Yesterday I had the honor of speaking at a ceremony commemorating the opening of the L.L. Polk House in Raleigh. Many North Carolinians probably don’t know much about Leonidas LaFayette Polk, but he was instrumental in standing up for agriculture in North Carolina during the latter half of the 19th century.
Polk grew up in Anson County and moved to Raleigh after the Civil War. The house he and his family occupied near downtown Raleigh has been moved a couple of times, and the L.L. Polk Foundation has restored the home as a tribute to him and his legacy of service to agriculture.
Polk was a Civil War colonel who spent much of his adult life as a journalist, lending a voice to farmers and others he felt weren’t being heard by the power brokers around the state and nation. (He probably would have been the presidential nominee of the People’s Party in 1892, had he not died while campaigning.)
Polk also helped found the state agriculture department and was our first commissioner of agriculture. Without his pioneering work, I might not be commissioner of agriculture today.
Colonel Polk was an advocate for agriculture. He believed that the people needed to understand and appreciate the importance of farming to our state. And nearly 120 years after his death, we are still educating the non-farming public about how critical agriculture is.
Agriculture is our top industry, with an economic impact of more than $74 billion. Even during the recession, the economic impact of agriculture grew by 6 percent. The industry is responsible for 688,000 jobs across North Carolina.
Despite its continued strong economic performance, agriculture suffers from a lack of public knowledge about its benefits and importance. It’s a challenge I deal with every day. I am constantly working to make sure people understand just how much agriculture means to our state. Farms are the source of our food, and they are the economic engine for our state. If L.L. Polk were alive today, I think he would join me in telling everyone that we all have a connection to the farm, whether we farm or not.
Today is the start of National Farm-City Week, which runs through Nov. 25. It’s appropriate that the Polk House is opening during this annual celebration of the connection between farm families and urban residents. I am very thankful to the Polk Foundation for restoring this house, which sits in the city and was once owned by a cotton farmer from rural Anson County. And I am pleased that it will be a lasting tribute to Colonel Polk’s life and his dedication to North Carolina agriculture.
To learn more about Polk, you might want to read this article from The News & Observer, or check out the video below, which was produced by the Polk Foundation.