The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory

Welcome to the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project Blog
April 22, 2009, 8:18 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

warm strawberries, picked just before marketThank you for visiting the Gillings Project Blog. It’s an exciting time for agriculture. With the passing of the 2008 Farm Bill in June, funding was improved for farmland protection programs, renewable energy and food assistance for families struggling with rising food costs.  Programs and policies were improved to support local foods, farmers markets and healthy diets. It was truly a new direction for the Farm Bill, and many believed that it was able to move in a more progressive direction because of the collaboration between nutrition, public health, conservation and local food groups. There has also been an increased amount of attention about the food we eat, with books such as Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan staying on the bestseller lists for months at a time. With leaders such as Edible Schoolyards, schools around the nation have begun to teach children about food by growing school gardens. Farm to school programs have begun encouraging children to eat nutritious and local foods in their cafeterias as well as coordinating school field trips to farms. Even our new president and his family broke ground at The Whitehouse for a garden of their own.

colorful radishesThe UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has invested in this swelling national interest with The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project. The project is supported by a Gillings Innovation Laboratory award from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. The project will make significant contributions to understanding sustainable agriculture and its relations to public health outcomes. With two years plus of intensive research and data collection, researchers want to show that interest in local food is not just a passing trend, but has the potential to be a real solution. The project seeks to provide collective solutions for detrimental health problems. This research is pertinent to move policy, like the 2008 Farm Bill, forward in a real and tangible way. 

spinach early in the seasonWhat is meant by a collective solution? Well, many health issues are caused by a number of problems that have become intrinsically linked. Therefore, by trying to solve one health issue, you have the potential to improve others. Take for instance, childhood obesity. According to the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP), North Carolina ranks fifth in the nation for childhood obesity, with higher rates among low income and minority populations. Poor eating habits that directly cause childhood obesity are indirectly linked to the US food production and distribution system that limits access to healthy and affordable food. From a young age, children establish habits of eating high-calorie, nutrient deficient food that relies on the industrialized nature of the current food system. This food system utilizes fossil fuels and in turn, causes pollution that is detrimental to our environment. It also relies on large, industrialized farms that typically receive subsidies, while support of small family farms is neglected and farmland is lost. Farmland loss is especially high in North Carolina, and HPDP notes that the state ranks second in the nation for farmland loss.

roma and sungold tomatoesThe Gillings Project is researching a potential solution in making use of local and seasonal foods. It sounds simple, but eating locally has the potential to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, increase support of small, local farms and ultimately, raise kids to eat healthier and lower North Carolina’s obesity rate. Just as individuals gained a better understanding of common leverage points to reach aligned goals in the 2008 Farm Bill, The Gillings Project is integrating the goals of various groups to provide one ultimate solution.

My hope for the Gillings blog is twofold. First and foremost, I want to get the word out about the project. It is truly cutting edge research that is seeking concrete data on what has become a popular topic, so I wanted to make the project accessible to all. Secondly, I hope for the blog to reflect the project in that it highlights stories, news, events and other local organizations that affect multiple areas in a positive way and in turn, show how these areas are connected.

A bit about me, I graduated from College in 2006 as an English major. Since then, I’ve spent time working as a forest ecology teacher, traveling and volunteering on organic farms, working at a magazine, waiting tables, teaching at a Montessori preschool, volunteering at school gardens and for the past year, applying to graduate school. When I found out about the Gillings Project, I emailed Dr. Alice Ammerman with the hopes that I could somehow get involved. And here I am. Writing a blog. After ranting about something my hip New Yorker friend once quipped, “Why don’t you blog about it?” I laughed. I have never felt particularly friendly towards computers or comfortable with social networking sites. But in the belief of this project, I am willing to try my best. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes.

I welcome any of your thoughts, questions, ideas, etc. Please feel free to post your comments and let anyone who might be interested in the project know about this site.

Kind Regards,


A spring garden

A spring garden







6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Hi there. What a fabulous project and blog. I really look forward to learning what comes from the project research. May I ask for you to add SEEDS to your local orgs list? Many thanks!! Lucy Harris, SEEDS Executive Director

Comment by Lucy Harris

Thank you for your interest and support. I will be sure to add SEEDS!

Comment by Gillings Sustainable Ag Project

I tried to find a watermelon from North Carolina at my regular grocery store the other day — a near impossible task! Isn’t it watermelon season here now? When I finally asked the produce manager for help he dug through an entire pallet of watermelons to find 1 at the bottom of the giant box!

Comment by Robin Crowder

Good for you for asking! The more customers inquire about stores carrying locally produced food, the more stores will see the demand for it. Hopefully the supply will follow.

Comment by Gillings Sustainable Ag Project

What a wonderful website. Would you add Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute to your list of local Sustainable-Ag supporting Nonprofits? We often have interns from the School of Public Health, and from the Institute for the Environment. Thanks!

Comment by Megan Toben

Thanks for you interest and will be sure to add The Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute to the list of local organizations. Recently read about your organization in Chapel Hill Magazine. What a great idea. Do you ever have any open house days? I’d love to come visit and see all the good work you do with children.

Comment by Gillings Sustainable Ag Project

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