Commissioners commit to replace ag economic development directorPublished 6:55pm Tuesday, May 7, 2013
The meeting included presentations from the Polk Soil and Water Conservation District and the Polk Farmland Preservation Board, including discussions on where those boards see agriculture in Polk County’s future. Current agricultural economic development director Sprague resigned recently after serving as the department’s first director for the past five years. Sprague has been credited with creating an agriculture momentum in Polk County that has become a model throughout the state.
Farmland preservation board chair Doug Harmon said from the start, the whole program in Polk County was like plowing new ground.
“Lynn Sprague hit on all different avenues and got people involved,” Harmon said. “I think we’ve got a momentum going and we need to keep that going in some shape or form. People feel like they have an input in where their food is coming from.”
Commissioner Keith Holbert asked Harmon what direction the farmland preservation board is going to give the new agriculture economic development director.
Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he liked the way Holbert phrased the question. He said it implies that the county needs to move forward with advertising.
Commissioners agreed to put advertising for a new director on its next meeting agenda, scheduled for May 20, after determining that they wouldn’t make any decisions during a work session.
Commissioner Ted Owens said the position is still in the budget and has never been taken out, so there’s no question the county is going to have the position.
“That’s a simple fact,” Owens said. “We may want to advertise at the next meeting or we may want to wait until the first of June.”
JoAnn Miksa-Blackwell said she couldn’t tell the board how happy she was to hear they want to move forward with a new director.
Blackwell is the rural director for Mountain BizWorks, which serves 40 counties. She said years ago she would go to the state and Polk County was not even represented. Now, she said, not only is Polk represented, but Polk is a state model.
“We need money but in addition to that we need leadership and that’s what Lynn Sprague brought,” said Blackwell. “And he helped us see our collective vision and that’s what we want to make sure continues.”
Lance Smith said when he first came to the county he taught school and knew well the fractures the county had. He said there was the Tryon folk, the Columbus folk, the Green Creek folk and the Sunny View folk. He said agriculture and the farmers markets have changed that mentality and increased opportunities for people who are not farmers.
“It’s a resource that if we don’t take care of, just like our people, we’re not going to have, it’s gone,” Smith said.
He said the $144,258 annual budget for the agricultural economic development department “is a bargain.”
“Agriculture is where we’re unified,” Smith said. “That’s what’s held the people here.”
Mary Hardvall said the ag center and Lynn Sprague brought awareness to her.
She said she used to by what she needed at the grocery store and never thought about where it came from. Once the farmers markets came, she said she started talking to the farmers.
“The bottom line is it brings us together,” Hardvall said. “Somebody said this is by the community for the community and I think that’s what we need to continue to nurture.”