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Down on the farm: A Guilford way of life fighting the times wants to regain lost ground

GREENSBORO — Andy Clapp strides toward his humid tobacco greenhouse in the fresh country air as he shows off his family’s generations-old farm just six miles from downtown’s urban congestion.

Inside, the bright light shows off the green sprouts that are growing into full-size tobacco plants he’ll plant and harvest later this summer for a handsome profit.

Unlike the four generations of farmers that preceded him on hundreds of acres scattered in the area near Clapp Farms Road, Andy Clapp doesn’t put all his effort into tobacco, which has declined along with the nation’s smoking habits.

The rich soil on the nearly 1,000 acres he owns or rents in eastern Guilford County now yields corn, wheat, soy beans, hay and provides pastures for cattle.

Clapp, 53, gestures behind him.

“Half a mile that way is a subdivision,” he said. Pointing in another direction, he says, “a mile to the west is an apartment complex.”

And that can mean conflict between Guilford County’s farming tradition and those moving onto nearby land that many farmers have sold to developers for the kind of quick, easy profit that doesn’t come from hot work under the sun.

So Clapp has joined with hundreds of other farmers in Guilford County and across the state who have placed their farms into Voluntary Agricultural Districts, which lets the wider world know they’re committed to farming and want the respect and privilege that comes from making a conscious choice to work in agriculture.

In return, officials with the program give him signs to post that identify his farm as a member of a preservation district and the state notifies people within a half-mile of his farms that they may experience the smells, dust and noise that can come from farming.

Further, farms in the program are protected from urban encroachment by being allowed to decline connection to water and sewer lines that may be extended near their property.

In Guilford County, 419 parcels are enrolled in the program that covers more than 18,000 acres. Another 1,737 acres have been voluntarily placed in the more restrictive Enhanced Agricultural District Program that requires land owners to agree to pursue farming on their land for at least 10 years.

It’s designed to protect North Carolina’s biggest industry, one that earns $68 billion in annual revenue.

Residential development, state officials say, can be costly to cities and counties, soaking up road and water infrastructure that costs more than what residential taxes return in revenue.

By comparison, agriculture studies show when a farm pays a dollar in taxes it only uses 34 cents in government services.

In addition to being a member of the program, Clapp also serves as chairman of the Guilford County Agricultural Commission, which is appointed by the Board of Commissioners.

In early April, Clapp added two of his parcels to the Voluntary Agricultural District. The farm where he stood recently was added to the district in 2002 not long after the state began the program.

The Board of Commissioners approved land owned by two other farmers in an April meeting, showing the ongoing momentum of the program.

Despite Guilford’s urban growth, towns and cities are surrounded by more than 76,000 acres of farmland, according to a 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture census. The value of products sold from those farms was more than $52 million in 2017 — down by 10% from 2012.

Agriculture is declining slowly as the county grows — the number of acres farmed dropped by 16% from 2012 to 2017.

But experts say they represent more than business and tradition to the people in and around Greensboro. Farms provide good local produce and something that can’t be replicated any other way: agritourism.

You might not know that while you’re picking strawberries on a Saturday afternoon, but it’s part of a business that sustains nearly 30 farms in the area. And 77 local farms sell their produce and animal products directly to the consumer for about $3 million a year, an amount that actually grew fivefold compared with 2012 as more people have become conscious of buying locally.

Molly Alexi, the county extension director for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, said Guilford’s agriculture programs have always enjoyed support from elected officials. She works for N.C. State University and the county provides her office and half her salary.

“We would not have an office in our county if we didn’t have county support,” Alexi said.

For an urban county, Guilford’s agricultural services have a significant $650,000 budget for 16 employees.

Alexi said many people don’t think of farms as essential and her job is to raise their profile.

“The public likes to see open space and good water quality and good produce,” she said, but “development — you can’t stop it.”

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Cone Health opens 'one-stop shop' for women's health care in Greensboro

GREENSBORO — Cone Health’s newest addition — the Cone Health MedCenter for Women — is a “one-stop shop” for women seeking health care in Greensboro.

The facility, which combines medical care and support services, opened its doors at 930 Third St. and welcomed its first patients on Monday after years of planning and preparation.

“It was a good four years in the making,” said Kelly Leggett, the medical center’s chief clinical transformation officer. “It started with interviewing our staff, our community, our patients and finding out what it is they need in a center for women that would provide them all the care they need.”

The MedCenter for Women offers prenatal and gynecology care, along with ultrasounds and mammography. Other services include high-risk maternal care, genetics counseling, physical therapy, breastfeeding support, prenatal yoga and more.

The center, housed in a two-story, 30,000-square-foot building, isn’t Cone Health’s first MedCenter, but it is the first that’s only for women, Leggett said.

“(Women) do have special needs and a lot of it is centered around reproductive health. We wanted women to come here and feel safe and supported and know that everyone here is specifically educated about women’s health.”

Director Walidah Karim-Rhoades sees the center as a place for women to begin receiving health care in their youth and continue on as they go through pregnancy, menopause and other challenges specific to women.

“That’s the big piece and the mission and intent of this whole building — that we can attract all women in the community and show a way that you can get high-quality care and also address disparities in health care,” Karim-Rhoades said.

Those disparities are the biggest reason why there was a need for a place like MedCenter for Women.

“When you’re looking at disparities, we know that social determinants impact health,” Karim-Rhoades said.

In researching for the facility, Leggett said they found that a woman’s ability to access care is one of the major roadblocks that prevent women from seeking care. Whether it be because of lack of transportation, working long hours or caring for children and families, women often neglect their health care.

Locating all of the services together is a “recipe for success,” Leggett said.

A bus stop right outside the building makes the facility readily accessible. Inside, through a partnership with Food Lion and Backpack Beginnings, women experiencing food insecurity will even be able to receive food on site, specific to their health needs.

And because women who have had babies often are more focused on their child’s health in the year after birth, the center is also the first in Greensboro to offer “mom and baby” clinics, where mothers and their babies will receive checkups at the same time, according to Leggett.

She hopes the center’s approach to women’s health care will lessen rates of infant mortality.

“Infant mortality is a problem across the nation,” Leggett said. “North Carolina has one of the highest rates and Guilford County has one of the highest within the state.” In 2020, the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services reported there were 8.5 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018, the latest data available.

Infant mortality can be traced back to the health of a mother even before she becomes pregnant, Leggett said. Being proactive about women’s health even before she’s considering pregnancy is likely to lessen the possibility of issues that may lead to infant mortality.

Perhaps most importantly to Leggett and Karim-Rhoades, Cone Health’s MedCenter for Women was designed with a positive patient experience in mind.

The flow of the building, the large windows throughout the facility and even the paint on the walls were all carefully considered. And by September, the facility plans to unveil art in the building.

With work by local artists, Karim-Rhoades hopes MedCenter for Women also will be thought of as an “art center,” with pieces that focus on women and women’s issues.

“We kind of want it to be a destination for art,” Leggett added. “Many women aren’t able to go to museums. This will be an area where you can experience art and be inspired and unite women.”

Photos: MedCenter for Women

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Use-of-force cases prompt state debates over officer records

DENVER — Lawmakers in more than 20 states have considered bills this year to make the disciplinary records of police officers public or to share them with other agencies, a push that comes amid high-profile deaths at the hands of law enforcement. About 20 states still largely prohibit their release, however.

Supporters of greater transparency say it could help improve police accountability, build trust with the community and prevent officers with disciplinary problems who leave one department from being hired by another.

Opponents say the release of such records could harm the reputations of officers with only minor infractions or even put them in danger. They also argue that disciplinary actions are part of personnel records, which are exempt from state open records laws.

But amid growing nationwide protests against alleged excessive force by police officers, at least 16 states have contemplated measures to release such records, or summaries of them, publicly. Another eight have discussed making the records accessible to other law enforcement agencies.

In Utah, Republican Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill in March providing legal immunity to law enforcement agencies that share background information about former employees with other agencies looking to hire. State Sen. Jani Iwamoto, a Democrat in the GOP-dominated Legislature, introduced the legislation in response to the case of a University of Utah officer who resigned while being investigated for allegedly sharing explicit photographs of a victim in an alleged extortion case who was later killed. The officer was later hired by police in Logan, Utah, who did not know about the probe.

“We want people to feel that they can report a bad cop,” said Iwamoto, who also successfully sponsored another bill to ensure that police disciplinary investigations are completed even if an officer resigns while one is in progress.

Without legislation in place, lawyers advised police departments not to share disciplinary records lest they be sued, Iwamoto said.

In North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature, lawmakers want to create a confidential database from which law enforcement agencies in the state can track all disciplinary actions to prevent officers from hiding past problems when looking for a new job.

“We enable agencies to better screen individuals ... so that we can weed out who the bad apples are,” said Republican state Sen. Danny Britt.

Under an expansive police reform bill Britt is sponsoring, authorities also would track all use of force by officers resulting in serious injury or death. And the legislation would create an “early warning system” to collect data on citizens’ complaints and any transgressions with the aim of correcting an officer’s behavior before it leads to a deadly outcome.

Maryland has gone further, approving the release of records related to formal misconduct complaints. The Democrat-controlled Legislature overrode a veto by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who objected to the public release of complaints that haven’t been substantiated. Supporters contend the public has a right to see how police departments investigate complaints against officers.

The proposals come amid a national reckoning over the killings of Black people at the hands of police. Efforts to get access to police disciplinary records have increased along with public awareness of the issue, which has grown since the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, said Rachel Moran, an associate professor and founder of the Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis.

In Maryland, the move is part of a sweeping police reform package that was prompted by the 2018 death of Anton Black, a 19-year-old African American who died in a rural Maryland town after officers pinned him to the ground for more than five minutes as they handcuffed him and shackled his legs.

One of the officers, Thomas Webster, had nearly 30 use-of-force complaints lodged against him while previously working in neighboring Delaware. Webster also had been charged with second-degree assault in that state for allegedly kicking a Black man in the head, but was acquitted in 2015.

Anton Black’s sister, LaToya Holley, said she hopes the new law translates into quicker answers for the families of anyone who dies at the hands of police.

“They need to work on trust,” she said of law enforcement. “There isn’t that much trust in the community.”

Other states seeking to address policing problems had already taken action before this year.

In 2018, California lawmakers voted to allow public access to records of officer shootings and other major uses of force. New York lawmakers last year repealed a law that had blocked public disclosure of disciplinary records for police officers, firefighters and correctional officers. Hawaii took similar action, allowing the public to learn the details of more than 80 cases of unwarranted assault and more than 100 cases of officers filing false reports or covering up infractions.

In New Jersey last year, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, without waiting for legislation, ordered local and state police to release the names and summaries of disciplinary records of officers who had been fired, demoted or suspended for more than five days. Grewal said the information was needed to promote community trust and police accountability amid protests against the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

For their part, members of New Jersey’s Democrat-controlled legislature considered but have failed to pass a bill this year to make police records public, though an early warning system of the kind being considered by North Carolina is already in place.

Meanwhile, nothing has come of Grewal’s order yet because of a legal challenge by law enforcement unions. They argue that personnel records are exempt under state open records laws, and that officers and their families could be put at risk if they are made public. They also object to releasing information about past confidential disciplinary agreements for problems such as drinking and domestic violence.

Pat Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said many officers who have dealt with problems like that have gone on to have good careers. Colligan said he would support the release of records only for major infractions, such as excessive force and civil rights violations, from now on.

He also would like to see the state’s early warning system be given a chance to provide officers with help or weed out those not meant to wear a badge.

“People have to stop assuming every officer is a problem officer,” he said.