Meet Our New Executive Director, Carol Williams
Dear Friends and Supporters of Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group,
I’m thrilled to be joining SSAWG as the new Executive Director and thankful for the opportunity to work with outstanding leaders and contributors in the essential work of supporting and promoting sustainable agriculture in the South. It is my honor to become part of this long-standing backbone organization. I want to thank the search committee for a thoroughly gratifying application and interview process, one that in my view was mutually empowering. From this foundation I look forward to deepening bonds with the board, staff, volunteers, conference attendees, financial sponsors, program partners and ally organizations across the South and beyond.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself. I’m owner-operator of 130 acres of Kentucky hill-farm that have been in my family since 1913. My husband and I are transitioning it from recent tobacco and corn/bean production to perennial crops in agroforestry systems involving nut trees and high-quality hay. We’re also a licensed food manufacturer in Ky. We process wildcrafted fruits like pawpaw and market to craft distilling, brewing and food industries within the Golden Triangle of Lexington-Louisville-Cincinnati.
I was the first generation in my family to be raised in the city but during my youth I helped with the tobacco, hay, small-scale dairy and gardening. Although my professional life took me away from the farm, it kept me close to agriculture. As an academic research scientist in Land Grant universities my career was based in colleges of agriculture and focused on perennial, non-woody biomass crops and cropping systems, agroecology and agroforestry. It was a homecoming of sorts, then, when I became owner of the family farm in 2016. This makes me a female beginning farmer in a region dominated by older men with decades of farming experience. I can tell you lots about soil loss and organic matter but I only recently learned how to start a tractor, specifically my old IH340—an endless source of humor for my farm neighbors, and rightfully so! My county is leading in hemp production and grass-fed beef with new ideas and new farmers entering the community. I’m encouraged and inspired personally and professionally by this dynamic. In this way I am inspired by the work of SSAWG and to do the work of SSAWG.
As a past attendee I’m familiar with SSAWG’s outstanding annual conference. I’m engaged with the conference planning team and board leadership to help maintain the legacy of excellence in the 2020 conference and beyond. I’m quickly learning about SSAWG’s other programmatic activities and strategic vision. I see a variety of opportunities for SSAWG to deepen its leadership in sustainability of small farms. These include exploration in hemp and fiber crops, agroforestry, and smaller-scale meat processing, for example; greater presence in conversations around racial equality, and expanding support for women farmers. I agree with past statements regarding the needs for better communications, more resources for accomplishing SSAWG’s mission, and avoiding competition with allies. I will work diligently with the board and our allies to address these concerns. I look forward to visiting with many of you over the next several months as SSAWG renews its strategic vision for the future.
I want to express special appreciation for John Patrick and Steve Muntz for their leadership, particularly during the transition period of my hire. I also want to express gratitude for the recently “retired” board members and all those who through time have made SSAWG what it is today. I hope that my contributions will honor your legacy and that my passion for sustainable agriculture can match your own. I look forward to interacting with so many great farmers, leaders and organizations working to build a better future for food, farming, people and planet.