program Information Sessions


The NC Rural Center is committed to providing rural citizens with the opportunity to grow and innovate their businesses by supporting food entrepreneurs across North Carolina. 
Join us for an information session at one of the following locations below to learn more about how the Rural Food Business Assistance Program supports farmers, value-added processors, and food service businesses in six regions across the state.
We hope you will join us for our Rural Food Business Assistance Program Information Session in your region on. The 1.5 hour information session will provide presentations on the goals of this program, how to enroll farmers and food entrepreneurs in the program, and how to build the infrastructure of a strong regional food system.  We will also feature in-depth insight and success stories from regional partners and clients that are currently participating in the program.
See below for the dates and locations of the information sessions. We hope you will join us for an information session nearest to you!  Registration is required. 

Want to learn more?

Contact Jamilla Hawkins,
Senior Program Manager