The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory


Harvest of Hope Comes to the Table

For the past eight months, Dr. Molly De Marco, Project Director and Research Fellow at The Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, has led Harvest of Hope, a community based participatory research project exploring the impacts of a church garden on food knowledge, health and diet. To read more about the project itself, read this past blog when we had just started collecting baseline data.

Below, Dr. De Marco updates us on the RAFI Come to the Table Conference she and the Harvest of Hope project participants attended.

On the last Saturday in February, 14 Harvest of Hope participants (4 adults including our Community Director, Rev. Bill Kearney and 10 youth) met our research assistant, Meredith Robbins, and myself in Kenansville, NC for RAFI’s biannual ‘Come to the Table’ Conference.  We first heard Dr. Norman Wirzba, Duke Research Professor of Theology, Ecology, and Rural Life discuss food and faith. Dr. Wirzba highlighted the creation story in the Book of Genesis Chapter II. In this text, God is likened to a Gardener who formed us from the dust of the earth. Wirzba went on to talk about our relationship to food saying “Eating is not just about getting fuel, but a way we can commune with each other and the land and God as the life within all of that life.” He went on to say that “Eating can become a sacramental act. Food isn’t a commodity, but something to be cherished.” Read more about Dr. Norman Wirzba and his message here.

Our Harvest of Hope team then went to tour the Eastern Carolina Food Ventures Community Kitchen Incubator in Warsaw, NC, a partnership between Duplin County and James Sprunt Community College. The adults had lots of questions about what can be produced, how bottling is done, and the cost to use the space. The youth were most excited to see how long they could last in the walk-in freezers and coolers

Youth Harvest of Hope Participants

youth see how long they can stay in the walk-in freezer

Last, we traveled from Duplin County to rural Lenoir County (close to Snow Hill, NC) to assist with a garden workday with Mothers without Borders, a group of 17 farmworker families who are joining together to grow food so that they have enough food for the offseason (winter). Mothers without Borders is also working to market their produce to raise enough money so that their children do not have to work in the fields, but can go to school.  We met with adult and youth farmworkers.

Meeting with Farmworkers

Meeting with Farmworkers

Harvest of Hope youth were instructed by farmworker youth to turn the soil to make a large patch for potatoes, to plant seeds (shown in the photos below), and to prepare a bed of compost for the planting of lettuce. Our youth didn’t want to leave when it came time to go.



Carolina Campus Community Garden in the News & Observer!
August 3, 2010, 8:52 pm
Filed under: Health, Media | Tags: ,

Check out this great article in The News and Observer about The Carolina Campus Community Garden. It’s inspirational to see the work that they are doing in providing free healthy, fresh produce to some of the UNC workforce.



Harvest of Hope
The first garden workday for the Harvest of Hope project

The first garden workday for the Harvest of Hope project

One of my favorite things about research is that it allows you to be part of a world that’s quite different than your own. Like Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Warrenton, North Carolina, where Dr. Molly De Marco, a researcher at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, and a team of UNC researchers are conducting research about how gardening can influence food knowledge, health and diet. In collaboration with Rev. William Kearney, who leads The Coley Springs Baptist Church, and fifty parish members, the project will entail a 10-month gardening program. The group will build a garden on their church land and will take part in cooking classes using their garden harvests. With many of the older members already knowledgeable about growing food, gardening skills will be taught from within their community, especially to the less experienced youth.

The name of the project is “Harvest of Hope” and it’s another project that I’m happy to be a part of. Last week we headed out to Warrenton to collect data before the parish broke ground to start the garden. As we pulled up to the church, Reverend Kearney gave us a warm welcome. In casual shorts and a baseball cap, he exuded energy and friendliness. He showed us around the sunny church, cheerfully decorated with flowers throughout and lined with photographs of their church members. Outside, the land was beautiful, with old oak trees towering amidst deep green fields. It was completely quiet, and as I walked up the hill to where the garden would be, the pastoral land surrounded me completely. The church owns fifty stunning acres of this land and Rev. Kearney told us how eager the parish was to start a garden on a part of it, “We’ve been talking about doing something with it for a long time, so everyone is very excited.”

Soon, the UNC Health on Wheels van showed up and started getting ready to take people’s weight, height and blood pressure. A traveling van that did such a thing? I never knew it existed! I had to take a peek inside to satiate my curiosity. One of the registered nurses with the van told me that they did this kind of thing all of the time, “It’s great…we get to go directly to the communities.”

The UNC Health on Wheels van!

The UNC Health on Wheels van!

Members of the parish started trickling into the church to fill out surveys on food knowledge and diet. Dr. DeMarco has worked with this community before, and as she checked people in, greeting them with hugs and updates on how she was, it was clear that she wasn’t a researcher in their eyes, but a friend who was part of the community. As more people came, the room filled up with people bent over their surveys, answering questions. A group of teenage boys shouted out identifications of vegetables, “Onion?” “No, I know, radish!” I worked with a man helping him answer questions about his diet. Outside, people lined up for the health van. Members of the parish will do all of this again in 10 months, and in this way we hope to explore if gardening has had an impact on their food knowledge, health and diet.

As I left the survey room to take a quick break, I paused outside of the church sanctuary to listen to the men’s evening choir practice. Their joyful voices filled the empty space, and some of them waved at me when they saw me watching. I mimicked applause and went back downstairs.

When the surveys finished up and we got ready to leave, I chatted with Rev. Kearney about the direction he is taking his church in. “People usually think of church happening on just one day, inside here. But we’re trying to do different things, go outside, have afterschool activities for kids like weightlifting, so it becomes a real community.” We look forward to the garden helping to build this community, and I hope I get a chance to see its bountiful harvest and the people who have grown it sometime soon.




Weekend Food Happenings
Farm to Fork Picnic

Farm to Fork Picnic

You know you’re really passionate about your work when you spend most of your free time involved in it. Like this weekend – it was incredibly busy, full of food related events and to put it simply, a lot of fun.

It was kicked off with Anna Lappe’s reading at the relatively new Flyleaf Bookstore (a wonderful, independent bookstore in Chapel Hill) on Friday night. She was promoting her new book, A Diet for a Hot Planet which explores the effects of agriculture on climate change. Through her extensive research, her book shows that global industrial agriculture, specifically the use of hazardous chemicals, concentrated animal feeding operations, biotech crops, and processed foods, is impoverishing the land, destroying rain forests, polluting waterways, and emitting nearly a third of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet.

Though climate change is depressing, Lappe stressed that her book is “a sandwich lined with hope smear.” People are already changing the food system through a grassroots movement, which can be seen in the increase of farmers markets, community gardens and CSA shares. With this hopeful new movement, Lappe said, climate change “is not a dead end issue, we can turn it around….nature is resilient.” The book also features several case studies on what large food companies are doing to “go green.” According to Lappe, they’re not doing much (McDonald’s big green initiative – including endangered species toys in their happy meals) and found that much of their green and sustainable talk was nothing but “spin.”

One member of the audience raised the issue of food prices: “If our industrial agricultural food system changed to center around smaller scale, organic farming, what would the cost be to the consumer?” Lappe’s answer to deal with this issue was to “flip the current system of subsidies on its head,” so “instead of subsidizing commodity crops such as corn and grain that end up feeding the cattle we eat, subsidize small scale, organic farming” to make this food more accessible to all consumers.

After an evening focused on sustainable food issues on Friday, I continued the theme the next day by promoting a consumer supported fishery project that I’ve been helping to launch at the Carrboro Farmers Market. Despite the cloudy weather, the market was bright, full of vivid purple, yellow and red blooms in the beautiful flower displays that lined nearly every table.  The ripe juicy red of strawberries didn’t hurt either.  And the produce wasn’t the only exciting part – I was happy to see the new SNAP program going well too – a positive step in helping food stamp recipients get access to fresh, healthy and local foods.

And yesterday, I volunteered at the kid’s tent at the Farm to Fork picnic. The event was held at Breeze Farm, which serves as an incubator for beginning farmers. The event raised $20,000 for the incubator program – which allows new farmers to grow food without having to own land themselves. A dynamite list of restaurants was paired with an equally striking list of farms and each pairing came up with their own dish.  After face painting and making crafts with the kids, I attempted to eat my way through the event, visiting more than 40 food stands.

Kids drew a picture of their favorite food - here, cheese!

Kids drew a picture of their favorite food - here, cheese!

The picnic was an amazing, celebratory event but I couldn’t help but think of that persistent question about price again. At sixty dollars a head for the event, only people who could afford it could attend. Of course, this was a fundraising event, but it would be neat to hold an event with local, delicious food that might be more available to people of a lesser income…perhaps my next project?

And to fill you in on the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project, we’re going to start surveying at the farmers markets once again. This time to research consumer behavior, which will explore why people shop at farmers markets. So if you’re headed to the Carrboro Market on Saturday, take a moment to stop and answer our quick survey questions. We look forward to hearing from you!  I’m sure it will be another weekend full of fun, food happenings.

A start of a rainbow!

Kevin Callaghan of Acme with the farmers of SEEDS

Kevin Callaghan of Acme with the farmers of SEEDS



TROSA Grocery store in Durham opens
May 14, 2010, 8:10 pm
Filed under: Food, Health, Media, Uncategorized

“It just seemed to me.. that [a store] would be something that people could rally around, be proud of, enjoy walking to if they need groceries and bring that community effort together where you have a true neighborhood”

-Excerpt from Herald Sun “TROSA Grocery Opens” article

If you haven’t seen it yet, I thought folks might be interested in reading this article, printed in The Herald Sun, about the new TROSA grocery store opening in a part of Durham which lacks access to stores that sell a wide variety of foods and other items. The store is located in a renovated 1930s building and their produce, milk and meat is all from North Carolina! The canned goods are made by workers from the nonprofit Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers. It seems like an amazing business venture that intersects community economic development, social work, public health and convenience! I look forward to visiting the store myself.

Have a good weekend,

Anna



Garden Happenings and Travels to Farmers Markets

It’s been a while now since I’ve posted to the blog, but there has been much going on that hasn’t involved my computer as of late.

First of all, the garden I manage at Lakewood Elementary School in Durham is in full bloom and for the past couple of weeks the kids and I have been harvesting the fresh veggies and cooking together.

Getting the collards chopped up

One of my proudest moments was when a group of fifth graders ate a whole pan of collard greens after telling me they absolutely did not like them in any way, shape or form.  They decidedly stated they were delicious and that they had changed their minds. The secret? (Jamie Oliver take note) Involving kids in the process of growing and cooking vegetables gives them a sense of ownership over their food, which I find helps them to enjoy eating previously thought scary vegetables.

A student sautes them with garlic

Secondly, I had the amazing opportunity to take a trip out west to both Los Angeles and Austin. The best part? Exploring both cities’ local food scene. Though I enjoy the seasonality of foods in our state, it was fun to visit the Hollywood Farmers Market in LA where everything seemed to be joyously in season at the same time. I meandered through 150 vendors selling mostly certified organic, beautiful displays of avocados, mushrooms, citrus, tomatoes, grapes and more. They had meat and seafood as well – my favorite was the farm-raised oysters that they sold on the half shell.

Happily looking at my oyster

Also of note was a Registered Dietician who is hired by the city to hand out healthy snacks she’s made with local ingredients along with the accompanied recipe.

Unlike our local and famed Carrboro Farmers Market, the market did not have any rules about the number of miles farmers were traveling to come sell. One woman involved with the market told me that most farmers come from surrounding counties in Southern California. Also a difference – the farmer was not required to be there to sell. Though the same person told me this was to be fair to the farmer, this way farmers could hit multiple markets in the same day by hiring others to sell for them, I am still grateful for this rule at the Carrboro market where you can be sure you’re talking to the grower when you’re buying your food.

The rules at the Austin Farmers Market (organized by an amazing non-profit, The Sustainable Food Center) seemed more like our own, with the producer required to be there to sell and a maximum number of miles allowed for travel to market. I found this sign about the Texas growing season interesting (sorry for the text cut off).

Sign at the Austin farmers market

They had a beautiful abundance of greens, eggs, meat, seafood and even locally made kombucha!

Both markets accepted EBT (food stamp) benefits, which I’m excited to hear that the Carrboro market will be doing starting May 1st! (Check back to read more…)

It’s nice to be home after my travels and yesterday I was reminded again of how wonderful our own local foodshed is with a feature article in the New York Times. And then a whole weekend to tour our neighboring farms with the 15th annual Piedmont Farm Tour! There’s certainly a lot going on and we’ll do our best to keep you updated on The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project as well as other related news and events as we head into this busy harvest season.



North Carolina ranks number one state for use of antibiotics in livestock feed
March 11, 2010, 12:35 am
Filed under: Food, Health, Media | Tags: , , ,

I’ve been busy this week with Gillings Sustainable Agriculture project work and with my other very part-time job, gardening at a local elementary school with kids. I thought we’d never be able to plant with all the erratic weather we’ve been having, but finally the seeds are in the ground! Now the fun tasks of weeding and watering will be filling my early evenings and weekends. As we head into the spring, I’ll be working with the kids in the garden more, and will keep you posted on all that I learn. So no post on research this week, but I wanted to share a very alarming story in which North Carolina unfortunately played a role.

On Monday, a friend emailed me an article in The New York Times about the growing resistance to antibiotics. The first few paragraphs summarized an issue I had heard about before – doctors have recognized an increasing number of superbugs that are impervious to antibiotics and researchers have linked this resistance to modern agribusiness’ overuse of antibiotics to feed healthy livestock. But when I got to the middle of the story and read this paragraph, I was shocked.

“More antibiotics are fed to livestock in North Carolina alone than are given to humans in the entire United States, according to the peer-reviewed Medical Clinics of North America.”

I did some research to find the study he was referring to, and after some navigating tracked it down. This study on antimicrobial-resistant infections, cites another study to come up with this sad statistic for our state which is also shared by Iowa (they take second place).

The New York Times article also cited that the feeding of antibiotics to healthy animals now comprises 70% of total antibiotic use, compared to 16% of use to treat humans and their pets. Agribusiness argues that the agricultural use of antibiotics produces cheaper meat, but at what cost to public health?? There is some good news – with the growing public interest in where food is coming from, it seems as if the issue is getting more media attention. Below, view part one of Katie Couric’s CBS Evening News report on antibiotic use in livestock.

Anna