Students learn about Working Landscapes’ community-based economic development programs. (Credit: Lily Huffman)

by Lily Huffman MEM’19, Communications Student Assistant

DURHAM, N.C. – On a warm fall Saturday in September, Rebecca Vidra’s Community Based Environmental Management (CBEM) class found themselves not in Durham studying, but rather out in rural Warren County – about an hour north of Durham – doing some hands-on learning.

As a part of the course, the class traveled to Warren County on Sept. 30 to learn about and volunteer with a local nonprofit organization called Working Landscapes. The students spent the morning learning about the work Working Landscapes does in its community, and the afternoon working alongside the organization’s staff to help create a nature trail and build a shed at a local K-8 school.

According to Carla Norwood, a cofounder of Working Landscapes and Nicholas School alum, “Working Landscapes is a nonprofit rural development organization based in my home county of Warren County. We try to create new economic linkages within the community, and network with other communities, primarily through food system development.”

Warren County is a rural county on the North Carolina-Virginia border where economic opportunities are scarce. By working with farmers in the community, Working Landscapes has been able to help increase processing and distribution of the farmers’ produce both locally and regionally.

The goal of the field trip was to show the class how an organization involved in community-based management operates in the real world.  However, Vidra noted that, “I think if you are going to ask something of a small community organization, and they spend half the day with us telling us about their work, then giving back with some volunteer hours is only right.”

According to Cass Nieman, a first year MEM student in the class, “Visiting Warren County and seeing firsthand the successes and challenges that a community-based organization faces made what we've been reading about in class more realistic and relatable. It was great to get our hands dirty and help Working Landscapes create a trail, build a shed, and tend to their garden at a local elementary school.”

Students work with Working Landscapes’ cofounder Carla Norwood to clear a trail. (Credit: Lily Huffman)