Our team is feeling bittersweet as we say “see you later” to our Sustainable Agriculture Program Manager, Joe Barbaree. After six years working with Rural Action as a VISTA and then Program Manager, he is moving on to pursue a Masters Degree in Agricultural Education at the University of Georgia. He will be working directly with Georgia’s Cooperative Extension to analyze their community development programs and make recommendations for increasing their stakeholder engagement. In his own thesis work, he will have the space to research the long-term effects of peer education and mentorship on beginning farmers.
“I wouldn’t be at this point in my life without Rural Action,” Joe wrote in a farewell message to staff and AmeriCorps members. “This place has cultivated the deepest sense of purpose in me…I am inspired by so many of you who have taught me what it means to be in community and to serve others humbly and to listen to the voice of this place and to respect an area of the world that faces so much judgement.”
Joe has been a tremendous asset to Rural Action and the Sustainable Agriculture Program specifically. As a VISTA, he expanded our grant writing and implementation capacity enormously. He and Program Director Tom Redfern spent many long days and nights putting together the grants that have set the stage for the great work we now do. This included our first Farm to School grant, our distribution concepts from the auction (Joe invented the CPA Buying Club model), the walk in cooler and freezer at ACEnets’ Nelsonville Facility, the grant to the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation that solidified our food access partnership with Community Food Initiatives and ACEnet and created the Appalachian Accessible Food Network, and many more too numerous to mention.
More recently he has worked hard to streamline the financial tracking systems at the Auction, ramped up our beginning farmer program, secured beginning farmer funding, and helped maintain a cohesive team throughout the pandemic.
“One of my favorite goals of Rural Action is to create the next generation of leaders,” Tom reflected, “Joe Barbaree is one of those now, and through this move I expect him to grow many farmers, help to save the world, and keep us fed (no pressure there).”
We are sad to see Joe go, but thrilled for him as he enters this new chapter. We echo the same sentiment he shared in his last words to the team, “Thanks to you all for the countless laughs, irreverent jokes, foundational memories, life-giving work, and lasting friendships.”