Center for Environmental Farming Systems

The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) was formed from the collaboration between sustainable agriculture leaders, with the goal of creating a center for studying environmentally sustainable farming practices and community-based food systems in North Carolina.

General About the Organization/Mission

The Center aims to strengthen communities, improve health, increase economic opportunities, and conserve natural resources by creating and promoting fair and equitable food and farming systems in North Carolina. CEFS is a leader, across North Carolina and the country, in promoting sustainable agriculture research and practices and community-based food systems. CEFS also receives international recognition for their leadership in local food movements and the decisions behind policies, programs, and actions related to creating a vibrant local food economy. 

Collaborations between two state universities, non-governmental organizations, state and federal agencies, farmers, and citizens have allowed CEFS to expand its capacity and scale of impact. The Center focuses its projects and programs in seven different areas, which has created a strong and reputable organization. The goals of CEFS are achieved through research units, grant-funded projects, academics and education, extension and outreach, community-based food systems, energy, and international work.

Basic Info

Type of Organization Non-profit
Primary Contact

General Information: [email protected]



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Issues of Focus

CEFS works to achieve their goals by combining interdisciplinary research, teaching, and extension programs with four main objectives: 

  • Create new economic prospects across the state
  • Develop new technologies that will foster a healthier environment
  • Involve and educate the next generation of scientists, farmers, and consumers
  • Engage people and their communities associated with each food system

History of Organization

CEFS is the product of state universities, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, farmers, and citizens working together under the same common goal. Started in 1994, CEFS was formed by a small group of leaders in sustainable agriculture hoping to create a center for studying environmentally sustainable farming practices and community-based food systems in North Carolina. Despite all the stakeholders coming from a variety of backgrounds and experience, the group was able to form one of the most successful sustainable agriculture organizations in North Carolina. A couple key partnerships and collaborations led to the success of CEFS. The Center was born from the innovative partnership between North Carolina State University (NC State) and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T).  The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA & CS) joined forces by providing the land for a research and demonstration farm, known as the Cherry Research Farm. The collaboration between NC State and NC A&T allows NEFS to have an institutional base, while the partnership with NCDA & CS allows for hands-on, experiential learning.

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary in 2014, CEFS has made innovative and exciting progress since it’s founding. CEFS has expanded beyond the research farm, allowing the entire state of North Carolina to benefit from CEFS and the influential partnerships formed. 

Programs and Projects 

Every project and program associated with CEFS fulfills one or more of The Center’s four main objectives: create new economic prospects across the state, develop new technologies that will foster a healthier environment, involve and educate the next generation of scientists, farmers, and consumers and engage people and their communities associated with particular food systems. CEFS has seven programs for accomplishing their goals.

Research Units: The Cherry Research Farm is located in Goldsboro, North Carolina on two thousand acres of land and supplies researchers with assistants, equipment, and infrastructure. The Farm allows for place-based research and outreach in six different areas of study: Alternative Swine Production, Farming Systems, Organic Research, Pasture-Based Beef, Pasture-Based Dairy, and the Small Farm.  

Grant-Funded Projects: CEFS has relied heavily on grant-funded projects, since it’s founding in 1994. The Center has been granted funding from a wide variety of programs and grantmaking organizations. A few of the most recent grants have come from the USDA Southern SARE Professional Development Program (PDP), the University of Georgia, NC Cattlemen’s Association, the Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (to name a few). The entire list of grant-funded projects, the researchers, funding source, amount and years can be found here.

Academics and Education: The partnership between NC State and NC A&T is critical to the success of CEFS and has made academic and educational opportunities a major aspect of their work. Undergraduate, graduate, K-12 classes, and the greater community are all welcome to participate in and take advantage of The Center’s formal educational opportunities. If interested in partnering for an educational event, contact [email protected].

 The three main educational opportunities available are the Summer Internship Program, season-long Apprenticeship Program, and a partnership with Agroecology Minor Program at NC State.

The Summer Internship program invites students from all over the country to participate in the eight-week program. Students work together with faculty on focused research projects at the Cherry Farm and gain hands-on and classroom experience. In addition to learning more about sustainable agriculture systems, interns are able to collaborate with farmers, extension agents, other researchers, non-governmental organizations, and the greater community all while gaining valuable professional development.  

The Apprenticeship Program offers participants a full season of production, education, research and demonstration activities at the CEFS’s Small Farm Unit (SFU). The Small Farm Unit is a 30-acre farm within the Cherry Research Farm. Apprentices learn the basics involved with running a small farm by working with the personnel directly associated with the Small Farm Unit. While working as an apprentice, responsibilities vary from daily farm upkeep, educational outreach and research assistance. 

The partnership with NC State’s Agroecology Program allows students involved with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Agroecology Minor or the undergraduate Agroecology Concentration to gain a ecological, economic, and sociological perspective on the fundamentals of agricultural systems. The interdisciplinary program assists students in finding feasible solutions to the challenges of sustainable food production.  

Extension and Outreach: Throughout the year, CEFS offers a variety of events and workshops open to the public, for the purpose of community outreach. The main programs are the Seasons of Sustainable Agriculture Workshop Series, Farm to Fork Picnic, and the Annual Sustainable Agriculture Lecture. The Seasons of Sustainable Agriculture Workshop Series provides workshops, webinars, and training sessions on a variety of topics. All events are open to the public and are designed for everyone to participate. Workshops topics in the past have included techniques to livestock health, agricultural production, community-based food systems, and organic grains and cover crops. The Farm to Fork Picnic pairs the region’s top chefs with local farmers to feast and celebrate local food and the people behind their production. The Sustainable Agriculture Lecture invites a leader in sustainable agriculture to speak and engage with the public on a variety of food system topics.

 For more information regarding extension and outreach contact Lisa Forehand:

Lisa Forehand, CEFS Extension & Outreach

CEFS Extension & Outreach at NC State University

(919) 513-0954 or [email protected]

Community-Based Food Systems: CEFS believes in Community-Based Food Systems (CBFS) and supports initiatives in the following categories:

  • Rebuilding food system infrastructure and supply chains for local foods
  • Consumer education
  • Community and youth engagement
  • New farmer training
  • Institutional capacity-building for food systems work
  • Policy development

 More information about these categories and initiatives can be found here.

Energy: As energy prices increase, farmers and consumers suffer from the subsequent increase in cost for transportation and equipment usage, propane, storage and processing, and fertilizer. CEFS is working to help farmers maintain their businesses while reducing economic and environmental energy costs. In 2007 and 2008, CEFS hosted a “Fueling the Farm” workshop in partnership with the National Center for Appropriate Technology. For more information about those workshops or future “Fueling the Farm” workshops, visit

International Work: In 2006, a partnership was formed with Uruguay to focus on organic production and marketing and to promote internationalization of NCSU’s research, education, and cross-cultural programs and services. To learn more about CEFS’s international program, read here.

Partners and Frequent Collaborators

Future Developments for This Wiki

  • Add hyperlinks for partners and frequent collaborators