A handful of Stokes County residents gathered at a picnic shelter with D.D. Adams, the Democratic candidate for North Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District, in King Central Park on Wednesday to discuss challenges local farmers face.
“My parents were farmers. They came off the farm in 1949,” Adams told the group of around 20. “My dad was a World War II veteran. My mother had a sixth-grade education and my father a seventh-grade education. They didn’t allow them to go to school in South Carolina at that time; that’s why they didn’t get any further, but they were self-educated. My dad came here and got a job at Reynolds.”
While Adams said she loves North Carolina, she’s committed to the Fifth District in the northwestern part of the state, which includes Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, a portion of Catawba, Forsyth, Stokes, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes and Yadkin.
David Dalton, chair of the Stokes County Democratic party and the first to speak, said like many rural counties, Stokes is losing population, especially young people.
“They don’t have jobs, they don’t have a social life, and many of our brightest and best go off to college and never come back. I’m going to guess that may be true of most of the other rural counties. What can Congress do to help rural counties put a stop to it?” he asked.
Adams shook her head and agreed. She’s now serving her third term on the city council in Winston-Salem and said as the urban center of the district, Winston should share resources and help communities rebrand.
“You saw what we did in Winston. When Reynolds shut the door and it went dark, tumbleweeds rolling down the street, that’s how bad it was. We knew the first thing we had to do, and I’ve been on the council for 10 years, we had to bring in some consultants. We had to go look at some other cities our size, and benchmark some of those things and bring them back to Winston.”
Adams said in North Carolina, 100 cities in the next 10 years could be in jeopardy because they don’t have the infrastructure to sustain themselves with public safety, water and sewer.
She believes setting up continuous improvement plans in all 11 counties is vital.
“The amount of money we pay in taxes, we can work this out where there should be economic development money, innovation money for every county to be able to bring back your inner city. People have to have a destination location to go to. If it’s your downtown, we figure to do the downtown,” Adams said. “You have great old tobacco textile furniture buildings, just like we have. You have an opportunity in Stokes to make agriculture even bigger than what it is.”
Adams reminded the group Stokes was once a mecca for tobacco.
“We have the best soil in the state,” she said. “We’re not taking advantage of it the way we should.”
Adams spent the previous Sunday at Hanging Rock State Park and said it’s a “diamond in the rough” where many travel to, but fail to leave their money.
“There’s got to be some retail, commercial, restaurants, something,” she said. “I believe we can work with the county and the city that it’s in and put some commercial spaces so that money comes back in the community. It’s a process. I understand processes, but if you don’t have a road map and you don’t have input from people trying to create this change, it won’t happen.”
Leonard Hicks, a retired agriculture agent in Stokes for 20 years, said he’s a seen a complete change in the county that once harvested 6,000 acres of tobacco.
“You know what I stand for, I always said we should have been the first state to legalize marijuana,” Adams said. “We knew how to grow tobacco and we could grow it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Baptist all my life, but people need to survive. It’s just like anything else we make, whether it’s liquor or tobacco. I believe the new market is in marijuana, cannabis, hemp.”
If it was put on the ballot in North Carolina, Adams asked Leonard how he would respond.
“To be honest with you, I’d vote against it,” he said. “I know the harm tobacco has done and I think marijuana is already doing harm.”
Adams explained that right now, in America, about 30 states have legalized marijuana for medical use or recreational use. She’s also a proponent of industrial hemp, which has uses, including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel.
Gary Sikes, from Bio-Regen Cooperative, who lives east of Charlotte, attended Wednesday’s meeting and said the plant is often misunderstood.
“Hemp is probably the greatest plant God gave us and it’s the most nutritional feed in the world,” he said. “The biggest thing we get is press cake, which is high protein, high calorie. For protein farmers, mainly livestock, chickens, we get 34 percent protein. It’s perfect to feed our animals, but we can’t right now; we have to go through approval channels.”
The ability to use industrial hemp in commercial animal feeds would provide a valuable end-market for industrial hemp farmers, Sikes said, but the federal Food and Drug Administration has not approved industrial hemp for use in animal feeds.
“Hopefully by next year we’ll have it approved as a legal feed for poultry. This is a great opportunity for local farmers that doesn’t require hundreds of acres of land,” Sikes said. “We could lead the country in two to three years in hemp with the support of the North Carolina legislature. Our climate is perfect.”
Adams added this specific plant grows very fast, without using a lot of fertilizer and is mostly insect resistant.
After about an hour-and-a-half, the informal meeting concluded and Adams spent time continuing to answer questions one-on-one.
Before leaving she said, “Unfortunately politicians can’t get the politics behind them. They’re concerned about what party, red, blue, unaffiliated, but it’s about the people. I’ve been doing this for 19 months. No one has run for anything for 19 months in this district, but along with city council and other public service I do, I’m committed to this. I believe in the success of this community and the other counties that make up the Fifth District. I believe we need a change.”
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.