SILER CITY — Growing up, Raleigh native Sasha Duncan didn’t really spare too much thought for agriculture. In high school, she took an agriscience class and even joined FFA, which prepares youth …
Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Making high quality community journalism isn’t free — please consider supporting our journalism by subscribing to the News + Record today.
Unlimited Digital Access: $3.99/month
Print + Digital: $5.99/month
SILER CITY — Growing up, Raleigh native Sasha Duncan didn’t really spare too much thought for agriculture. In high school, she took an agriscience class and even joined FFA, which prepares youth for careers in agriculture — though perhaps not for the reasons you’d think.
“I was in FFA in high school only because our FFA advisor, he made Dickens’ Chickens,” Duncan, 23, told the News + Record. “His last name was Dickens. He made barbecue chicken, and so being in FFA was like the cool thing to do at Millbrook High School. … So yeah, I definitely wasn’t really around it, but (I) appreciate it.”
Now she’s one of the community relations managers for Mountaire Farms, the country’s fourth largest chicken producer. But unlike her predecessors, she’s focused solely on Siler City and Chatham County.
The Siler City plant’s former community relations manager, Mark Reif, worked with other Mountaire plants across North Carolina. After he retired at the end of 2020, Jarrod Lowery took over Reif’s responsibilities, including Siler City, until Duncan arrived.
“Jarrod is primarily based out of Lumber Bridge — so surrounding the Lumber Bridge plant,” she said. “He’s been covering Siler, but now that I’m here, I’ll be the main point of contact for all things Chatham County-related.”
Duncan officially started on June 9th.
Her role bundles together communications and community relations — two areas she said Mountaire’s looking to grow. The company’s just renovated its website, she said, and is looking to build out its social media platforms and community impact, especially in Siler City where Mountaire’s still relatively new.
Siler City’s Mountaire Farms poultry processing plant officially opened in April 2019.
“I’m working with especially Chatham County nonprofits, and different organizations and businesses and schools and anything that could possibly fall under the community umbrella,” she said. “So (I’m) working with them, and just letting them know that Mountaire is in the community. We’re here to help. We’re excited to help.”
Rural Siler City and Chatham County are a far cry from downtown Raleigh, where Duncan previously worked in communications, but for her, both possess a familiar charm.
“I grew up in north Wake County, so (it’s) kind of the same feel and then spending a lot of time in Georgia over the summers in small towns — pretty similar,” she said, adding with a laugh, “Jarrod keeps telling me, like, ‘Siler City is a small town,’ and I’m like, ‘Jarrod, I lived in a town with 400 people. I know small towns.’”
But she didn’t know the poultry industry — and she never would have guessed she’d need to either.
After graduating Millbrook, Duncan moved to Charlotte to attend UNC-Charlotte. She started out studying political science, an area she’d been involved in since high school. Soon after, though, she decided that wasn’t the path for her.
“I remember sitting in my first American politics class, and my professor said something and I raised my hand and I was like, ‘Actually, that’s not how they do it on a campaign,’” she said. “And she was like, ‘Well, this is what the textbook says.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, OK, we’re switching majors now.’”
After that, she tried economics — at least, until she realized “numbers are not my friend” — before switching to marketing and even construction management, the family business. Two and half years into college, she finally found her passion: communications. In May of 2019, she graduated from UNCC with a degree in communications and a minor in sociology.
After graduating, she worked as the communications director for Dan Bishop’s successful Dist. 9 Congressional campaign. After Bishop won, she became the North Carolina GOP’s director of digital communications. As part of her work, she was also on the communications team for the RNC convention.
“You’ll find like two (kinds of) people in politics — the ones who want to be politicians, and the ones who like the campaign side,” she said. “I like the business aspect of it, so how do you go from being a nobody to being elected? So it’s more of, like, the technicalities of it, the website side, the social media side, that was my main focus.”
Eventually though, she decided it was time for a career change.
“You know, politics is politics,” she said with a laugh. “... Politics, especially more of a campaign lifestyle, is not sustainable long-term, so that was kind of the main push — just ready to settle down, ready for consistency and stability.”
That’s when she found Mountaire. Up to that point, she’d been applying and interviewing for a lot of jobs, she said, but nothing yet felt like a perfect match.
“But what’s interesting about this position, and the main reason I took it — one, Mountaire is a company truly based on faith and family, and it’s in everything that they do,” she said. “And so I really identified with that, and then also the position itself, giving back to the community, there’s not a lot of jobs where you can just hand out checks and chicken all day long.”
Getting out into the community — that’s her favorite part of the job so far. A couple of weeks into the job, she’s connected with Chatham’s public high schools and local churches, among others, and she has plans to connect with many more organizations, including the Hispanic Liaison.
“Raising money for the state party, all you’re doing is taking people’s money,” she said. “And so being able to turn around and you know, give back and genuinely see a difference — I love it so far.”
It’s been a bit of an adjustment, she said. She’s used to being behind a computer every day, shoring up digital communications, and she added, laughing, “I’m not used to giving chicken out.”
“At my first staff meeting, they asked me something about chicken; they were like, ‘What’s your favorite chicken recipe?’” Duncan said. “ ... And I was like, ‘I’ve never cooked chicken before, nor have I touched a chicken dead or alive.’ The poultry industry is very new to me.”
Little by little, though, she said she’s learning: She’s since toured feed mills, plants, hatcheries and farms, seeing “where the corn and the chicken actually come from.”
“So, yeah, I didn’t see myself here, but I’m really liking it,” she said. “It’s a very, like, down-to-earth and humble industry. They’re just doing good, honest, genuine hard work. And so making that transition to this world, I definitely see that and appreciate it even more than I already did.”
Some plans and projects are already in the works, she said, including a first responders appreciation banquet in October. Mountaire also has plans to expand Thanksgiving for Thousands — a feeding program that distributes thousands of boxes of Thanksgiving meals — to Christmas and Easter.
“So (we’re) not just building that program out to be three events instead of one, but also upping the quantities,” she said, “so we can help more people in the community.”
Other than that, Duncan said nothing’s been set in stone, primarily because she’s still learning the ropes. But even though it’s challenging, she doesn’t see that as an obstacle. Rather, it’s an opportunity.
“This position’s kind of whatever I make it,” she said. “So I’m excited to really kind of develop all of these relationships and brainstorm these ideas and just get feedback from the community. So instead of ‘We’re doing this,’ ‘What can we do?’”
Her biggest hopes for her role, she said, involve letting the Chatham community know what Mountaire Farms is all about — its values, what it does and what it hopes to do for the communities the company calls home.
“And so if you’re having an event and you want chicken, you know, call me,” she said. “My hope is just to really integrate Mountaire with the community, so it’s not just a big concrete building anymore. It’s a family. It’s a community.”
Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.