| Jim Formby and a young visitor checkout the size differences between aBlack Australorp and a Cornish Cross,both eight weeks old. Formby and hiswife Jayne Midura, both educators,combine their passion for teachingand farming in Pike County, Ga.,where they are involved with GeorgiaOrganics, a nonprofit that benefitsfrom SARE grants.|
Photo by Preston Roland
Southern SARE—covering a region of great diversity from the Georgia coast to the Texas Panhandle—has built a rich cache of research results on everything from sustainable and affordable innovations for limited-resource farmers to rural community development to long-term, on-farm research. Today, the region is building on these projects—offering follow-up grants to extend the projects’ reach and effectiveness. The region is also supporting critical “systems” research, which studies the components of food production in their interrelated entirety rather than in isolation.
In 1997—a decade before local food became a household word—Anthony Flaccavento was awarded a SARE grant to create a regional food system in central Appalachia. Over the years, his group, Appalachian Sustainable Development, received more SARE grants to build a local certified organic supply chain that is yielding healthier foods, better profits for farmers and a smaller carbon footprint.
A project led by Heifer International in 1996 established a scientific base for the pastured poultry system used in the South today. Because of that original research, and other projects that spun out of it, the most recent Heifer-led project awarded in 2005 trained dozens of agricultural professionals in pastured poultry production in several states.
Occasionally systems research results spur researchers to address one or more parts of a system, such as a 2005 project that produced Georgia’s first commercial crop of organic peanuts. When results indicated that seed stand, weed control and processing infrastructure were the primary barriers to an organic peanut industry, a new project was started in 2008 to address those problems.
Systems research is emerging as a key methodology in agricultural research. In 2009 Southern SARE introduced two new grant programs for researchers interested in systems projects but not yet ready to submit a full-fledged proposal. The grants are for planning a systems project or conducting preliminary research to form the basis of a full systems proposal.
Acknowledging that funding is needed to maintain a systems project once it is set up, Southern SARE established Long-Term Grants, with the first call for proposals expected in 2010. Southern SARE also introduced Matching Planning Grants to prepare for the eventuality that SARE will reach a funding threshold allowing it to match $1 million state grants dollar for dollar.