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About RFI

The Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute

At the Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute, our mission is to create thriving rural communities through sustainable and equitable food ecosystems across North Carolina, pioneering innovative solutions that span from the farmer's field to the community’s table. Grounded in our core values, we are committed to fostering resilient agricultural practices, promoting local food economies, and ensuring access to healthy and affordable food for all.

Our mission encompasses:

Sustainable Agriculture

We strive to advance environmentally responsible farming practices that prioritize soil health, water conservation, and biodiversity. Through education and support, we aim to equip farmers with the tools and knowledge needed to cultivate food in ways that benefit both the community and the planet.

Local Food Economies

We work towards building strong and vibrant local food economies that connect farmers with consumers. By facilitating direct relationships between producers and communities, we aim to create a sustainable market for locally grown products, fostering economic growth and resilience.

Food Justice and Equity

The Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute is dedicated to addressing food inequities in rural areas. We advocate for and work towards a fair and just food system where everyone, regardless of socio-economic status, has access to nutritious and culturally relevant food. We collaborate with communities to eliminate barriers to food access and promote food sovereignty.

Community Education

We believe in the power of education to drive positive change. Through workshops, training programs, and outreach initiatives, we empower individuals and communities with the knowledge and skills needed to make informed decisions about their food choices, health, and sustainable living.

Innovation and Research

The institute is committed to fostering innovation in agriculture and food systems. We support research initiatives that explore and implement cutting-edge technologies and practices, with the goal of enhancing the efficiency, resilience, and sustainability of rural food production.


We actively engage in advocacy efforts at local, regional, and national levels to promote policies that support the interests of rural communities and sustainable food systems. By partnering with like-minded organizations and individuals, we work towards creating an enabling environment for positive change.


Who We Serve

At a Glance

- 11 northeastern counties in North Carolina

- Over 687,000 people

- 1.4 Million acres of farmland and 4,029 farms

- 1,600 new or beginner farmers

- Over 122,000 people experiencing food insecurity

Advisory Council Members

Patrick Brown
Farmer, Director of Farmer Inclusion

Nature for Justice

Diane Cox

Executive Director

Kerr-Tar COG

Ruby Gerald

Community Liaison

North Carolina Central University


Dr. Shauna L. Guthrie

Chief Medical Officer

Maria Parham Health

Dr. Ray McKinnie

Associate Dean

North Carolina A&T Cooperative Extension

Dr. Noah Ranells

NC FarmLink Director, Eastern Region

North Carolina State University

Mary Jane Lyonnais

Food Systems Regional Planner

Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments

Juvencio Rocha Peralta

Executive Director

Association of Mexicans in North Carolina

Jimmie Silver 

Former Tribal Administrator 

Haliwa-Saponi Tribal Council and Tribal School Board

Grace Summers

Small Farm Outreach Agent

Virginia State University

Meet The Team

Earline E. Middleton.png

Earline E. Middleton

Executive Director,

Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute

Melissa Richardson.png

Melissa Richardson

Director of Mental Health Programs and Educational Services


The Honorable Eva M. Clayton

Chief Visionary

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