By Carvan Craft
Sewanee – The University of the South, is a liberal arts school with a big heart. In 2005, Sewanee Outreach — a group of students and faculty devoted to service work — started taking trips to Haiti to provide medical and dental assistance. On these trips, associate professor of biology Dr. Deb McGrath saw how deforestation was damaging soil and water quality and decided to get involved. Every year since, students have visited Haiti to work with “Partners in Agriculture,” a Haitian program working to restore the island’s agricultural productivity by giving farmers an incentive to reforest their land with native seedlings.
The Sewanee project created a system that pays farmers for the ecological benefits of planting trees, since healthy forests remove carbon from the atmosphere. Seedlings planted through the initiative will help farmers and landowners to protect the land against erosion and take care of the surrounding rivers. McGrath hopes that once the seedlings start producing fruit and coffee the project will become financially self-sufficient.
The University of the South is familiar with forests. The school has a 13,000-acre campus filled with rare old-growth trees, meadows and caves. Along with their work abroad, Sewanee has a broad range of environmental initiatives on campus and is projected to be the fifth school in the nation to become carbon neutral by 2016.