February 5, 2004 - Fayetteville Online: Sustainable agriculture program catches attention of Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: February 2004 Peace Corps Headlines: February 5, 2004 - Fayetteville Online: Sustainable agriculture program catches attention of Peace Corps

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-42-145.balt.east.verizon.net - on Thursday, February 05, 2004 - 11:39 pm: Edit Post

Sustainable agriculture program catches attention of Peace Corps

Sustainable agriculture program catches attention of Peace Corps

Sustainable agriculture program catches attention of Peace Corps

By Julia Oliver
Staff writer

Caption: Doug Jones, left, and his sustainable agriculture class weed a row of salad greens Tuesday at Central Carolina Community College.

PITTSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - Students who weed the arugula patch at Central Carolina Community College may soon help farmers in Guinea or Guatemala.
Staff photo by Steve Aldridge
Doug Jones, left, and his sustainable agriculture class weed a row of salad greens Tuesday at Central Carolina Community College.

In recent months, Peace Corps recruiters have become interested in the college's unusual, two-year sustainable agriculture program. And the program's organizers plan to include a class this semester on overseas development taught by a former Peace Corps volunteer.

The agriculture program has been around since 1995 and is one of two in the country, according to the college, which is based in Sanford. It teaches students how to grow vegetables without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. It also helps them understand the science in soil and the market for organically grown produce.

The courses teach farming methods that are simple and geared toward small-scale farms, said Robin Kohanowich, the program's coordinator.

"We're saying, 'Five acres and one tractor, and you could do this,'" she said. Some of the program's teachers farm with even less.

Peace Corps volunteers

For the Peace Corps, which sends thousands of American volunteers to help people in poor countries each year, sustainability in agriculture has long been important. Volunteers are urged to use what is available locally when teaching English in an African village or building latrines for a Central American school; their goal is for the assistance to last.

"The sustainable part is just that - after we leave, the stuff is still in place," said Liz Demarest, a Peace Corps spokeswoman.

Before last fall, however, the Peace Corps wasn't so interested in the Central Carolina program, Kohanowich said. The volunteer organization traditionally has recruited at four-year colleges and universities, although graduates of two-year colleges have always been admitted to its agriculture program.

But in the past year, faced with a shortage of volunteers with technical skills such as farming and nursing, the Peace Corps has starting advertising at community colleges. Recruiters for the Peace Corps say there are several reasons for the change. Community colleges often attract students who are diverse in age and interests. The students frequently have workplace experience, which can be important when starting a job in an unfamiliar environment, said Lynn Kneedler, who manages Peace Corps recruitment in the Mid-Atlantic states.

And, she said, people who attend community colleges can be more flexible than students in four-year farming programs, who often already know they want to work for the Forestry Service or the Department of Agriculture. The Peace Corps needs people with farming skills who are interested in working abroad for two years.

"Farming is a dying profession here," she said. "There is a real need for their skills in other parts of the world."

Organic gardening

On a recent afternoon in the Central Carolina Community College garden, teacher Doug Jones lifted a gauzy cloth cover off a row of leafy greens and set his organic crop production class to weeding.

"Does anyone not understand which is the crop and which is the weeds?" he asked, as a half-dozen pairs of hands reached into the arugula and onions.

The class syllabus includes a session on potatoes and another on cut flowers. Jones, who is 53, has been a farmer for 30 years. He says things like, "It's hard to compete in the carrot world," and calls an undeveloped, blight-resistant tomato the "holy grail" of produce. He wears his graying hair in a ponytail, his fingernails earthy and his wool sweater with a couple of holes in the shoulder. Many students plan to use what they learn in his class to grow vegetables on their land or sell them in local markets.

Themis Stone, who is 30 and moved from Georgia for the sustainable agriculture program, wants to make a living in farming. She has worked in nurseries and as a spice buyer and said some crops are more lucrative than others.

"Flowers are definitely one of those better bets," she said.

Harnett farmer

Staff photo by Steve Aldridge
Central Carolina Community College student Amy Rouse covers a row of greens Tuesday. The school’s sustainable agriculture program has attracted attention from Peace Corps recruiters.

Mike Breymeyer, another student, owns 22 acres in Harnett County, where for the past three years he has raised rabbits, flowers, herbs and vegetables. Breymeyer, the son of an Illinois corn farmer, blames his father's cancer on pesticides. He wants to keep his family healthy.

"I've got a daughter that's asthmatic, and if I put a pesticide on there that she's allergic to, she might not be here by now," he said. Although Breymeyer grew up on a farm, he said he started the agriculture program because he didn't know how to grow crops without chemicals. To learn about farming techniques these days, he said, "you either have to find somebody who's 80 years old or go back to school."

The Peace Corps hopes sentiments such as Stone's interest in commerce and Breymeyer's openness to new farming methods will make people like them into good volunteers.

Nathan McClintock, who was a volunteer in Mali, hopes they will take his class. The class, which is scheduled to begin Saturday, is designed to help people who want to do farm work in developing countries. Its subtitle is: "What I wish I'd known before I went off to the Peace Corps."

Thinking ahead

McClintock plans to talk about things a volunteer, or anyone else living in a foreign rural setting, might need to consider, such as how to find out what's available in a community. For example, a farming method learned in training might not work in a dry climate, or a perfectly planted garden might disappear if the neighbor's goats roam free.

"People will have to know, like, what is the role of livestock?" he said, something he never considered before he arrived in Africa. He said he would have liked to have known how to better figure out the strengths and weaknesses of a village before he moved in and thought, "What do we do? Everybody knows how to farm already."

McClintock said the class also will teach basic farming techniques - such as erosion control, tree-planting and using animal manure as fertilizer - that might be useful in a community with few resources.

He agreed that students who want to farm in North Carolina are looking for different things than Peace Corps volunteers.

"There's a big difference with what's sustainable in Mali versus what's sustainable in North Carolina," he said. But the skills learned in other classes in Central Carolina's agriculture program, like selling produce in the organic market, can help.

"Those are things that we kind of take for granted here because we just sort of grow up capitalist," he said, but small commerce can be essential in buffering agrarian communities against the fall of a major cash crop, such as cotton or peanuts.

At least one student in the program, Tara Carr, said she might take her newly acquired skills abroad. Carr, who is 26, spent more than a year in Argentina working with a women's rights group and would like to go back. She said growing and selling produce would help women have some economic autonomy there and not be as dependent on the government or a husband for help.

Stone, however, wouldn't consider the Peace Corps. She remembers getting "the pesticide itchies" while unloading produce from trucks at her nursery job in Georgia and worries about how such chemicals affect agriculture workers in the United States.

"I'm going to stick with this country," she said, "because it needs a lot of help."

Staff writer Julia Oliver can be reached at oliverj@fayettevillenc.com or 323-4848, ext. 280.

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Story Source: Fayetteville Online

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Agriculture; Sustainable Agriculture; Organic Farming



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