Nearly 150 educators from sustainable agriculture programs and student farms were in Raleigh earlier this month for the sixth annual Sustainable Agriculture Education Association Conference. Conference participants from around the country came to NC State University for panel discussions, farm and community garden tours and a kickoff dinner at the Agroecology Education Farm at the Lake Wheeler Road Education Unit.
NC State’s Agroecology Program Coordinator Michelle Schroeder-Moreno was a conference host, along with Robin Kohanowich, the Sustainable Agriculture Program coordinator at Pittsboro’s Central Carolina Community College.
Dinner at the farm was catered appropriately by Green Planet Catering, which partners with the agroecology education farm to obtain fresh produce. Several dishes featured at the dinner included produce – especially tomatoes –grown at the farm. The all-local affair also featured local bluegrass music, local spirits, local beer and wine.
NC State Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Mike Mullen, a soil biologist and CALS alumnus, welcomed the guests from more than 50 universities and community colleges.
Keynote speaker Scott Marlow of the Rural Advancement Fund International, also a CALS alumnus, described three phases of sustainable agriculture. The first phase in the 1970s he described as the “crying in the wilderness phase.” Sustainable ag was supported by a small but passionate group. In the second phase, the “intellectual property phase,” standards were developed for “organic” products. And without standards, descriptions like “local” can become confusing.
The third phase we are in now is the phase of big data on the value of sustainable and organic agriculture. But big companies are interested in acquiring the rights to this data. “If we don’t look out for that data, someone else will,” Marlow said.
After fruit cobbler dessert, guests walked back to the Yates Mill Pond parking lot, as the moon rose over the pond. Perfect end to a perfect night.