Magnolia Long

She wanted to be a doctor until she got sick and needed a transplant. She wanted to be a lawyer until she was involved in an internship that exposed her to lots of lawyers.

Today Magnolia Long works for the town of Rutherfordton in community development and “I finally feel like I am home.”

A recent grad from UNC-Greensboro, she never dreamed of working in local government, but “I did a fellowship program through the UNC School of Government and was not prepared to interview with (town manager) Doug Barrick. He made me feel so at ease when we started joking with each other. I had no idea where Rutherfordton was.”

She is now the town’s community development director.

She is working with the Gateway Foundation, which has bought 15 acres of land on John Smith Road and is managing the construction and sale of single family homes and multi-family units. The homes are geared toward working people, teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and folks in those income ranges.

Beyond her and other town employees working with the Gateway Foundation to develop the project on John Smith Road, Long is one of the organizers and promoters of Ruffton Roots, the community garden near the hospital. Between eight and 20-plus gardeners work there on Mondays and Wednesdays. All harvests go to local food pantries.

“We’ve partnered with food pantries across the county, met with the extension service. We know things like whether they have refrigeration and how many people they serve. Everything goes to food pantries,” she said

“The fellowship with the School of Government sort of fell into my lap. I never expected to love Rutherfordton and Rutherford County, but this is the first place that feels like home to me,” she said.

An upcoming event with Blue Ridge Hope will raise money for both the nonprofit mental and nutritional health organization and Ruffton Roots.

“I’m really excited about the partnership with Blue Ridge Hope. Our dream is to join together to provide not only fresh food and vegetables, but to provide a holistic approach to healthy living,” she said, noting that Blue Ridge Hope has already addressed food insecurity and nutrition through its mission and she hopes for a great future with the five-year-old nonprofit.

The Ruffton Roots Community is important, “Because 33% of Rutherford County is food insecure. Many food pantries provide canned food which is important, but fresh food is really important, too.”

Blue Ridge Hope’s executive director, the Rev. Travis Smith said, “It has been energizing working with Magnolia. She brings enthusiasm and is really making a difference in Rutherfordton and beyond. From actions to address food insecurity to helping educate our community, she is on the upward trajectory of positive change.“

In addition to wholesome food available for pick up from the Oct. 23 event, the evening will include an online gala featuring skits, information on both organizations and Saturday Night Live type skits. Music will be provided by Micha Shortridge, Sam Banfield, and Pamela Martin.

Long said, “Ruffton Roots Community Garden matters because our entire mission is to serve.”

More information is available on the Blue Ridge Hope Facebook page, website at and by emailing Long at