Helping small farms create a big impact

by | Mar 23, 2022

We Are Agriculture is a year-long series that will highlight the hard-work done by employees across the Department of Agriculture. Jacob Crandall, Agriculture Program Specialist with our Small Farms Division, is one of those employees. Stay tuned each Wednesday here on the blog or any of our social media accounts and join us in honoring those who continue to drive our state’s agriculture industry forward each day!

All of his life, Jacob Crandall has walked a path that led him to his purpose and calling as an Agriculture Program Specialist with our Small Farms Division. Growing up in the Eastern part of our state, Jacob worked many hard but rewarding hours on his family farm raising tobacco, row crops and more.

Although he always enjoyed the lifestyle of farming, it wasn’t until he met a county soil scientist that he truly fell in love. “One day when I was young, I remember riding my bike around our farm and seeing this man pulled off on a green truck,” he said, “and I was so impressed by all that he told me about being a soil scientist, including getting to drive that green truck every day.” From the green truck to greener pastures, Jacob studied agriculture and farming all throughout high school and college until he graduated and started his career as a soil conservationist in Wilkes County.

Being a soil conservationist gave Jacob the opportunity to work in various counties across the state, visiting farmers and making connections that would further his career in the industry. In fact, upon promotion, he worked as a district conservationist where he mirrored his position today on a smaller scale! “In that position, I worked with small, limited farmers, which is exactly what I am doing now,” he said, “and it is very neat to see how that has come full circle for me throughout my life.”

Directly prior to his time at the department, Jacob held one more position that truly makes him a unique asset to the Small Farms Division. “The job that has prepared me most for my role today was when I worked with the USDA for the Natural Resource Conservation Service,” he said. “It was in this position that I learned all about the assistance offered to small and minority farmers, including loans to obtain land, high tunnels and more.” Throughout his time at the USDA, Jacob learned all the necessary information as to how these applications function, their purpose and how they are processed. This knowledge gives him an inside perspective in his job today as Agriculture Programs Specialist, where he helps N.C. farmers obtain these programs and assistance.

In 2012, Archie Hart, current Small Farms Division director, offered Jacob the position of Agriculture Programs Specialist and Jacob knew he’d found his calling. “The minute he described the position to me, I knew that I definitely wanted it,” he said. In his role, Jacob acts as the bridge between small and minority farmers and the USDA programs to help them function as a farm and obtain the necessary materials to operate effectively and efficiently. Each day, Jacob spends time visiting and talking with farmers across the state and helping them navigate the waters of applying for desired USDA grants and programs, including federal assistance for land and equipment, the AgWRAP program, high tunnels and irrigation systems. “Farmers can apply for a total cost share program or package through us,” Jacob said. “Many farmers find the process confusing or complicated, so knowing that I can help them with my experience on both sides of the puzzle is an honor and privilege that I have every day.”

When COVID-19 hit, Jacob’s job became even more important as offices closed and stopped accepting in-office meetings. “Not only was it difficult for farmers to apply for cost share assistance the way that they used to, but it made it difficult for them to even get in contact with someone to answer their questions because no one was in the office,” he said, “but thankfully, because of my past work with the USDA, I knew how to contact many of these individuals and could walk the farmers through the virtual application process.” To this day, Jacob deals with many offices that are operating on a fully virtual or hybrid basis and he takes great pride in being that bridge that helps connect these two important industries.

“When I help someone just starting out in the industry, for instance, someone who is wanting to start a farm and in the process of obtaining a loan for the land, and I get to watch them grow from there into a successful operation, that is a huge source of pride for me,” Jacob said. Many of the farmers that he works with have never had help from the NCDA&CS or the USDA, so he starts at the beginning by building a relationship with them, both in person and over the phone. “I’ve learned how to listen. Farmers need to know that you are actively listening to the problem so that you will know the best way to help fix it,” Jacob said. “Through the years these people have become my friends, not just in a professional sense but in a personal manner as well. When you help someone like that and continue to stand by their side and watch them grow through the process of becoming the successful farming operation that they will be, that creates a lifetime of friendship for both parties.”

Although this week is Small Farms Week, a time for recognizing small and minority farmers across the state, Jacob believes that our small farmers should be honored year-round. “They are the breadbasket of our nation,” he said. “We need to emphasize them regularly because they are valuable, and they are the future of feeding our population.”

When Jacob is not working in the office, he is practicing what he preaches by managing his own small farm in Wake County. “My wife and I built our dream house on 28 acres of land that her parents used to farm,” he said, “and today we grow a variety of flowers and food plots for pollinators and wildlife. It is truly our safe haven.” All the photos used in this blog are from his farm.

Jacob loves his job because of the full-circle view that he has of the industry through his time with the USDA, the NCDA&CS and his own personal farming experiences. “I love being the person that is able to help farmers across the state and see their appreciation when they are able to obtain what is needed to grow their operation,” he said, “especially during COVID-19, which was a rough time for many small and minority farmers.” Join us in thanking him for all of his hard work, working with, advancing and promoting the small and minority farmers across our state.