By Susan Welch, CCCC Correspondent
PITTSBORO -- The new farm manager at Central Carolina Community College's Chatham County Campus is driven by goals of sustainability, not just for the student farm but for his students themselves.
James Fry, who holds post-graduate and graduate degrees in agricultural education and horticultural science, said "sustainable" is a word that is used a lot, but few people really understand what it means.
"To us, it means accounting for more than just the bottom line. It means we must focus on social responsibility and environmental stewardship in addition to economic profitability," Fry said. "If these principles are not taken into consideration, it doesn't matter that you're doing well in the short-term because it won't last. And if there's only a few of us operating that way, well, that won't last either."
Fry noted that the CCCC student farm -- which ranks among the Top 20 best college farms in America, according to Best College Reviews -- seeks to build healthy, fertile, and living soil through cash crop, cover crop, and livestock rotation. This practice breaks up pest and disease cycles thereby reducing the need for pesticides and fertilizers. "With healthy and balanced ecology, beneficial organisms help to keep harmful organisms in check. On the occasions when harmful organisms do start to get the upper hand, there are many ways to reduce their populations to acceptable levels without using purchased products, especially those that are not healthy for the farmer, the farm ecology, or the consumer," Fry said.
As a certified Permaculture Designer, Fry has a passion for deliberate ecological design, which integrates human needs with natural systems and cycles. He feels that with careful planning, the land can be productive and functional through the long-term with relatively little human intervention. This can help reduce dependence on purchased products, making basic human needs more readily available at prices fair to the consumer and farmer alike, while augmenting the natural environment.
Born in Carrboro, and raised in Georgetown, S.C., Fry currently lives in Greensboro with his wife Lauren and their two sons, Sylvan, 8, and Owen, 5. He was born to green thumb parents, and said he became involved in sustainable agriculture through his desire to become self-reliant as a youth. "I wanted to live in a treehouse," he laughed. "I wanted to move somewhere that you didn't need much money to live, so I could hunt and fish and grow what I needed, surfing everyday, oblivious to if the economy was up or down."
After studying biology at Tulane University, Fry realized his interest in plant related sciences, so he transferred to the distinguished horticultural science program at N.C. State University.
"After the first semester, I decided to focus on landscape design because I thought it would be helpful in preparing the land for my 'treehouse' lifestyle," he said. "Of course, goals can change, as mine did when professor Will Hooker showed me that my dream was isolationist, in other words, running away from the world's problems instead of contributing to solutions."
After graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor's of Science degree in horticulture from N.C. State, Fry started his own landscape business focusing on earth friendly design. He quickly found that one of the most rewarding parts of the job was its educational component.
"I loved to watch the lights turn on in my clients' minds after explaining the reasons behind the design and practices to be used," Fry said. "Through training co-workers and volunteers at Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden, in Kernersville, I realized that education had to be at the core of my career for me to be truly happy."
So Fry began teaching horticulture and landscape gardening courses as adjunct faculty at Forsyth Technical Community College (FTCC). At the same time, he went back to school at N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University to earn a Master's of Science in agricultural education and professional service. He received the N.C. A&T Waldaran Latamore Kennedy 4.0 GPA Scholars Award, and began working with Beloved Community Center to create a community garden and sustainability oriented educational program while he interned as a community organizer.
After graduation, he joined the Integrated Pest Management Project at A&T as Research Specialist, where he focused on entomology (insects). After a time, Fry felt he could be doing more to advance ideals of sustainability through teaching more than specialized research. In Fall 2013, he enrolled in CCCC's Sustainable Agriculture program and is set to receive an Associate of Applied Science degree in May. In January of this year, he was offered the Farm Manager/Instructor position at CCCC's Chatham County Campus in Pittsboro.
"I've been hoping to find a job just like this one since 2009," Fry said. "I wanted to focus on sustainable agriculture, using my knowledge and experience to help others develop more sustainable careers and ways of living. I want to do the best job I can to provide a positive environment with an inclusive and cooperative atmosphere -- one where everyone's contributions are valued, and students are free to learn in an interactive way how to better provide their own needs, both nutritionally and professionally."
CCCC's USDA-certified organic student farm at the Chatham Campus in Pittsboro is an approximate two-acre outdoor classroom, as well as research, demonstration, and crop production facility. The site produces a diversity of crops and includes a student-built passive solar greenhouse, high tunnels, and other farm structures including a pole barn, a packing shed, and a masonry pizza oven. An orchard is being developed, which is currently planted with apple and pear trees as well as some blueberries. Sustainable Agriculture students use their education to build and work for sustainable farms and other operations, in addition to schools, parks, environmental centers, and non-profit organizations focusing on farm advocacy.
For more information about the Sustainable Agriculture program at CCCC, contact Robin Kohanowich, coordinator of Sustainable Agriculture, at 919-545-8031 or e-mail her at email@example.com.