Phoebe Gooding does conservation work and has a small farm in Durham County. So she was excited when she was named to the county land and water conservation county board.
The NC Land and Water Commission appointed Kenyon P. Browning to fill the vacant position on the board.
Browning grew up on a farm on the edge of Durham County and served as an assistant football coach for a long time at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has also served on the county farmland advisory board and the farm office, he said.
But Gooding said she had more relevant experience to fill the vacancy.
“The board members voted enthusiastically for me because of my experience in conservation and environmental justice, my experience on the board and because of the perspective and knowledge I can offer directly as BIPOC [Black Indigenous Person of Color] small farmer “, wrote Gooding in a petition that started on December 1.
In addition to running Hawk’s Nest Healing Gardens, a family-owned farm in Durham, Gooding serves as program director and organizer for Toxic Free NC, an agricultural program.
She has a bachelor’s degree in science in Natural Resources Studies with a minor in Recreation and Wildlife, as well as a master’s degree in Environmental Studies with a focus on Conservation Biology. She is also a saleswoman at the Black Farmers Market and is working with her eldest son to set up an environmental club at Durham High School High School.
Browning told The News & Observer he could not comment on Gooding’s choice “because I did not know about it and I am just starting out on the board”.
Land and Water Conservation District
The Durham Land and Water Board oversees the preservation of agricultural land, provides best practices for agricultural land maintenance, and prioritizes the financial costs associated with repairing the health of agricultural land and Durham waterways, as required by state and federal governments.
It has five voting members, three currently appointed and two elected, according to its website. The board also has seven associate overseers who contribute but do not vote.
“Over the years, we’ve realized that more and more farmland is being sold to developers,” said Melissa Rooney, an associate overseer who has served for eight years. “Our big farms are disappearing and we are having more urban farms.”
Rooney described Gooding’s farming on Hawk’s Nest as the species that represents the growing population of urban farmers throughout Durham.
“This goes for our basic democracy and the insistence of creating to prioritize large landowners, who are historically white, over issues of urban and suburban conservation that are becoming much more destructive after being sold to development,” he said. tha Rooney.
“And if rural farmers “Like it or not, she is a farmer,” she added.
How the appointment was made
The local board unanimously recommended Gooding for the board vacancy in June.
The state commission was scheduled to discuss it in July, but postponed it to September without explanation, according to the Durham board.
After the September meeting, the local board received a letter that the commission had appointed Browning.
In the letter, sent by the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the NC, the state cited the NC General Statute 139-7, which authorizes “the commission to appoint each resident to a county on their local County Board that is willing to serve in that quality. “
According to the letter, the state commission appointed Browning because he “fits more closely with the commission’s last emphasis on increasing farmers’ representation among district supervisors.”
The state Department of Agriculture on Friday did not respond to N&O requests for comment on the story.
The reversal of the meeting
According to Rooney and state senator Natalie S. Murdock, who served on the Durham County Land and Water Board before joining the legislature, the state commission has always accepted local board recommendations.
“During my time as land and water supervisor, I was unaware of a time when we submitted a recommendation for someone to be appointed and it was not approved,” Murdock said. “I’m very worried about the news I heard.”
The local board believed Gooding’s experience suited her for the role, according to a letter signed by six board members.
“I will contact the North Carolina Land and Water Conservation Commission myself to find out and get more information on why they made that decision and how they justified that decision,” Murdock said.
The Durham Land and Water Conservation District Supervisory Board will meet practically at 5:30 pm on Monday, December 6, via Zoom: https://bit.ly/3GafDNR
This story was originally published December 3, 2021 at 12:04 p.m.