It’s that time of the year again! Mark your calendars now for the Rural Center’s 2017 Rural Assembly. Join us November 16-17 at the Raleigh Marriott Crabtree Valley as we take a deep dive into the topic of rural leadership and the importance of local leaders in helping rural communities chart their own course for the future.

The future is what we dare to make it. Will you help lead the way?

Our keynote speaker this year is bestselling author, renowned chef, and television host Vivian Howard. Vivian will share a personal story of her return home to rural North Carolina and her journey from a budding rural entrepreneur to television star.

Be sure to register early! Confirm your seat at the Assembly by October 16 and receive a signed-copy of Vivan’s critically acclaimed book of recipes and reflections, Deep Run Roots.

The 2017 Rural Assembly also marks our 30th anniversary, and we want to celebrate with you! Check back soon for a full agenda and a list of our other featured speakers.

It’s time for rural places to claim their future. We can’t wait to see you in November and start the journey together!


The 2017 Rural Assembly is two days full of speakers, panels, and breakout sessions with a lens focused on what makes a great rural leader and how communities can engage the next generation of leadership to build the foundation for a better and brighter future. Join us as we celebrate the best assets of rural North Carolina: the people who call it home.

We can’t wait to share more details with you! Keep an eye here as we update the list of our participating speakers and panelists, and release our full agenda!


Vivian Howard

Chef, Television Host, Cookbook Author

Instagram: @chefandthef
Twitter: @chefandthef

Born in Deep Run, NC to tobacco and hog farming parents, Vivian Howard learned early on to appreciate the ebb and flow of eating with the seasons. Still, it took 23 years and a start in the advertising business to convince her a career in food was feasible. After college, Vivian moved to New York for work, but found the city’s food and restaurant scene far more intriguing. A server position at Greenwich Village’s Voyage made it possible for her to begin training under the restaurant’s chef Scott Barton. She went on to learn from creative cutting-edge chefs Wylie Dufresne and Sam Mason at WD50 and later, joined the opening team at Jean Georges Vongerichten’s critically-acclaimed Spice Market.

In 2005, Vivian, and her now husband, Ben Knight decided to return to Vivian’s roots to open a “farm-to-fork” restaurant in the small town of Kinston, NC. They opened Chef & the Farmer in the summer of 2006 serving local, seasonal, creative cuisine. Vivian and her restaurant have won numerous accolades, including her selection as a five-time James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast. She also owns and operates a second restaurant right across the street from Chef & the Farmer – The Boiler Room.

In 2012, Vivian approached her childhood neighbor turned filmmaker, Cynthia Hill, about directing a documentary film series about Eastern North Carolina’s food traditions. Five years later, the two women have produced five seasons of “A Chef’s Life,” a PBS series that celebrates family, work, and food. The show’s fifth season is slated to air in October 2017. In its first two seasons, “A Chef’s Life” won a Peabody Award and a Daytime Emmy. In 2016, Vivian earned a coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Personality/Host.

In October 2016, Vivian released her first-ever cookbook – Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South – published by Little, Brown & Co. The cookbook is Vivian’s comprehensive record of modern Southern cooking, filled with stories and more than 200 recipes that celebrate the flavors of her eastern North Carolina home. The cookbook was nominated for a James Beard Award for the American Cooking category and was named ‘Cookbook of the Year’ by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Recently, Deep Run Roots was selected as the winner of the 2017 Southern Book Prize for the Nonfiction – Cooking category.

Up next, Vivian will expand her brand with two new establishments. In fall 2017, she will open her first restaurant outside of Kinston, Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria in Wilmington, NC. In early 2018, Vivian will also open Handy & Hot, a bakery in Kinston located on the same block as her existing two restaurants.

Kelly Ryan

CEO & President, Incourage

Twitter: @kryan_incourage
Twitter: @incouragecf

Kelly Ryan has led Incourage in realizing its simple yet bold vision of a community that works well for all people for 20 years.To advance an inclusive and sustainable economy in its rural central Wisconsin home, Incourage has developed a holistic approach that is values-led and user-centered. As CEO, Kelly is leading Incourage in its commitment to align all forms of capital with organizational values and mission congruence, placing primary value on human potential.

Named one of the 50 most influential leaders in the nonprofit sector by the NonProfit Times and a Rural Innovator by the White House, Kelly frequently speaks and writes about the opportunity for philanthropy at the intersection of people, place, and prosperity. She also serves on the National Fund for Workforce Solutions Partners Council, and had the opportunity to serve on the board and sunset the Hitachi Foundation in 2016.


Secure your seat now for the 2017 Rural Assembly! Register by October 16 and claim your signed copy of Deep Run Roots, Vivian Howard’s bestselling book of recipes and reflections from Eastern North Carolina.


The Rural Center is dedicated to the inclusion of rural North Carolina’s many voices in this vital conversation. A limited number of need-based scholarships to cover the $225 registration fee are available at this time. Only one person per organization may receive a scholarship and will be awarded on a rolling basis. Scholarships only cover the registration cost of the 2017 N.C. Rural Assembly, it does not include the Deep Run Roots cookbook, traveling costs, or hotel accommodations. Application deadline is October 13.

For more information, contact Tracie McIver at 919.250.4314 or by email at


This year’s Rural Assembly will be held at the newly renovated Marriott Crabtree Valley in Raleigh, NC.

We have reserved a limited block of rooms at a discounted rate for Assembly guests. Register today to get the special Assembly rate of $189 plus tax. The cut-off date for the Assembly rate is October 18 so don’t wait!

Contact the Marriott Crabtree Valley at 919.781.7000 or go online to book your group rate for the 2017 Rural Assembly.

There are plenty of other lodging options in close proximity to the Marriott Crabtree Valley. Below is a partial list of nearby hotels:


The front doors of the NC Rural Center's office


Want to partner with The Rural Center to celebrate our state’s rural places at the 2017 Rural Assembly? Contact Todd Brantley, senior director of public affairs, by phone at 919.250.4314 or by email at


For registration information:

Kayla Dobyns
Communications Associate

For media inquires and sponsorship opportunities:

Todd Brantley
Senior Director of Public Affairs

For scholarship information:

Tracie McIver
Executive Assistant to the President

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