NCR-SARE meeting creates opportunity to see positive impact of sustainable agriculture in Detroit

The annual fall meeting for the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Professional Development Program (PDP) and Administrative Council (AC) took place Nov. 15–18, 2010, in Detroit, Mich.

 SARE’s mission is to strengthen rural communities, increase farmer and rancher profitability, and improve the environment by supporting research and education. NCR-SARE consists of 12 North Central Region states, and each state in the region was represented at the meeting.

 Dr. Dale Mutch, Michigan State University Extension specialist and senior district Extension educator, and Dr. Dean Baas, visiting research associate at the KBS (Kellogg Biological Station) and Extension Land & Water Unit, are co-coordinators of the Michigan NCR-SARE PDP Program. Tom Rorabaugh, retired MSUE County Extension Director and educator, is assistant coordinator. Drs. Mutch and Baas, and Tom Rorabaugh, with assistance from a planning committee from NCR-SARE, developed an educational program for the meeting built around the work being done with sustainable agriculture in Detroit. The meeting presented an opportunity to not only share national and internationally known speakers doing great work in sustainable agriculture, but to also take participants directly to places in Detroit where sustainable agriculture is being put into practice.

 On Tuesday morning, Dr. Mike Hamm, C.S. Mott Sustainable Agriculture Chair, made a presentation about the future of sustainable agriculture highlighting the outstanding programs his C. S. Mott group is doing in Michigan.

 Also that morning, Mike Score, an MSUE educator currently on leave of absence, spoke to the group about Hantz Farms, an urban agriculture initiative in Detroit that would be part of a tour that afternoon.

 In addition to the business meeting and presentations, the group took a bus tour on Tuesday afternoon that highlighted Detroit urban agriculture. Tour stops included Detroit’s Eastern Market, Earthworks Urban Farm, Gleaners Community Food Bank, Hantz Farms’ project sites, a Greening of Detroit greenhouse and Hacienda Mexican Foods. On the tour, participants met some high-energy people putting as much as 80 hours a week into these urban projects – people who are passionate about sustainable agriculture. Participants could see firsthand the empty buildings and the blight of the city, and then see alongside that the positive work being done through sustainable agriculture.

 Four Michigan farmers joined the PDP/AC group for lunch and the bus tour. Henry Miller, St. Joseph County; Pam Bosserd, Calhoun County; Chris Bardenhagen, Leelanau County; and John Simmons, Lapeer County; interacted with the group before and after the tour of Detroit.

 On Wednesday, Dr. Rick Foster, MSUE institute director for the Greening Michigan Initiative and W. K. Kellogg Endowed Chair and professor, spoke to the group highlighting the restructuring of MSUE, climate change, dependence on energy and food production.

 Also on Wednesday, Dr. Julie Doll, outreach coordinator for Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER), facilitated a session on adapting NCR-SARE programs to the changing land-grant system.

 NCR-SARE state coordinators met on Monday and Tuesday to share and increase their knowledge of NCR-SARE state initiatives, discuss outcomes of the Local Foods Regional Training Program, share concerns related to the impact of the current budget and the economy on their PDP programs, and address other issues.

 State coordinators met with AC members on Wednesday to get to know more about each other and about NCR-SARE programs and to set future directions for NCR-SARE. They also discussed a range of topics including diversity efforts, committees and grants.

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