Cultivating A Culture of Health—and Life—In Conetoe, NC


Located on the southeastern side of Edgecombe County, Conetoe (pronounced “co-neat-uh”) is a close-knit community home to just fewer than 300 people and zero grocery stores.

Every month residents in Conetoe, NC bury an average of three neighbors. In the next year, 10 percent of the community will die of complications from diabetes and chronic illness.  

Last month, Gini and I tagged along with some folks fromNC Growth to visit the community farm and bee yard that is managed primarily by Conetoe’s youth. We met with Ms. Donna and Reverend James Joyner of the Conetoe Family Life Center (CFLC), who help to support the vision of the town’s determined youth.

Formed in 2007, CFLC touches the lives of almost every member of the community. Reverend Joyner began his work to change minds from the pulpit, preaching that poverty and disease were not the norm. To change the situation they were in, they would have to change their perception of that situation. This message of change and hope was embraced by the new generation.

While many may have seen the community as doomed, the youth in Conetoe refused to sit back and wait, choosing instead to be catalysts of change. The youth saw their neighbors suffering from diet related problems, and decided to take charge of their environment and make it a healthier place for everyone to enjoy.

“They are the ones they’ve been waiting for,” Ms. Donna said of the children and teens who are now leading the cause.

Conetoe’s youth collected surveys from more than 500 people in the community and surrounding areas, and started learning about the deeply rooted socio-economic issues that deprive families of their health.

With such a small population and a rural landscape, there appeared at first to be very few resources to help. With CFLC’s coaching, Conetoe’s youth soon realized that their neighbors and the land were among their most valuable assets.

Empowering children and teens to take charge over their futures allowed Conetoe to identify and develop the tools to be active and contributing members of the community. By growing food together, they have helped reduce their families’ food bills and improved the health. By learning to keep bees and find markets for their honey and produce (Berry Hines of Bee Blessed Pure Honey, POP Market’s beekeeper, mentors the youth), they have started a scholarship fund for their peers. These funds help fill in the gap for kids who need to school clothes or financial aid for school.

Farmer Foodshare started in response to the gaps and needs in our own communities. The Donation Stations and POP Market serve as engines of change that extract how we see and use our resources. Conetoe’s vision of an empowered community is a response as well, serving as a model for grassroots transformation in rural places struggling with food insecurity. By closing this gap between bounty and hunger we build wealth and create a healthier place for all in our community. As in Conetoe, the people and the land are our most precious resources and we have to rebuild this connection by bringing the two closer together.

For more information about Conetone Family Life Center, read an article from our friends at RAFI.