Our Program | FacultyUniversity Partners

Blake Brown, Ph.D., is the Hugh C. Kiger Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at N.C. State University. An economist and policy analyst, he earned a national reputation for structuring the federal tobacco buyout. He started the Program for Value-Added & Alternative Agriculture in 2006 with support from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. The Program changed its name to N.C. MarketReady in October 2009.

Contact Blake: blake_brown@ncsu.edu or 704-250-5404


Leah Chester-Davis, Coordinator of Communications and Community Outreach, is also an Extension Communication Specialist in the Department of Communication Services. She provides leadership in strategic marketing communications, including media relations, crisis communications and developing, packaging, marketing and delivering educational programs. She works with the N.C. MarketReady team and N.C. Cooperative Extension to develop consumer education and awareness materials and campaigns about local foods, such as the popular video series with The Produce Lady.

Contact Leah: leah_chester-davis@ncsu.edu or 704-250-5406

Diane Ducharme, GAPs Program Coordinator and Extension Associate in Horticulture & Food Safety, serves as a member of a multidisciplinary team from horticulture, plant pathology, family and consumer sciences, food science, economics and communications to address fresh produce production, harvest and marketing issues. She shares leadership of developing and delivering comprehensive and coordinated educational programs focused on fresh produce, food safety production and marketing. Prior to her current position, Diane was a Cooperative Extension agent in commercial horticulture in western North Carolina.

Contact Diane: diane_ducharme@ncsu.edu or 704-250-5402


Rod Gurganus, Extension Associate, serves as team leader of the N.C. MarketReady program. He specializes in entrepreneurial horticulture and represents the team in eastern North Carolina. He works with agribusinesses, economic development officials and farmers to identify and develop opportunities for value-added and innovative agriculture. Prior to his current position, Rod was a Cooperative Extension agent in Beaufort County, with commercial and consumer horticulture responsibilities. During that time he established an Extension Master Gardener program, a regional pesticide container recycling program and served as pesticide coordinator for the county while finishing a graduate degree in crop science.

Contact Rod: rod_gurganus@ncsu.edu or 252-793-4428 ext. 129


James L. Oblinger, Ph.D, Professor, Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, has expertise in food safety as well as administration of transdisciplinary research, teaching and extension in agriculture and the life sciences. He works with fresh produce safety education across the spectrum from the farm to the consumer. His longstanding commitment to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education will foster partnerships with K-12 teachers and others.

Contact James: james_oblinger@ncsu.edu or 704-250-5447

Brittany Whitmire, Coordinator, N.C. Value-Added Cost Share Program (NCVACS). She provides leadership for the development and implementation of NCVACS, which is funded by the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission as an initiative through 2011. NCVACS is designed specifically to complement the USDA Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG) and to help increase the success rate of N.C. producers that apply for the VAPG. Brittany helps facilitate grant writing and feasibility study assistance for NCVACS recipients through training and development.

Contact Brittany: brittany_whitmire@ncsu.edu or 919-830-9557

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