UT Martin receives USDA food sustainability grant

The University of Tennessee at Martin has received a $299,932 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Capacity Building Grants for Non-Land-Grant Colleges of Agriculture program. The grant, entitled “Empowering small farmers and agriculture students: FSAS (Farmers’ School for Agricultural Sustainability) and Experiential Learning Programs,” will benefit a three-year project focusing on strengthening sustainable food production and enhancing agricultural productivity.

The program is being led by Dr. Rachna Tewari, associate professor of agricultural economics and agribusiness. Co-project investigators include Dr. Isaac Lepcha, lecturer of plant and soil sciences; Dr. Joey Mehlhorn, Gilbert Parker Chair of Excellence in agriculture and natural resources and professor of agricultural economics; Dr. Eric Pelren, professor of wildlife biology; Dr. Bethany Wolters, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences; Dr. Stan Dunagan, professor of geology; and Dr. Will Bird, associate professor of agricultural education.

The objective of this project is to build capacity for sustainable agriculture-focused outreach, education and research programs for agricultural communities in West Tennessee and for students at UT Martin, with support from institutional supporter Penn State University in Pennsylvania.

UT Martin will be partnering with the Center for Engaged Learning Abroad in Belize, a program dedicated to providing a wide variety of experimental learning, focused on sustainability. Another partner is the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network located in Martin, which coordinates a thriving and equitable local food system that is accessible to all.

Key strategies to overcoming the challenges associated with global hunger issues are strengthening sustainable food production and enhancing agricultural productivity. The second sustainable development goal of the United Nations specifically highlights the need for promoting sustainable agriculture by empowering small farmers. Smallholder farms are critical to the sustenance of rural economies in the U.S. and face significant constraints owing to increased rural-urban migration, older population involved in farming, consolidation and climate change.

This project primarily aims to strengthen and empower smallholder farms involved in forage-livestock and vegetable production in West Tennessee and Pennsylvania by demonstrating sustainable agriculture practices through research, a producer field school exchange program, the Farmers’ School for Agricultural Sustainability, and an agricultural sustainability and local foods conference.

Another goal is to promote global engagement and cultural awareness among students through an international travel-study program in partnership with Penn State University as part of an embedded course in agricultural sustainability, with a focus on agroecology and indigenous communities. The program also plans to highlight the farmers markets in the region and local food networks to promote sustainability and food self-sufficiency in rural communities.

For more information regarding the grant, contact Tewari at (731)-881-7196 or rtewari@utm.edu.

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