If we had to pick one person other than our spouses to be stranded with on an island somewhere, that person would have to be Martha Mobley.
Almost everyone of us at the paper have had a reason to interact with her for one reason or another over the last decade and more. And we’re pretty convinced that if there’s something Martha doesn’t know about agriculture or livestock, then it’s probably not necessary to know.
Over the last nearly 27 years, Martha has trained literal generations of small farmers and 4-Hers in everything from animal waste management, water quality, everything there is to know about cows, horses, goats, sheep and poultry and bees.
She knows her way around forage crops and farmers markets. She understood the benefit of organic food and free-range foraging before they became the new “it” methods as she grew up in a family of farmers and married into another.
Plus, she’s a veritable whirlwind of energy.
If Taz the Tasmanian Devil had a human counterpart, it would be Martha. To walk alongside while she tells you about this crop or that livestock, is to take notes fast. Because every word is new information.
But, she’s also gracious. Because she really loves what she does and wants everyone else to love it too. Or at least respect it. After all, without the farmers and ranchers, we’d be out-of-luck at the grocery store.
But more than helping farmers, Martha is about helping her beloved Franklin County.
For years she’s worked with Kathy Harrelson of United Way of Franklin County and Kathy can attest to the level of energy output surrounding Martha.
“I’ve known Martha professionally for 12-13 years. She has always been the most professional and action-oriented person I’ve ever known. She has always been about helping the county.”
According to Harrelson, Martha helped kick off the now extremely popular local food roast that takes place each summer’s end. The event features local chefs cooking foods produced locally, all of which is sold for the benefit of the United Way of Franklin County. It’s a brilliant success.
A more recent initiative is more personal to Martha. Last fall, she held her first Dinner in the Meadow, a veritable farm-to-table feast of locally sourced foods and beverages prepared by well-known chefs to benefit the Leonard-Mobley Small Farm Fund.
The fund is part of an overall vision Martha has of small farm collaborative where ideas, best practices and even things like equipment could be shared among members of the cooperative.
“It’s hard for first time and small farmers,” Martha said during a tour last year of some 1,000 acres of rolling pasture and crop land on Leonard Farm Road. “A tractor is about $70,000. Financially, it is very difficult just to get the tools needed.”
Besides cost, the knowledge base for farming is quickly becoming a precious commodity.
There’s an eagerness for many people to return to their agricultural roots, Martha said, but most just don’t know how to do what they need to do to be successful.
“I can’t tell you how many questions I’ve answered for people about various aspects of farming,” Martha said. “Everything from agriculture to cows and sheep.”
Martha was inspired by both her late mother Marjorie, a farming and cultural pioneer in her own right, and her late husband, who after retirement from the N.C. Department of Agriculture, had thrown himself full time into farming and work with farmers markets. He was always talking about helping small farmers, Martha said.
When Jerry died in August of 2013, Martha felt like the time was right to get moving on their dreams.
“My mother’s philosophy was to keep moving forward,” Martha said. “Life is really tough sometimes, but you have to keep busy, keep doing what needs to be done.”
Clearly, Martha is a genius in our book.
So why the public accolade here? In the last few months, the scuttlebutt has been that for some reason or another her job might be in jeopardy.
It’s true that there’s a whole new restructuring being mandated from Cooperative Extension headquarters, in part because of budget shortfalls.
But the county picks up a fair share of salary costs and this week, Franklin County Financial Director Chuck Murray said he believed the money was there if the extension office needed it.
According to Murray, the county gave an extra $35,000 to the extension office last year for the current budget year that went unspent as a personnel position was not filled.
And recently, another agent left the office for an outside job, leaving another vacancy.
Charles Mitchell, the county extension director, is currently having to wade through all that’s been handed down to him from the state offices. Tuesday, he said he believed Martha’s position was safe for now.
We hope that it will be safe for several more years, at the least.
The kind of know-how and dedication in someone like Martha is not the kind that can be trained into a person. They either have it or they don’t.
We believe Martha is treasure Franklin County can’t do without.