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Sustainable Development Program to Bear Goodnight Family Name

by Jane Nicholson

BOONE–Truck farming sustained many Watauga County families during the Great Depression. County residents would sell cabbage, potatoes, beans and other vegetables grown in family gardens and fields from the back of their trucks to make ends meet during the hard economic times.

The practice spawned a business when James Goodnight moved his family from Lincoln County to Boone in 1924 and began growing, buying and selling produce from the back of his Model T Ford.

His sons, Howard, Joe, J.C., Neil and Olan Goodnight, expanded the practice.

J.C. Goodnight founded Goodnight Brothers Produce Company in Boone. He sold seeds and other items to farmers on credit, who in turn paid their bills with the produce they grew. J.C Goodnight sold the produce to his brothers who operated a distribution warehouse in Gastonia. The practice became a sustaining cycle for the Goodnight brothers and the farmers.

A $360,000 commitment from first and second generation members of the Goodnight family will ensure that the family’s early business philosophy of sustaining and supporting the region’s agricultural and economic development will continue through the Goodnight Family Sustainable Development Program at Appalachian State University.

“To take what we have and use it in the best way possible is something that my father would have supported. That’s how all the brothers operated,” said Jim Goodnight, president of Goodnight Brothers Produce Company and grandson of James Goodnight. The company now is best known for producing country hams.

Goodnight Brothers Produce Company and members of the Goodnight family, Jim Goodnight, Louise Goodnight of Charlotte, and Olan and Eleene Goodnight of

Mooresville, are helping endow the program. “Olan, Eleene and Louise were attracted to Appalachian’s sustainable development program for a similar reason,” Goodnight said. “They like the program’s environmental focus.”

These family members continue the tradition of AuRilla Goodnight of Waxhaw and her late husband, Joseph, of providing significant financial support to Appalachian.

Sustainable development is the internationally recognized process of meeting the present generation’s needs, whether it is transportation, shelter, food or economics, without compromising future generations’ abilities to meet their needs, explains Richard Carp, chairman of Appalachian’s Department of Interdisciplinary Studies.

“This is an astonishingly generous gift,” said Carp. The Goodnight Program is housed in the IDS department.

“We are committed to stewarding this gift in such a way that it has the kind of impact and significance that it deserves and honors the name of Goodnight at the university and in the state. We are so grateful to the whole family and appreciative of the confidence they are expressing in us.”

Carp said the gift will primarily support the agricultural component of the sustainable development program and will help bring visiting scholars and faculty to campus, and generate scholarships or assistantships for students.

Appalachian offers a minor and a major concentration in sustainable development. Plans are in the works to offer a master’s degree.

The sustainable development program at Appalachian began in 1991 with a focus on agriculture, explains program director and anthropology professor Jeff Boyer. “We are surrounded by an Appalachian culture which had agriculture as its base,” Boyer said.

One program goal is to stem economic downturn farmers are experiencing with the loss of the contract poultry business during the past years and reduction in tobacco sales.

Possible farming alternatives include growing native species of medical herbs and other native plants, reintroducing heirloom varieties of apples.

“We don’t have a single bullet that is the answer to tobacco,” Boyer said. “We’re trying to develop a series of alternatives that a small farmer could produce.” The public is increasingly interested in organically grown produce, Boyer said. However, there is not yet a supply to meet public demand.

“There is an extremely rich range of opportunities for students interested in sustainable development,” Carp said. “Based on the growth in the field during the last decade, these opportunities will become richer and more complex.”

Departments offering concentrations in sustainable development include technology, biology, anthropology, chemistry, and physics and astronomy. More than 300 students have majors or minors in the program.

“Graduates can work in a variety of positions related to sustainability in almost every aspect of economy,” Carp said. Job opportunities include seed, agriculture, or energy companies, the Peace Corps, Foreign Service, or with nongovernment organizations overseas.

“The sustainable segment of the workforce cuts across all sectors,” Carp said. As an example, Carp said the CEO of Ford Motor Company has expressed an interest in sustainable development and the long-term issues of sustainable energy production.

“This gift provides us with short and long term support for basic program needs,” he said.