As an agriculture specialist, James Hartsfield enjoys helping farmers have a successful harvest. He’s been watching those results for many years.
“I like helping the farmers and educating them on different methods,” Hartsfield said. “Hopefully by me working with them and letting them know what’s going on, maybe it can make a difference in what they’re trying to do.”
He began working with the Sampson County Center for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in 1998 as a farm management agent.
“They wanted me to work with farmers and help them develop a record-keeping system,” Hartsfield recalled about management at the local extension office. “Seventy-five percent of my time is farm management and the other 25 percent is spending time with them and assisting them with different types of alternatives that they may be interested in.”
Prior to his arrival, he did similar work with a nonprofit group called the North Carolina Coalition of Farm and Rural Families for more than eight years. Hartsfield grew up on a small farm in Franklin County. His father, Wallace, died when he was 6. After he passed away, Hartsfiled’s uncle, Sam, raised him and taught him about farm life. As a sharecropper, they grew tobacco, soybeans, corn, peas and raised hogs.
While attending Louisburg High School, he was a member of the FFA and took a variety of agriculture and horticulture classes.
“That’s what they taught when I was in school; I learned a lot about farming at that time,” he said.
As a teenager, Hartsfield was uncertain about what direction to go.
“I didn’t know if I was going to attend college or not,” he said. “I really didn’t know which way I wanted to go with that.”
But a decision to further his education led him to Vance-Granville Community Community College in Henderson for about one year. Hartsfiled later transferred to North Carolina A&T University, where he majored in agriculture education. During his time as a student, he spent a few summers working with the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), a component of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a co-op student to gain experience.
After college, he taught exploratory agriculture at a junior high school in South Boston, Va. His duties also involved agriculture mechanics.
“Exploratory agriculture was about educating seventh and eighth grade students to agriculture and letting them know about different careers they could have within that field,” he pointed out.
Now, his passion to help and educate continues in the fields of Sampson and Duplin counties. Throughout the year, Hartsfield helps farmers by hosting workshops. Some of them include high tunnels, mushroom production, vegetable growth and providing education on financial assistance such as grants and loans. He collaborates with officials from NRCS, USDA and other agriculture-related organizations.
A lot of his work involves working with small-scale farmers like Donnie and Alease Williams. Their business, D&A Farms, which specializes in organic hog production, was honored as the 2016 Small Farmers of the Year by North Carolina A&T University.
One of the upcoming initiatives include methods of using black plastic for growing purposes.
“We’re going out to different farms to demonstrate how to lay out plastic and help small farmers in Sampson and Duplin counties,” Hartsfield said. “It’s going to be a new program for us and we’re going to educate farmers on how to use that.”
It’s just one of many things he’s looking forward to, especially when it comes helping farmers make a profit.
“That’s what I like most about it — helping people and helping farmers,” Hartsfield stressed.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.