- Agronomic: cotton, grass (turfgrass, sod)
- Animals: bovine
- Education and Training: display, focus group, networking, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, feasibility study, value added
- Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, urban/rural integration, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures, community development
The coastal counties of Alabama are experiencing high rates of growth and development. The pressures of growth due to sprawl is driving the loss of farmland to development. The coastal region has been through two visioning processes in the past six years and both recognize the need for long term sustainable smart growth planning.
“Healthy Coastal Communities Initiative” (HCCI) was created to begin the process of bringing stakeholders together to discuss sustainable smart growth and what can be adapted to coastal Alabama. Open space and farm preservation is an important concept of smart growth. Presently leaders in both counties are being interviewed to gain their perceptions of growth and development. To continue gathering information from the community, HCCI wants to bring diverse groups together to connect the farming community with the economic and environmental groups to promote a more sustainable vigorous agricultural economy.
The goal of Sustainable Agriculture for Future Economies (SAFE) is to bring the farming community to the table with municipal, county, and business interests to discuss the issue of farm preservation and sustainable farming practices. These discussions will link the farming community more directly to the quality of life for the whole area and encourage practices that will lessen the impact of farming on the environment.
The goal will be achieved by assessing the current status of agriculture in the region, appraising indigenous knowledge, determining sustainable farming opportunities, and developing marketing linkages between farm and non-farm sectors of the coastal region.
Project objectives from proposal:
The Healthy Coastal Communities Initiative of Mobile and Baldwin Counties, Alabama understand healthy, sustainable communities require a healthy, sustainable agriculture. This project hereafter called S.A.F.E. ( Sustainable Agriculture for Future Economies) originates from the need to develop and encourage linkages between the environmental and civic communities of the Gulf Coast with local farming communities to enhance sustainable agriculture and economic development of the region. Historically, individuals from the traditional agriculture and environmental groups do not find themselves sharing similar goals and interests. Yet, as the fastest growing region in the United States (Pollard 2002) with dramatic and rapid changes occurring throughout the Southeast from the increasing array of problems associated with a decline in the agriculture economy, urban sprawl and other land use issues, these groups are sharing the pressures of survival. The purpose of this project is to bring together and establish working relationships among the local farm and non-farm communities of Mobile and Baldwin Counties to find and explore innovative strategies for healthy communities that incorporate a vigorous farming population. S.A.F.E. will help to create in the Gulf Coast region the vision launched in the SARE "State of the South" project: a clean environment, strong family farms and vital (rural) communities (Worstell, 1992 – LS92-050) .
The primary goal for S.A.F.E. is to establish linkages between agriculture and non-agriculture entities in Mobile and Baldwin Counties that will encourage the public and private policy of sustainable development. From the main goal, four specific objectives identified are:
1) An assessment of the current status of agriculture in the region. The project will establish a general statement about what is being grown, by whom and where in the two counties. A description of general farming practices, quality of life issues and overall sustainability will be addressed.
2) An appraisal of local growers' indigenous knowledge. Drawing upon the expertise of farmers in the region, the project will assess successful farming strategies that may include, for example, the use of heirloom seed stock, value-added products, ties to local/regional marketing systems and other cultural practices.
3) A determination of perceived sustainable development opportunities for regional growers. Farmers will explore what they perceive as possible and reasonable sustainable changes in their strategies that would include, for example, the feasibility of organic production and the adoption of other sustainable farming practices.
4) The formation of marketing, economic and social development linkages between the farming and non-farming sectors of the Gulf Coast region. Through these connections, the long-range goal of sustainable, healthy communities would include increased food security, better quality food products, the development of LOVAs (locally-owned, value-added enterprises), the significance of an agriculture presence in maintaining biodiversity, open spaces, woodlands and other benefits of farming and a reinforcement of the necessity and goodwill between agriculture and non-agriculture parts of the region.
The Healthy Coastal Communities Initiative will collaborate with a wide array of organizations, services and community groups concerned about the sustainability of lifeways in the Gulf Coast region. Both formal and informal networks of growers and others related to agriculture will be established through the Cooperative Extension Service and other agriculture-related organizations and services in the region. To achieve the objectives of the project, two focus groups will be conducted with contacts established through the community linkages. An in-depth, qualitative analysis will be conducted for each of the focus groups.
To assess the general state of agriculture in the region, we will conduct a focus group of growers and other stakeholders in the farming community. In addition, we will utilize secondary sources (e.g., the latest agriculture census, current agriculture data from the state and other demographic information such as growth rates and land use conversion) to describe the farming of the area.
A second focus group of local farmers will be conducted to explore both their indigenous knowledge and perceived opportunities. These growers will also be surveyed and several key informants will be interviewed in depth to supplement the information. As well, a data base of the many innovative approaches to sustainable farming will be developed using such sources as previously funded SARE projects (e.g., LNC97-122, LS95-071, LS00-109, SW97-043, LNC98-143, LW91-030, LS99-101, LNC98-129, LNC95-087, LS96-078, LS99-098, LNC00-169, LNC96-107); past issues of Growing for Market (GFM); work accomplished through the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN) and the Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SAWG); and other alternative production and marketing strategies.
To finalize the goals of the project, key individuals representing the community, civic, environmental and agriculture interests of the Gulf Coast region will be invited to a one-day workshop. Building upon the data gathered through the focus groups, interviews and surveys, participants will explore how the local community can move toward sustainability by linking non-farm and farm economic and social development. Outreach materials will be developed and distributed that will facilitate and strengthen the newly-established linkages between the agriculture and non-agriculture sectors of the Gulf Coast region.