Western North Carolina Agricultural Options had its own wheels when Megan stepped into the contract project manager/coordinator role in 2008. Several N.C. Extension county offices, the N.C. Department of Agriculture, and Handmade in America established the program in 2003 through a grant with the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. The aim of the program, which has provided 360+ small grants to farmers since 2004, is to provide financial incentive to producers who are diversifying their operations, offsetting the risk of crop transition. WNC AgOptions has attracted national attention and is a model for similar farm diversification programs.
A diverse bag of skills is needed to facilitate the program, including event coordination, meeting facilitation, and relationship-building. At the core of the program is the commitment of 18 N.C. Cooperative Extension Centers and their Agricultural Agents. As the main contact for the grant program from 2008-2010, Megan provided for the Agents information about grant requirements, outreach materials and impacts data so that they could lead the program in each of their counties. She also co-led steering committee meetings as the members made tough decisions about the grant application, score sheet and awardees.
Many of the Agents have expressed the importance of WNC AgOptions to their work and their clients' lives. "AgOptions has been one of the best programs that I have been associated with," said Jeremy DeLisle, Agricultural Agent, Mitchell County.
In the future, Megan foresees herself initiating community improvement programs, especially those involving mission-driven businesses. The facilitation skills gained during her term with WNC AgOptions will help her serve her community in a variety of arenas.