Dogwood Health Trust Kenan Fellows Tackle Sustainability in Western NC

Beverly Owens, 2021-22 Kenan Fellow

ASHEVILLE, N.C.⸺Four Western NC educators partnered with the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) to learn about local agriculture and make connections between southern Appalachian farms and the school community.

Dogwood Health Trust Fellows April Parrot (left), Sandra Hermida and Nichole Efird (right)

The educators are all 2022-23 Kenan Fellows and their participation in the program was made possible by a grant from the Dogwood Health Trust. The Kenan Fellows are Kathryn Moses of Jackson County Schools, Sandra Hermida of Haywood County Schools, and Nichole Efird and April Parrot, who both teach in Cherokee Central Schools in the Qualla Boundary.

The teachers toured local farms to learn about agritourism, explored local volunteer opportunities and attended a health symposium at an orchard.

Farm to Classroom Connections

About 25% of farms in North Carolina are in the western part of the state. ASAP works to support these farmers, and connect communities to locally grown food. The four Kenan Fellows explored farms in the southern Appalachian region as part of their three-week summer internship.

They explored farm-to-market connections and community programs promoting local food systems. ASAP services and support focused on topics such as marketing, branding, health sciences, nutrition, and technology, are available to the more than 200 farms in the southern Appalachian region.

At the ASAP Farm Fresh for Health Symposium I attended, I was able to observe many vocations (nurses, educators, farmers, etc.) come together to share how they are all fighting for better health for people in rural areas through fresh foods provided by local farmers.

Nichole Efird, Cherokee Elementary School

Building Partnerships

In addition to touring farms, the educators met with ASAP partners, such as local  advocates and organizations that work with the local farms, to better understand how eating locally grown food supports the local economy as well as provides fresh food sources to the community. And they learned how ASAP’s work aims to ensure that locally grown food is available to everyone through supplemental food assistance programs.

Creating Student Resources

This experience will have a direct impact on students’ families. For instance, Moses, who teaches family and consumer sciences at Jackson Community School, said she is developing  resources on how to prepare nutritious meals from food that is sourced from local farmers markets.

“I work in an alternative setting and many of my families are limited in the ability to provide nutritious items for their families. We will try to preserve some food items as well,” Moses said.

The Fellows will continue their work throughout the school year, connecting the internship experience to classroom instruction. Fellows will also be able to attend ASAP’s annual Farm Tour in September. 

Hermida, a 8th grade science teacher at Waynesville Middle School, said the summer internship provided inspiration for many classroom connections. She is working on a grant to create a partnership with local agriculture, business, and students to show how farming is an integral part of our lives.

Real World Learning

Parrott, who teaches agriculture education at Cherokee High School, is developing a series of field trips that will provide students the opportunity to have hands-on experience in agriculture, as well as connections to colleges and careers that focus on agriculture. 

This internship has allowed me to connect careers and agriculture to my students. It has helped me to become a better teacher and leader and allowed me to organize and bring opportunities to my classroom I haven’t thought about before.

April Parrot, ag education teacher, Cherokee High School

Beverly Owens, a 2021-22 Kenan Fellow, teaches 11th grade chemistry at Cleveland Early College High School in Cleveland County Schools. She is a recipient of the 2019 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Science and Mathematics Teachers, a Fulbright Scholar, a Nat Geo Certified Educator and a North Carolina Earth Science Teacher of the Year.