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Small Farm Unit Contacts

Noah Ranells, Ph.D.
Small Farm Unit Coordinator
North Carolina A & T State University Cooperative Extension Program

Marisa Benzle
Small Farm Unit Manager
North Carolina State University

Shorlette Ammons
Community-Based Foods Systems Outreach Coordinator
Small Farm Unit
North Carolina A & T State University

Andrew Meier
Superintendent, Cherry Research Farm
North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

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Small Farm Unit


The Small Farm Unit (SFU) at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) brings together the resources of North Carolina Agriculture & Technical State University, North Carolina State University, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services and other community partners to deliver research and demonstration of sustainable production and marketing practices to diverse audiences. The CEFS SFU works in partnership with a network of farmers, educators, students and other community members to develop and support a healthy, viable community-based food system in Wayne County and beyond.

Small Farm Unit Structure

The Small Farm Unit covers approximately 30 acres with a wide range of soil types, equipment, buildings and educational focal points. The function of the unit is to model a systems-based approach within a whole farm context. Embedded within the farm design are ongoing research projects in systems rotation and other crop and animal topics relevant to small farm stakeholders.

In a typical season, the Small Farm Unit produces up to 100 varieties of 20 different kinds of small fruits and vegetables. Farm produce is donated to local community organizations, food kitchens, and shelters. Farm transplants are grown in high tunnels with solar-assisted heating, cutting propane use by two-thirds. The unit composts organic waste, which is incorporated into the farm's fertility management strategy.

The Small Farm Unit also includes a 15-acre certified organic area, integrated small-scale livestock enterprises, and a model GAP (Good Agricultural Practices)-certified post-harvest handling area.

Research Areas

SFU Strawberries

The Small Farm Unit is home to various short- and long-term research projects including organic blueberry production (variety yields comparison), organic blackberry production (comparing yields using different trellising systems), greenhouse and high tunnel monitoring (testing various season extension techniques), organic transplant production, and organic systems work (utilizing animals, soil building and high value crops).

Educational and Community Impacts

Each year, thousands of people visit the Small Farm Unit to learn about sustainable food production. Farmers, extension agents, and home growers learn about new production practices through tours, demonstrations and Seasons of Sustainable Agriculture (SOSA) workshops on topics including cover crops and rotations, beekeeping, small fruit production, farm equipment selection and use, greenhouse management, alternative enterprises, and more. Since 2006, CEFS has organized nearly 100 SOSA workshops, attracting over 3,400 attendees to the SFU and other community locations.

Other community events based at the SFU include farm festivals, the elementary-school based Discover Ag program, youth workshops and tours, SWARM (Students Working for an Agricultural Revolutionary Movement – the emerging leaders program of the Wayne Food Initiative) activities, and more. The SFU also provides weekly "hands-on" learning opportunities for volunteers from Wayne County and surrounding areas, including co-op students from Wayne Community College's Agricultural Business and Sustainable Agriculture programs.

The SFU also serves undergraduate and graduate students from NC State and NC Agricultural & Technical Universities, and is the living classroom for CEFS' season-long Apprenticeship and 8-week-long summer Internship residential programs.