From modifying mortgages to assisting the development of organic farms, the Sampson County Community Development Corporation extends a helpful hand toward improving the economic well-being of the local community and creating jobs in low-income areas.
The grants, announced by the N.C. Rural Economic Development Corporation, were approved by the center’s board earlier this month and made possible by appropriations of the N.C. General Assembly. Distributions to 17 community development corporations around the state totaled $815,500, including an allocation to the Sampson Community Development Corporation.
The grants provide financial assistance to minority CDCs to improve the economic well-being and quality of life in low-income communities. Sampson will receive $42,500 for local efforts.
Homer Marshall, executive director of the Sampson County Community Development Corporation for the last 22 years, said the allocation is a regular funding, but assists with any number of ongoing or in-development projects overseen by the Sampson CDC.
“We’ve been receiving it for years,” said Marshall. “It is a drop in the bucket, but you get a dribble here and a dribble there, and before you know it, we have a bucket full.”
Marshall said, while the allocation from the N.C. General Assembly varies — there is a maximum of $60,000 that can be received on an annual basis — the local group does regularly receive some funding each year. The local CDC also gets other funding, including from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well other agencies.
He said the funding is appreciated, and crucial to efforts that run the gamut from housing construction to job creation, specifically with regard to the development of organic farming operations in agriculture-rich Sampson County.
Over the years, there have been more than 50 single-family dwellings and another 20-plus multi-family housing units constructed locally with the assistance of CDC funding. While that has tapered off, applications for assistance are now staring to trickle back in.
“We haven’t built a house in many years, because it’s difficult to find people who qualify,” said Marshall. “I’m sure we will be getting back to building homes soon. There are a lot of applicants that are inquiring now.”
Along with helping those who would like to build a new home, Marshall and the CDC regularly offers counseling to those who are trying to keep theirs. Marshall, who is 84 years old, recalled when the people taking advantage of the CDC’s service were not nearly as large in number.
“We’ve been a tremendous help to people in this area who need a modification on their mortgage,” said Marshall, who said that can mean reducing the interest or the payment in order to make things more manageable. “Years ago, we would get three to four people a year, no more than five. Now you see as many as five a day.”
The economy has factored heavily in that, with many seeking help from the CDC who may have entered a mortgage “on the borderline,” seeing ends meeting with little wiggle room, Marshall noted. When the recession occurred a few years back, it meant many went from the borderline into the red.
“They might have (bought a new home and entered into a mortgage) expecting a pay raise every year, but instead of getting a pay raise, a large percentage of them lost their jobs or had their pay reduced, because (companies) had to survive,” said Marshall. “That’s tough.”
And it’s what the Sampson Community Development Corporation exists, to provide a helpful hand and resources to those who need both. Counseling can often evolve into providing an avenue toward another means of income for a property owner.
Marshall spearheaded an effort three years ago to better utilize the Clinton City Market by having a local farmer’s cooperative sell produce there through the harvest months each year. The effort fell flat at first, with minimal participation, but Marshall said that is changing.
“We’ve had a hard time getting it going,” said Marshall.
However, by pursuing the establishment of high tunnel greenhouses locally, as well as cultivating a partnership with UNC-Wilmington’s Feast DownEast, Marshall said he expects the interest in homegrown organic produce will increase.
“Just this past year, we helped three small farmers build high tunnel greenhouses,” he said.
High tunnels, or hoophouses, are unheated greenhouses that can help market gardeners extend their growing season , thus improving the profitability of their farms. In addition to Marshall’s operation off Hobbton Highway, there are similar operations in Sampson that have been set up in the Lakewood and Clement communities. The greenhouses are often 14 feet high, which is on the taller side for such operations, he noted.
“It’s a completely new technology. It’s self-contained,” said Marshall. “It requires minimal heat or water. That makes it much more profitable.”
Further assisting with the small farm movement is Feast DownEast, which works to build a sustainable local economy by supporting and marketing local farms and bringing more local, fresh choices to area restaurants, grocers, schools, college campuses, hospitals and other institutions.
In the process, it works to support both the continuing livelihood of farmers in Southeastern North Carolina and the health and wellness of the area’s citizens.
“It’s a small drop in the bucket, but it can help people improve their health,” said Marshall. He said involvement with Feast DownEast and the USDA has built partnerships that have brought a great deal of knowledge locally.
“They’re teaching us all kind of stuff,” said Marshall. “It’s just a wonderful program.”
It also provides a means of making money, and fulfills the ultimate objectives of CDC in helping the community. Organic farms can prove very profitable, ranging in size from 1 to 50 acres.
“It’s a community need, especially with low-income people, to create jobs,” said Marshall, “and we’ve created numerous jobs. We’ve created three new farms from scratch … people who had the land and weren’t using it. In all, we’ve been able to increase the income of six farms, including three by improving their techniques and the other three who just took that land that was there and started producing on it.”
Marshall’s high tunnel greenhouse sees crops of tomatoes, squash and other produce, while in the fields during the spring, he will grow everything from squash, cucumbers and peppers to cabbage, spinach and tomatoes. It has been a pasture for 10 years, and actually certified organic for the past three. “I tell people it’s been organic for 10 years, because it hasn’t been treated with any pesticides,” he said.
Marshall said he welcomes others to join in the organic farming effort, and maybe benefit from CDC’s resources to get them where they need to be to ultimately be self-sufficient and benefit their community.
“We’re recruiting other farmers,” he said. “We’d love to have them.”
Whether it is job or housing need, Marshall said the Sampson Community Development Corporation is there to help. The CDC’s executive director said he does the job for nothing because he thoroughly enjoys helping others. He calls it his ministry.
“We take on any project that is needed and can be of help to the community,” he said, “and we stay busy. There is a lot that needs to be done that we haven’t scratched the surface.”
For more information about the Sampson County Community Development Corporation, call 910-594-1277.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.