2014 Conference Highlights

This past August marked the 7th National Sustainable Agriculture Education Association Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. The conference was hosted by North Carolina State University (NCSU) and Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), August 3-6, 2014. The conference theme was “Celebrating our Diversity Through Sustainable Agriculture Education,” and the conference embodied this in the diversity of field trips, speakers, presentation styles, and the 64 institutions represented.

The 7 concurrent conference sessions and poster session included themes of beginning farmer training, credit-bearing experiences associated with a university or other institutions, strategies for enhancing the classroom experience, sustainable agriculture curriculum, student farms, approaches to improve food Security and community engagement, ideas for student recruitment and retention, teaching and learning theory, and K-12 education.

As with all SAEA conferences, keynote speakers, field trips to farms, NGO’s and student farms were a highlight.

In the “new and novel” conference approach category, this year’s conference included a new approach to a plenary session, called ‘Spark Talks’, which are 10-minute, high energy talks drawing on the concept of ‘Ted Talks.’ The speakers were selected based on their innovative teaching approaches as used with distinct audiences. Mr. Santos Flores lit up the audience speaking about his work with diverse youth to develop just and productive local food systems (http://tierranegrafarms.org/ ). Dr. Joel Gruver of Western Illinois University inspired and engaged the group with his talk about integrating sustainable agriculture education into classrooms with traditional university agronomy students.

This year’s conference brought attendees to the farms of some of Central Carolina’s most education-focused local farms. The farmers at both Peregrine and Perry-winkle Farms participate in the larger farming and food communities, by serving on both local and national advisory boards, teaching at workshops around the US and at the local community college. Both farms have played an important role in sustainable agriculture
education opportunities for students at CCCC and NCSU. Since 1981 Peregrine Farm has been growing the finest cut flowers, small fruit, and vegetables for the Triangle area of NC. Developing a sustainable farming system using the most environmentally responsible methods and materials has been a guiding principle from the beginning. Owners and farmers, Betsy and Alex Hitt, have been active in educating the next generation of farmers in the Central Carolina community and beyond (http://peregrinefarm.net/ ). Cathy Jones and Mike Perry of Perry-Winkle Farm have been farming in northern Chatham County since 1990, using organic methods incorporating sustainable practices such as cover crops, crop rotation, and biodiversity help keep pests and diseases in check and enhance crop quality (http://growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu/growingsmallfarms-perrywinkle/ ).

Others field trips included a trip to the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), a 2,000 acre facility created as a unique partnership North Carolina State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) that was established in 1994 for sustainable agriculture research, extension and education. The tour focused on the Small Farm Unit, which is the site for the CEFS Sustainable Agriculture summer Internship program, Apprentice Program and a variety of youth (K-12) programs in addition to small scale sustainable agriculture research and extension work (http://www.cefs.ncsu.edu/index.htm).

Many field trips included visits to groups tackling some of the toughest issues in community food systems outside of the “farm.” Trips included visits to:
– SEEDS, an urban sanctuary focused on promoting the principles and practice of sustainable agriculture, organic gardening, food security, and environmental stewardship located in the heart of Downtown Durham (http://www.seedsnc.org/).
– Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO), an organization that facilitates in marketing and distributing wholesale Carolina organic farm produce to retailers, restaurants, and buying clubs. The organization believes a sustainable food system is based on providing fresh local fruit, vegetables, and herbs while protecting the environment. Working in collaboration with farmers, ECO educates the public on the benefits of buying local, organic produce (http://www.easterncarolinaorganics.com/).
– Durham Public School’s Hub Farm, a 30+ acre school system farm and wilderness where students, teachers, and the community grow and harvest healthy food, hike, bike, and explore nature (https://www.facebook.com/DPSHubFarm).
– Transplanting Traditions Community Farm, which provides agricultural and entrepreneurial education to limited resource refugee farmers at its 4-acre incubator site. We believe increasing the self-reliance of communities in providing for their own food needs is key to creating a more environmentally sustainable and socially responsible food system (http://transplantingtraditions.com/).
– The Duke Campus Farm is a long-term project to construct a fully functional education farm. The farm aspires to engage students with food issues, increase sustainability at Duke, and influence campus culture to reconnect students with their food. All of the Campus Farm’s fruits and vegetables are served in Duke dining halls (http://sites.duke.edu/farm/).
– The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, an innovative hunger-relief organization serving seven counties in and around the Research Triangle. Interfaith Food Shuttle works to create sources of healthy food in every low-income neighborhood and grow opportunities for people to provide for themselves by learning job skills or growing their own food. Their work includes programs such as BackPack Buddies, nutrition education, mobile markets, community gardens, culinary job training, and urban agriculture training. In their words “we go directly to people in need and create what works to empower them. We feed. We teach. We grow…to create a hunger-free and healthy community” (http://foodshuttle.org/about-us/).

Conference fare was not to be missed and included some special meals featuring local and sustainable ingredients. Dinner highlights included some legendary Carolina barbecue, and an on-farm dinner at the NC State Agroecology Farm.

Special thanks to the conference planning team of Nancy Creamer (CEFS), Michelle Schroeder-Moreno (NCSU), Robin Kohanowich (CCCC), Angel Cruz (NCSU), Mary Parr (Berea College), Julie Grossman (University of Minnesota), Jose Chavira (NCSU), Rachel Atwell (NCSU), and Susan Jones (NCSU). The SAEA Steering Council would like to extend an especially big thank you to conference coordinator Susan Jones! We know what a big job it is to host, and a good and worthwhile time was had by all!

Conference sponsors include generous support from The Ceres Trust, The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, the NC SARE program, and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS).

We look forward to seeing everyone again in summer 2016 for the 8th National Conference – location to be determined – stay tuned!!