Environmental Education and Building Relationships

By Haley Smith on June 20, 2017.

Throughout my nearly two terms with AmeriCorps Project Conserve, one of the most rewarding pieces for me has been the opportunity for professional development and, in turn, my increased ability to give back to my host site through long-term organizational capacity building. This year, I have been able to combine these goals with one of my other favorite pieces of service - working with groups on the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s (SAHC’s) Community Farm in Alexander, NC. The Community Farm is an innovative and unique aspect of SAHC’s land trust work, serving as the site for our incubator farmer program and annual farmer workshop series, but also as a model for conservation practice and environmental education. This aspect of my position has allowed me to engage and educate the public about conservation while also pursuing my personal interest in sustainable agriculture.

Throughout my second term with Project Conserve, I have been working towards my North Carolina Environmental Education (NCEE) Certificate, attending numerous workshops throughout Western North Carolina which teach specific curricula and demonstrate how to employ environmental education activities with students of all ages. This has directly tied into my efforts with SAHC to reach broader and more diverse audiences, specifically youth, through educational tours at our Community Farm.

A large piece of achieving this goal has been cultivating new and lasting community partners throughout Western North Carolina. To build on an existing relationship, we led a tour of the farm at the beginning of the year for members of another local AmeriCorps program: Project POWER. Their members work primarily in youth education and enrichment, and represent numerous schools and organizations that were potential audiences for our programs at the Community Farm. This tour gave their members a chance to see what we could offer and what would be required logistically to arrange a field trip to the farm. Out of this partnership, we have connected with and led tours for students with the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, Evergreen Community Charter School (CCS) and Vance Elementary to name just a few. Additionally, we have provided hikes and programming on other protected properties for students from other programs working with Project POWER.

While we had previously worked with volunteer student groups for service days, these tours showcase the Community Farm in a purely educational light. An educator from Evergreen CCS commented that the Farm offered something truly unique from other farms they had visited – we are able to showcase not only local agricultural production but also integrate more tenets of environmental education with our focus on land stewardship and best management practices for conserving the integrity of the Farm. Working with these groups has given me a chance to actively educate local youth about conservation while working on my NCEE Certificate and has really grown my pride in my host site and the innovative work that SAHC does as one of the country’s leading land trusts