Thursday, December 1, 2022

Election 2022: Evan Folds looks to another four years on NHC Soil and Water board

Evan Folds hopes to serve another four-year term as a board of supervisor for the New Hanover County Soil and Water Conservation District. (Courtesy photo)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Evan Folds is running for re-election to the board of supervisors of the New Hanover County Soil and Water Conservation District. He will face off against current board member Frank Meares and newcomer Lance Capps to fill two elected seats.

Port City Daily has sent a questionnaire to every candidate appearing on ballots in the tri-county region, even those unopposed, ahead of the Nov. 8, 2022 election.

Folds’ stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full, and the candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. Responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

The paywall is dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots will be available Sept. 9 and have a Nov. 1 deadline.
  • Registration to vote will open until Oct. 14; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration only will be available during one-stop early voting.
  • Early voting begins Oct. 20 and remains open through Nov. 5 (3:30 p.m.).
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 8, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Locations to vote early in New Hanover County include CFCC Health Sciences and Learning Center (415 2nd. St.), Carolina Beach Municipal Building (1121 Lake Park Blvd.), CFCC North Campus (4500 Blue Clay Rd.), Northeast Library/Board of Elections (1241-A Military Cutoff Rd.), and the Senior Center (2222 S. College Rd.).

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on their voter registration card.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

Port City Daily (PCD): What makes you qualified for the role?

Evan Folds (EF): Having been elected in 2018, I am just completing my first four-year term on the Board of Supervisors of the New Hanover Soil and Water Conservation District. I have 20+ years experience as an entrepreneur and agricultural consultant, and currently own a consulting agency called Be Agriculture (www.BeAgriculture.com) that works globally through storytelling, systems-thinking, and regenerative projects to engage the big challenges that we face.

I believe that education is key. What we think, we grow. I spent more than 14 years in my former business Progressive Gardens teaching myself and the general public about living soil, hydroponics, biodynamics, composting, and more. I have come to understand that water is the blood of the Earth, and that if we fix the soil, we fix ourselves, and I am motivated to work with others to spread this message far and wide.

I do this through collaborations with numerous local organizations and projects, and serve as an adviser for national organizations such as Farmers Footprint (www.FarmersFootprint.us) and Kiss the Ground (www.KisstheGround.com). Soil and water are my life’s work, and, with your vote of support, I would be honored to continue to serve.

PCD: Name three initiatives the district has played a major role in that has helped the county’s conservation efforts.

EF: Education, both in schools and for the public. The Soil a Water staff does a great job of educating on the value of living soil, how stormwater works, composting, and more. We have also supported the Garbage to Gardens program that educates schools to organize their waste stream and compost the cafeteria.

Soil and water has highlighted agriculture in its strategic plan, including the development of environmental learning centers (ELC) at every local school to help develop pollinator gardens, greenhouses, food gardens, compost equipment, rain gardens, and more. We have already installed thirteen ELC’s at local schools, contact the soil and water office to learn more.

The district is a land owner on Eagles Island, so has been in full support of the Eagles Island Nature Park project (www.EaglesIslandNaturePark.org). Depending on how the development pressure plays out on the West bank, I see the district playing an even larger role in the implementation of the vision for conservation, education, and recreation on Eagles Island. 

PCD: Can you explain, for people who don’t know what the soil and water district does, what members do?

EF: Soil and water holds unique space within local government. There are districts representing every county in North Carolina, and most counties around the country. New Hanover Soil and Water Conservation District has a state-level charter, but operates within New Hanover County.

As a supervisor of a soil and water conservation district, we take an oath to protect and enhance the quality of soil and water. Soil and water also interfaces directly with the public through conservation and cost-share opportunities for regenerative methods such as cover crops, irrigation, composting, rain gardens and more.

We cannot solve dynamic problems with linear thinking. I see the role of a soil and water supervisor as being responsible for recognizing the ecosystem in things, and being the voice for Nature and natural law within local government. If not us, then who?

PCD: How would you rate the district’s functioning on a scale of one to 10? What impresses you most about the job the current board is doing and what do you think needs improving?

EF: Five. This rating is not a judgment of the people involved, but on our relative impact and the position we hold within local decision making. In all honesty, my experience over the last four years has been less a fight to enhance and protect the quality of soil and water, and more a fight to be relevant as an organization. If we are to collectively create a sustainable means of living on the Earth, we must begin listening to the soil and water.  

We can always do better at engaging with the community. The board has recently adopted a strategic plan that I think represents the scope of the work we are capable of accomplishing, and we have started to work on strategies for developing the staff capacity and funding to accomplish big things.

Ultimately, the change we need will not come from politicians, it must come from the will of the people demanding it. I see soil and water’s role as providing guidance and resources for homeowners to engage conservation, and working to elevate the imagination of our ideas. How do we think and act bigger, through a lens of systems-thinking, and with the understanding that our quality of life starts in the soil and water?

PCD: What should the district be doing more of to prevent soil erosion and lessen flooding?

EF: What the district “should” be doing is a function of budget and staff capacity. That said, things like championing cover crops for urban landscapes, improving tree health through soil fertility, convening a regional discussion on the impact of conventional agriculture on the Cape Fear River Basin, homeowner and staff education, and a common understanding between government departments regarding the value of living soil would help.

Generally, the concept of moving water from gutter to river is poor policy. We should be focused on strategies for helping water soak into the ground. For example, search “sustainable parking lots” and compare this to the average parking lot in Wilmington. If we wanted to be proactive, we have an opportunity to lead by example and establish low impact development (LID) with the construction of the new government center complex. 

Maybe the greatest impact on flooding can come through increasing the quality of soil so that it can hold more water. An increase of only 1% of organic matter per acre holds 25,000 gallons of water, or, for context, a 60-by-40-foot swimming pool 4-feet deep. We could easily increase our soil organic matter 4-5%, maybe more, with a joint public policy to use compost on city and county land.

The biggest issue we face on flooding has yet to fully materialize. The northern part of the county is made up of hydric soils that represent a particular and serious challenge for land development. There are strategies to mitigate this if we act now, but if we develop the northern part of New Hanover County the way we have to date, we have only seen the beginning of the flooding problem.

PCD: What areas are most threatened in New Hanover County in your opinion; what measures should be taken to protect them and what can the district do to help?

EF: There are many, to name a few..

The landfill is running out, and there is no more land to open a new cell. More than 50% of the waste stream can be diverted through large-scale bulk, school, and residential composting. Not only does this extend the life of the landfill to buy us more time to conjure a solution, and result in compost that will greatly improve soil quality, but it generates a massive ROI going forward. What a great opportunity to leverage systems-thinking and show our children that we are practicing the permaculture principle, “Make the problem the solution”.

We are at the end of a massive watershed, so are threatened by the conventional farming happening all around us. The Cape Fear River is one of the more polluted rivers in the United States, and it is not just PFAS pollution. It is the glyphosate sprayed on RoundUp-ready GMO crops. It is the highest density of CAFO farms of any other place on Earth in the Cape Fear River Basin, with regulation that is almost nonexistent. And more. Given the impact on our region, and on our water quality, our local governments need to be a voice on this issue. With the cooperation of local leadership, soil and water conservation districts are well positioned to help lead a discussion on urban and regional regenerative agriculture systems with our neighboring jurisdictions, possibly through the establishment of a voluntary agriculture district (VAD).  

Finally, our kids (and all people) are threatened when we use toxic chemicals in parks and near jungle gyms. I have the list of chemicals being used in the City and County from a public information request, we are using known toxins that have a direct impact on public health. If we can bring attention to the natural park pilot underway in Olsen Park, it can serve as a vehicle to help us make common sense of our local land care policies.

PCD: How do you propose to fight for clean drinking water for the county, after years of contamination from PFAS in the Cape Fear River?

EF: The scale of the corporate pollution that has been put upon us for generations to come is overwhelming, and Chemours has not even begun to pay for it. In fact, now Chemours is expanding. Regulatory capture is real. At what point will we realize that the state and federal regulatory agencies in place to engage this tragedy are not sufficient to protect us?

The way we have built the United States, and the legal precedent established by corporate personhood, makes it very difficult to hold corporate polluters accountable. Not only is the legal deck stacked against the individual and our communities, but way too often the research is corrupted, and the experts are on the other side.

No longer can we afford to allow industries to count their pollution as an externality as if it does not exist. In the spirit of fundamental human rights, on matters of corporate pollution, I believe it imperative for local government to challenge the authority of state agencies. How does an agency not impacted by the problem move with the urgency required to fix it?

The reality is that after five years of knowing about the PFAS pollution in the Cape Fear River, the governments of New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington have done very little to protect the environment and public health on the PFAS issue. To be fair, local governments feel that their “hands are tied” when it comes to issues where the state expresses authority. But our hands are never completely tied, if they were we would never have had abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, or cannabis legalization. These were not top down resolutions, but bottom up. This is what we have come to, are we unwilling to break the law to protect public health?

We can challenge corporatist precedent through rights of nature laws that, when passed locally, challenge state and federal preemption laws. Rights of Nature ordinances have already been adopted in thirteen states and counting, with precedent in cities like Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and Toledo, Ohio. In the November 2020 election Orange County, Florida, with nearly 1.5 million people, became the largest municipality in the U.S. to adopt a rights of nature law to protect their waterways with an astounding 89% approval.

By challenging corporatism, we not only build on the precedent that is already established for rights of nature laws around the world, but we give our problem a name and we stand in the power we have to do something about it. Without this, in my view, we will be waiting a long time for the wrongs that we see to be made right. Watch the documentaries “We the People 2.0” and “Invisible Hand” for a deeper dive.

PCD: Does the district receive adequate funding and partnerships from local government officials? Explain. How would you strengthen that relationship?

EF: No, we do not receive adequate funding to make the impact that we can deliver. However, I also understand that it is up to the district to earn the recognition and responsibility that we seek, and we are working hard to do this.

Pilot projects are a good way to prove concept and build capacity. The district has supported the natural park pilot underway at Olsen Park. We are also collaborating with UNCW to do research on Eagles Island to inform the Eagles Island Nature Park project. And we are now challenging ourselves to write grants and collaborate on higher levels with more organizations.

As we make progress and build a stronger foundation for the work that needs to be done, it is our expectation that the state, county, and city will deliver a higher level of support.

PCD: NHC Planning Board recently proposed an amendment to exempt development along Highway 421 due to tree mitigation standards. Do you support this? Why or why not?

EF: I do not support the exemption. The process should be slowed, and the concerns of the public should be respected. It is a good thing that industry wants to move to our region, however, we need smart growth that balances development with conservation. We expended a lot of energy on crafting the new tree ordinance in the UDO, we should not green light developers without a serious review and exploration of potential compromise.

Ultimately, how do we know the impact of a proposed development in a wetland on the scale being considered without studying it first? At a minimum, we need to generate a specimen count and a detailed hydrologic study. Development should be a two-way street.

PCD: Incumbents: What would you say are the greatest accomplishments during your service in the district so far? What would you do differently, if anything, and why?

EF: I am proud of the emphasis on agriculture that I have brought to the board over the last four years. Agriculture is now a part of our strategic plan, and we are developing a capacity to begin implementing more agricultural projects in urban areas. We are also growing a collaboration with the Southside Learning Farm project, founded by Feast Down East and being developed by New Hanover County Cooperative Extension, to help establish an even greater presence for urban farming into the future. 

Us humans are agricultural beings. Wendell Berry said, “Eating is an agricultural act”. For me, agriculture is about more than farming, it is about food, farming, and health. The premise of my work is that it is our disconnect from agriculture that results in the strife we are experiencing in society. When viewed through this lens, agriculture deserves a seat at every table of decision, yet locally we lack strong representation. For example, there is no official body that speaks agriculture to county commission or city council, we are one of the only counties in North Carolina without a voluntary agriculture district, and we currently have one agricultural teacher in all of the New Hanover County school system.

When we become aware of how far away we have become from food and health sovereignty, and we recognize the full-on synthetic assault underway in the world, compromising on what we should be doing in regard to the quality of soil and water can be difficult. I am always striving to do better, and practice patience with the process, with those operating under different priorities. 


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