CFSA Announces 2016 Sustainable Agriculture Awards For Outstanding Contributions to the Sustainable Local Food Movement
The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) has named this year’s sustainable agriculture award recipients. The awards were announced Nov. 4 and 6 at the 31st Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham, NC, a gathering of over 1,000 sustainable farmers, agriculture advocates, foodies, educators, and experts. These institutions and individuals have made outstanding contributions to the sustainable food movement in North and South Carolina and have helped make the Carolinas one of the fastest growing sustainable agricultural sectors in the country.
This year’s award recipients are:
Career Achievement: Jerry Dewitt
CFSA is honored to acknowledge Jerry Dewitt with our highest award, the Career Achievement Award. Jerry was an Iowa State University extension educator and administrator for 38 years. During that time, he served as an associate dean, assistant extension director and director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. His work at ISU lead to the creation of the nation’s first tenured organic agriculture faculty position. He has studied sustainable and organic agricultural systems in Costa Rica, Russia, Sweden, Mexico, Western Pacific Island Nations and Italy. He has filled numerous leadership roles with the CFSA, most recently as the Board President. In addition, he has served as interim national program leader and state coordinator for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program. He also is involved with Slow Money NC, which supports local North Carolina entrepreneurs with targeted low-interest loans, and has served on the Board of the Center for Appropriate Technology. DeWitt is an avid photographer of local, sustainable and organic agriculture nationwide, setting a goal to visit at least 25 farms each year, and he is the author of Sustaining the Land, a book of farm photography.
Farmer of the Year: Chris Sermons Bio-Way Farm
Bio-Way Farm is a 120 acre USDA certified organic farm located in Ware Shoals, SC. Their food is available via a CSA, retail and farmer’s markets as well as farm to table restaurants in the Greenville area. The farm is the result of Chris Sermons’ desire to transform his family’s land from a hunting retreat to a market farm. In the late 90’s, Chris began recognizing the lack of local produce available in the Greenville area and sought to transform the fields from food plots to row crops. He is active on several farmer’s market advisory boards and with Slow Food Upstate where he serves on the Southeast Ark of Taste Nominating committee. On the farm, he hosts educational tours, farm stays and participates in agricultural research. Chris is constantly cultivating his land ethic and putting it into practice through his love of Permaculture.
Beginning Farmer of the Year – Ross and Jillian Mickens of Open Door Farm
Jillian and Ross both grew up in rural Caswell County, North Carolina and are graduates of the PLANT @ BREEZE Farm Enterprise Incubator in Hurdle Mills, facilitated by Orange County Cooperative Extension. Their three seasons at Breeze provided them with access to training, tools and equipment. In 2014, they moved to their own land in Cedar Grove where they are working to revitalize the soil on a 43 acre property that had historically been used to farm cattle and tobacco before being abandoned for several years. Ross and Jillian are working to build soil health and reclaim farm land taken over by overgrown saplings. They can be found at Carrboro and Chapel Hill Farmers Markets, where they sell diversified produce and their highly coveted microgreens.
Activists of the Year: Chuck Marsh
Chuck Marsh is a widely respected Permaculture community elder, leader, mentor, speaker, teacher, consultant, and designer. He is a lifetime advocate for local ecological, biological, social and economic solutions to the challenges of our times. He really believes that gardening just might save us and be our living legacy to future generations. Chuck is the founder of Useful Plants Nursery, an edible landscaping plant nursery, located at Earthaven Ecovillage near Black Mountain, NC. He is the senior partner in Living Systems Design, a Permaculture design practice that serves home and landowners in the Southern Appalachians and surrounding regions. Chuck also works on permaculture and ecological organic farming projects internationally. Since 2007 he has been catalyzing and supporting permaculture and community development initiatives in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Two years ago, he co-founded Grow Food Where People Live, a Permaculture based project using garden-based solutions to address therural childhood and family poverty and malnutrition epidemic by growing accessible gardens and edible landscapes where the need is greatest.
Institution of the Year: Animal Welfare Approved
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) is a food label for meat and dairy products that come from farm animals raised to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards. The program was founded in 2006 as a market-based solution to the growing consumer demand for meat, eggs and dairy products from animals treated with high welfare and managed with the environment in mind. AWA works to provide a certification consumers can trust when they can’t visit the farm themselves. AWA audits, certifies and supports independent family farmers raising their animals according to the highest animal welfare standards, outdoors on pasture or range. Called a “badge of honor for farmers” and the “gold standard,” AWA has come to be one of the most highly regarded food labels when it comes to animal welfare, pasture-based farming, and sustainability.
Business of the Year: Sow True Seed
Sow True Seed is a young business that has been working tirelessly to support food security and seed sovereignty in the Carolinas and beyond. Founded in 2008 by lifelong gardener and food activist Carol Koury, Sow True Seed provides open-pollinated, heirloom and organic vegetable, herb, and flower seeds to enthusiastic home gardeners and small market farmers. Sow True Seed is a business promoting a model of seed saving that could one day put them out of business. In 2016 Sow True Seed has donated over 10,000 packets of open-pollinated seeds to over 100 organizations focusing on food education and food security, supported over 50 school gardens, taught Seed Saving Classes to hundreds of people across at least 20 educational platforms, increased its local farmer seed grower network by running Seed Grower Workshops and offering small scale diversified income through seed growing. Founder Carol Koury summarized her business model saying, “We are trying to create the world we want to live in. A world in which farmers and gardeners have access to the seeds that are best adapted to where they live, […] A world in which profit never takes precedence over stewardship of the land and the environment that feeds us all.”
NC Extension Educator: Joanna Lelekacs
The 2016 North Carolina Extension agent of the year is Joanna Lelekacs, Extension’s Local Foods Flagship Program Manager. In her roll, Joanna has spearheaded the local foods portal, a web resource which has enabled academics, producers and the general public to have quick and free access to resources and tools that were otherwise daunting to find or simply not available. She has also developed a series of local foods extension publications, hosted several training sessions for extension agents on a variety of topics, as well as developed and found funding for a Local Foods Graduate Course for Extension Agents. She currently serves as president of the NC Association of Cooperative Extension Specialists. Joanna is also a farmer at Dancing Pines Farm, a diversified produce farm in Efland, NC, which has been featured on CFSA’s Piedmont Farm Tour for eleven years.
SC Extension Agent: Zachary Boone Snipes
Clemson Cooperative Extension agent Zachary Snipes is the 2016 recipient of the S.C. Sustainable Agriculture Agent of the Year award. Snipes was nominated by fellow agents based in the state’s 46 counties. A panel of past winners of the award then chose Snipes over the other nominees based on his impact on farmers and surrounding communities. He serves as County Agent on the Horticulture Program Team of Beaufort & Charleston County Cooperative Extension Offices, where he has been recognized for his exemplary contributions to sustainable agriculture. “Zack sees the realities of what farmers are dealing with and takes research-based solutions and incorporates them in a practical manner,” said Amy Dabbs, area horticulture agent and Master Gardener coordinator for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. “He’s not above rolling up his sleeves and helping farmers in the fields – and for that he’s earned their respect. He’s always trying to look for a better way, a more sustainable way. He digs a little deeper.”