Watauga County August 2022

Population
57,069

County Seat
Boone

Median Income
$47,526

Population Density Designation
Rural

Our visit to Watauga County began in Deep Gap at Full Moon Farm. Farmers Kara Dodson and Jacob Crigler use horses to till their land, avoid pesticides and other products when possible and grow organic produce on their small farm. Jenn Bass, the interim Executive Director from the Hunger and Health Coalition, met us at the farm and led us on a brief tour.

As we walked through the dew-covered farm, Bass shared that the Hunger and Health Coalition focuses on purchasing food from farms like Full Moon to distribute to their clients in hopes of providing healthy, delicious local produce for everyone they serve. The coalition equally invests in local farms in hopes of supporting the local food system.

“We view this as a win-win,” continued Bass. “The people we serve receive great food that serves their needs.”

After departing the farm, we followed the Hunger and Health Coalition van through the winding roads of Deep Gap to reach their headquarters in Boone.

Hunger and Health has served Watauga County for decades. They combat food insecurity and poverty by providing food, prescription medicine and even wood to warm homes in the winter. Hunger and Health’s core focus is around “food is medicine,” evidenced by their work to provide medically tailored food packages to clients who present with hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and more. As we walked through their headquarters, we visited the food pantry where we found shelves loaded with fresh food, the kitchen where volunteers were prepping meals for clients and we met with their Staff Dietician who discussed their overall approach to wellness.

Hunger and Health also provides their community with opportunities to connect with one another through a variety of events. Bass told us their team was working on an upcoming “Grill & Chill” opportunity where they would provide hot meals, music, games and an opportunity for community members to learn all that they have to offer.

We traveled from Hunger and Health to the campus of Appalachian State University. App State Chancellor Sheri Everts was among the first to welcome us as we walked into Levine Hall. The Levine building is the newest addition to a growing campus for App State, and the building sits across the street from the Watauga Medical Center. Everts pointed out that the nexus of the two facilities has created the opportunity for the area to serve as the Watauga health district.

After a tour of Levine Hall, including a visit to a working clinic that provides both training opportunities and an opportunity to serve the community, we heard from Jim Beeler of the College Access Partnerships program. Beeler commented on App State’s efforts to increase post-secondary attainment across dozens of counties through a variety of programs including Gear Up — a program aimed at increasing college-going by shifting mindsets around college access and the relevant opportunities — and Upward Bound — a longstanding program serving first-generation college students and students from low-income families that includes mentoring from college students for participating K-12 students.

Our visit to App State concluded with a presentation from Chancellor Everts regarding the future of App State and the work that led the university to this moment in time.

As one of the highlights of the presentation, Everts outlined possible solutions to combat the literal lack of physical space for university classrooms, labs and offices, and the lack of affordable and accessible workforce housing in the county. The school is taking significant steps to solve the issues, including the 2023 launch of App State-Hickory (a new physical campus in Catawba County), and the launch of a new innovation district that will include faculty housing.

Everts’ message to us was clear: App State will remain a “vibrant, growing university” that will equip students and alumni alike to participate in important roles in their community.

Meet Dr. Algie Gatewood

Dr. Algie Gatewood is only the fourth President to lead Alamance Community College (ACC) since it opened in 1958. During Dr. Gatewood’s tenure at ACC, the college won its largest ever bond referendum – nearly $40 million – in 2018 to fund a number of major capital projects and expansions. The college also secured $16 million in county funding in 2014 to build the Advanced Applied Technology Center. Other notable accomplishments include creating a Biotechnology Center of Excellence, introducing an Early College, facilitating an apprenticeship program, and introducing nearly two dozen new academic programs and articulation agreements with state universities.

U39702, 10/22