Around the South Newsletters

Compiling SRDC and national news, recent publications, upcoming conferences and events, and job opportunities, this monthly newsletter furnishes a brief overview of announcements from the Southern region.

SRDC 50th Anniversary Website

The Regional Rural Development Centers were established under the Rural Development Act of 1972, and the Southern Rural Development Center (SRDC) was operational in 1974, with the first plan of work approved that spring. The SRDC is excited to celebrate our 50th anniversary of “serving the south since 1974.”

We welcome you to view highlights of our history through publications and milestones via our website.

To view, visit

National Agritourism Survey Seeking Input from Farms that Welcome Visitors

The 2024 National Agritourism Survey is now collecting responses, and you are invited to participate! All agricultural operations that welcome visitors – whether for on-farm education, direct sales, entertainment, recreation, special events, and more – are invited to complete the survey. Your insights are crucial if you have or offer any of the following on your farm: a farmstand, a petting zoo, education or rent event space, pick-your-own, farm stays, or other on-farm experiences.

By participating in this survey, you will help pinpoint the types of support farmers like you require – whether it is business assistance, developing networks, applying for grants, or navigating zoning and liability issues. The goal is to help build the resources needed, improve access to critical information and opportunities, and shape policy decisions that impact industry.

This survey is part of a collaborative project led by Penn State with the University of Vermont, Oklahoma State University, the University of Maine, Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, and other partners across the country. The survey will take approximately 15 minutes to complete. Your insights are invaluable to all collaborators and sincerely appreciate your willingness to participate.

To participate in the survey, please visit: National Agritourism Support System Survey. If you have any questions about the survey, please contact Claudia Schmidt, Penn State Extension, at


Regional Spotlight

Kentucky State University: Expungement Success Story

Expungement-101, Starting a New Chapter, is a grant funded program led by Irma Johnson, a state specialist for Family Assets and Community Engagement, with the Community Resource and Development Office at Kentucky State University. It assists individuals with non-violent criminal records to understand the process of expungement, provides legal and financial support in paying fees associated with sealing those records, offers workshops to enhance stable employment, and provides other entrepreneurial opportunities for success.

Over 85% of the 1.65 million Kentuckians with a criminal record are eligible for expungement of their Class D or misdemeanor offenses, but most cannot afford to pay the expungement fees and attorney costs. Expungement protects your privacy and can allow participants the opportunity to take advantage of job, school, housing, voting rights, and other opportunities once closed because of an old, minor arrest or conviction being part of an individual’s public record. Due to the expenses associated with expungement, including attorney fees as high as $2500 and expungement fees averaging around $600, many Kentuckians with criminal records cannot afford to pay the expenses associated with the expungement process. This project is funded by a grant from the Kentucky Bar Foundation and covers all expungement fees and attorney fees, so eligible participants can have two misdemeanors, or one felony charge expunged from their records at no cost to them.

Expungement-101 features a 60-minute expungement clinic led by an attorney from the Department of Public Advocacy along with seven attorneys, two paralegals from the Kentucky Innocence Project, and a representative from the Kentucky Department of Corrections. This partnership is important because participants not only learn about the expungement process but also the state statutes that must be followed in the process.

A total of seventy-nine participants from nine Kentucky counties participated in two expungement clinics in the fall of 2023 and the spring of 2024. After the 60-minute presentation with an open question-and-answer session, participants had a one-on-one meeting with an attorney to determine eligibility for the next step in the expungement process. While participants waited for their expungement eligibility to be determined, they were encouraged to select two or more workshops to attend from the following list: Basic Workplace Employability Skills, Entrepreneurial Opportunities, Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, Introductory Business Communication, Goal Setting and Attitude, Leadership and Ethics, Renting vs. Buying a Home, and Basic Personal Finances. Ten applicants signed up for at least two workshops.

Forty-six of the seventy-nine participants were eligible for expungements, and seven were eligible for a full dismissal of charges. The average expungement usually takes three to six months to complete in Kentucky, with more complicated cases taking as long as a year to process due to court hearings and attorney schedules.

Expungement-101, Starting a New Chapter changed the lives of over fifty-three individuals. Special thanks to the Kentucky Bar Foundation.

Staff Spotlight: Irma Johnson, State Specialist for Family Assets & Community Engagement, Kentucky State University

Irma Johnson is the state specialist for family assets and community engagement in the office of Community Resource and Development at Kentucky State University (KYSU). She provides educational resources for extension personnel, teachers, farmers, and students from KYSU and the regional extension network. The programming includes a comprehensive financial literacy education and estate planning program designed to help inform the financial decisions and generational success that supports the overall community base. She also conducts regional training on heirs’ property issues in the commonwealth and hosts expungement clinics, home ownership workshops, and civic engagement programs. As a part-time realtor for over twenty years, she has knowledge of the financial benefits associated with home ownership, resolving title issues, and managing personal assets.

She is currently the principal investigator for two grants: Expungement-101, Starting a New Chapter funded by the Kentucky Bar Foundation, and Navigating Kentucky’s Heirs Property Training on a Regional Level funded by Alcorn State University. Irma Johnson has served Kentucky’s families and children in many roles over the last thirty years as a public-school teacher, a regional stewardship director, a realtor, the director of the Center of Excellence for the Study of Kentucky African Americans (CESKAA), and a member of over ten non-profit boards in the Frankfort community.