09/16/07 — Fall Festival held at research farm

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Fall Festival held at research farm

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 16, 2007 2:02 AM

On average, the food most people in Wayne County will sit down to eat tonight, will have traveled about 1,500 miles to reach their plates.

At the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at Cherry Research Farm on Saturday, though, visitors had the opportunity to buy and eat food from a little closer to home.

Hosting their second annual Fall Festival, officials at CEFS said they were pleased at the turnout, estimating that more than 1,000 people took advantage of the warm, sunny day to come learn a little bit about farming and the importance of eating local.

It was an event that drew, not only organic home farmers, but also people looking for a unique way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

For Evelyn Johnson of Wilson, it was a chance to teach her three home-schooled children a little bit about farming and the food they eat.

"It's educational for our kids -- a chance for them to learn a little more about where their food comes from and that you don't have to just go to the grocery store," she said.

And really, that was point of the whole afternoon, CEFS director Nancy Creamer said.

"We want people know what we're doing here," she explained. "But we're really interested in promoting local food and healthy food choices."

"Basically we wanted to make people aware of sustainable agriculture and where their food comes from and where it's produced -- get them to take home that message," festival organizer Lisa Forehand added.

What's interesting, said Carrie Brinton, a research assistant at the farm, is how many people really aren't familiar with some of the basic crops grown in eastern North Carolina.

Hoping to help solve that, she manned a booth on the way into the festival displaying the plants and seeds of several different popular crops, including wheat, corn and soybeans.

"We've had people stop who are farmers. We've had people who are getting into gardening, and people who don't know anything. The kids, though, are the most fun because they really start to ask questions," she said, as she explained to a group of children how soybeans can be used for bio-diesel.

It was a bit of information few of them had ever heard.

"Soybeans can used for trucks and for oil and you can use them for gas," said Mark Yac, 9. "I never knew that."

And while Yac then took that knowledge and stored it away as he proceeded to romp through the rest of festival, hunting for gummy worms in a tub of dirt, exploring the sorghum maze and enjoying some of the barbecue, ice cream and other goodies, another 9-year-old decided to learn a little more, spending some time talking with several of the farm's employees demonstrating how to make bio-diesel from vegetable oil.

"She told us about this and I thought it'd be pretty interesting and I was right," Cullen Chandler said. "This is pretty cool."

But since seeing how vegetable waste can be used to run tractors might not have attracted everybody, there were plenty other exhibits and seminars to attend, including popular ones on growing organic fruits and vegetables.

"I tried to do a little organic gardening last year and it didn't work out too well," county resident Martti Stancil said. "I'm hoping to learn a little more about it."

But while he was just interested in a back yard garden, others were there looking for information about larger-scale sustainable farming practices, some traveling from as far away as Wake County.

"We have some land in Cumberland County and we're looking at some different ways to utilize it. Currently it's a long-leaf pine farm, but we're looking at growing Shitake mushrooms, Muscadine grapes, blueberries and blackberries, and maybe raising some goats," said Kevin Collier of Fuquay. "We're just looking for whatever information we can find."

And at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems' Small Farm Unit, he came to the right place.

Hosting various seminars throughout the year, as well as informal tours, the center's focus is on developing and promoting food and farming practices that protect the environment, strengthen local communities and provide economic opportunities. It operates through a partnership with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Science, N.C. State University and N.C. A&T University, and is located off of U.S. 70 near Cherry Hospital.

For more information on the opportunities available, visit www.cefs.ncsu.edu.