AmeriCorps VISTAs

Four AmeriCorps VISTAs are based at the University Farm. VISTAs are national service volunteers who work on capacity-building projects with the goal of alleviating poverty. University Farm VISTAs serve the tri-county area of Franklin, Marion, and Grundy Counties by conducting needs assessments then using the farm’s resources to create programs that will strengthen the surrounding communities.

Ritchie Wai

Cumberland Teaching Gardens Network Coordinator, Franklin & Marion County

Ritchie graduated from the University of South Florida in 2014, with a degree in environmental science. He has worked in a marine fossil lab, trained others to test water samples, and slogged through sand and mud for coastal and river survey crews. He enjoys exploring the relationships between various subjects – especially sciences – which served him well in his previous VISTA project developing a low-cost, low-input aquaponics systems. His project resulted in a permanent 6,190 gallon deep water culture aquaponic system at the farm that will be the first support system for community experimenters - providing information, example, and stock (fish, plants, bacteria).

Ritchie now serves in his third term as a VISTA as the Cumberland Teaching Gardens Network Coordinator for Marion County. With Barbara Roberts, he supports existing school garden programs, helps new ones emerge, and develops the network that connects and empowers stakeholders in the tri-county area. The goal of CTG is to improve public health and address related social problems by transforming how children relate to their food.

Emily Heid

Speciality Crop Economic Development Coordinator

Emily is a recent graduate from Sewanee: The University of the South with a major in French studies and a minor in religious studies. As a VISTA, Emily is working to establish a local farmer’s cooperative that will specialize in herb and spice production. The aim of the project is to create and market an Appalachian tea and seasoning brand that will utilize native herbs, creating capacity for farmers and market gardeners in the tri-county area. Emily became passionate about local, sustainable food production while interning on small-scale farms and working at the South Cumberland Farmers Market. She believes heartily in uplifting communities from within and is excited about the opportunity to collaborate with local farmers and develop a greater appreciation for the native flora of the South Cumberland region.

Ashley Pancoast

Food & Hunger Communications Coordinator

Ashley graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in public relations and a dedication to use communications to drive social change. Her education and experience focused on health and wellness communications, including an internship with Tobacco Free Alachua in Florida and completing a personal trainer certification. As the University Farm’s communications coordinator, Ashley applies her communications and wellness experience to build the relationship between the farm and the community it serves. She strives to recognize the community’s needs first and identify how the University Farm can best serve the South Cumberland Plateau.

Barbara Roberts

Cumberland Teaching Gardens Network Coordinator, Grundy County

Originally from Blacksburg, Virginia, Barbara graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in sustainable development and a concentration in agroecology and sustainable agriculture. During her studies, Barbara became passionate about the social and cultural connections to agriculture. After graduation, she spent a year working on an organic cut flower farm outside of Boone, North Carolina, where she improved her growing skills. As a VISTA, Barbara serves as the Grundy County coordinator for the Cumberland Teaching Gardens network. She works to support existing school garden programs, help new ones emerge, and connect key stakeholders in the tri-county area as a means to share resources and improve programs to effectively provide the benefits of teaching gardens to the community, by the community.


University Farm

225 Breakfield Rd,
Sewanee, TN. 37383 |

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