Faculty and staff at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems have been busy this year. Hardly a week goes by without news of how CEFS is expanding some already successful programs, starting new ones and collecting awards recognizing their work.
CEFS is a partnership of N.C. State University, N.C. A&T State University and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. CEFS develops and promotes food and farming systems that protect the environment, strengthen local communities and provide economic opportunities in North Carolina and beyond.
In the 2010 report, From Farm to Fork: A Guide to Building North Carolina’s Sustainable Local Food Economy, recommendations included bringing new farmers into the state. In the last year, CEFS began working toward that goal through its Bringing New Farmers to the Table program, coordinated by Joanna Lelekacs.
In March, the program selected five North Carolina communities to receive support in planning and developing incubator farms. Partner organizations chosen to receive support include the Town of Robbins, Moore County; LINC, Inc., Wilmington and New Hanover County; Wayne Food Initiative, Goldsboro; Onslow Incubator Farm, Jacksonville; and Guilford County.
Incubator farms provide new farmers with land to begin their operations and hone their farming skills before they make an investment in a more permanent location. With the average age of North Carolina farmers at 59, incubator farms are a way of helping young people transition to farming.
In addition, Bringing New Farmers to the Table conducted workshops across the state designed to help N.C. Cooperative Extension agents to better support beginning farmers. More than 60 Extension agents participated in five workshops. Of the agents who participated in the workshops, 60 percent reported that they are already working with more than 10 beginning farmers, and 25 percent are working with more than 20 beginning farmers annually.
Another CEFS project, the 10% Campaign, which generates and tracks the demand for local food in North Carolina, recorded more than $16 million in local food purchases by May 2012 since the project’s inception in 2010, through the efforts of more than 5,000 individuals and 600 businesses across the state. The campaign is aimed at getting consumers and businesses to spend at least 10 percent of their food budget on locally sourced food.
After last year’s successful Carolina Meat Conference in Concord, NC Choices — CEFS’ program that supports North Carolina’s locally marketed, niche meat industry — hosted a second butchery training workshop in March in Silk Hope, as well as a Whole Animal Butchery Workshop in Asheville. Both workshops featured Kari Underly of Range Inc. in Chicago and Craig Deihl of Cypress in Charleston, S.C.
As a result of the meat conferences’ success, NC Choices received a $325,000 grant from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center. The funds will be used over two years to continue providing small-scale, commercial meat processors across the state with assistance, including business development and technical training.
A second annual Carolina Meat Conference will be held near Winston Salem in early December 2012.
May was an especially busy month for CEFS. The center hosted a field day and local foods dinner at CEFS Goldsboro units for more than 300 friends and policy makers across the state. Farm tours gave participants a close look at research activities in the Farming Systems Research, Organic and Livestock units.
At the field day, faculty from N.C. State and N.C. A&T State universities explained research projects in the areas of soil and water studies, agroforestry, no-till organic corn production, organic canola production, vacuum systems for removing flies from dairy cows and outdoor swine and more.
A week later, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon came to Goldsboro’s City Market to launch the Produce Ped’lers project, which will provide fresh produce to local food “deserts,” delivered by youngsters on bicycle. The riders are engaged in a youth food systems leadership development project called SWARM.
Finally in May, CEFS, along with Slow Food Triangle and the N.C. Agricultural Foundation, hosted the annual Farm to Fork Picnic at Orange County’s Breeze Farm Incubator. Dubbed the “Best All You Can Eat Feast in the Country” by Bon Appetit magazine, this year’s Farm to Fork picnic featured the combined talents of 28 farms, 28 chefs and 11 food artisans. More than $23,000 was raised for the apprentice farmer programs at CEFS and Breeze farm incubator, with more than 700 in attendance at the picnic.
In addition, CEFS received several honors this year. Two partner universities of CEFS – N.C. State and N.C. A&T State – were among those named regional winners of the C. Peter Magrath University Engagement Award for 2012, presented by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The Outreach Scholarship and Magrath University Community Engagement Awards recognize four-year public universities that have redesigned their learning, discovery and engagement functions to become more deeply involved with their communities.
CEFS also received N.C. State University’s Opal Mann Green Engagement and Scholarship Award, which recognizes the creation of teams to pursue community-based learning and action around issues of local importance. CEFS was honored for its comprehensive statewide local food systems work.
CEFS also continues its popular workshop series, Seasons of Sustainable Agriculture. The workshops, for commercial and home growers, focus on topics ranging from beneficial insects, legume cover and no-till production, small poultry flocks, beekeeping, shiitake mushroom production and agroforestry.
— Natalie Hampton