Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant: NCR-SARE Hero

May 30, 2017
Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant

Coordinated by the NCR-SARE Alumni Organization, the term "NCR-SARE Hero" recognizes the leadership, vision, contributions, and impact that certain people have made in the field of sustainable agriculture in the region. 

Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant has more than three decades of experience working in sustainable agriculture and local food systems. Holding a master's degree in environmental studies, as well as undergraduate degrees in horticulture, crop and soil science, and secondary education, Cavanaugh-Grant has served in a number of roles that have advanced sustainability.

She served as the Resource Planner and Coordinator of the Sustainable Agriculture Grant Program for the Illinois Department of Energy and Natural Resources (1987-1992), the Executive Director for the Illinois Sustainable Agriculture Network (1992-1994), the Co-Coordinator of the University of Illinois Agroecology Sustainable Agriculture Program (1994-2006), and as the University of Illinois Extension Specialist for Small Farm and Sustainable Agriculture, providing statewide leadership for educational programming (2006-2011). From 2004-2011, she was the co-founder and co-facilitator for the Central Illinois Farm Beginnings Program, which continues to train new farmers and has educated 199 participants during the 12 years of operation, and from 2011-2015, she was a Local Food Systems and Small Farm Educator at the University of Illinois Extension. Her service to NCR-SARE includes her role as the Illinois SARE State Coordinator (1994-2010), as a member of the NCR-SARE’s Technical Committee (1994-1997) and as a member of NCR-SARE’s Administrative Council (1999-2002). After retiring from the University of Illinois Extension in 2015, Cavanaugh-Grant started her own business, New Leaf Consulting, and currently serves [on the board for] a number of organizations including the Illinois Farmers Market Association, Grow Springfield, Slow Food Springfield, and Spence Farm Foundation.

Leaders in sustainable agriculture offered tributes as Cavanaugh-Grant was nominated and selected to receive this recognition, including:

  • “Deborah knew all the resources available and she was always helping farmers and non-profits get the money they needed to do their work.” - Terra Brockman, founder of The Land Connection
  • “Deborah is the glue that tied everything together. If you talk about sustainable agriculture in Illinois, her name is at the top of the list.” - Jack Erisman, Goldmine Farms
  • "Wow, where should I start with Deborah? I truly enjoyed working with her as a SARE Coordinator. She was dedicated champion for sustainable agriculture. Of remembrance to me is when we worked closely together on the National Small Farm Conference. Deborah was the chair for the entire conference and I chaired the programming committee. She lead the group of nonprofits, community based organizations, land grant universities and USDA agencies with her keen facilitating skills to create this highly successful conference. One of the successes she achieved with the conference was being able to coordinate as much local food into the meals and breaks as possible. She worked with the hotel/conference center, chefs and those securing the local food from farmers. It was then, and still today after many more of these conferences, known as “the” best fed conference ever. This just goes to show Deborah’s heart to not only the land, the farm, the farmers but up the chain to chefs, home cooks and consumers as well. Deborah is just simply, the best." - Debi Kelly, University of Missouri Extension
  • "Deborah's knowledge, experience, and consummate organizing skills made her a pleasure to work with on all things agricultural. She put together countless workshops - some here at PrairiErth Farm - bringing together a wide range of experience and expertise that created a truly enjoyable and informative event. When the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, Illinois, wanted to develop a unique indoor farmers market that would make locally grown food available in their community and emphasize the connection between food and health, Deborah was the obvious choice to organize the market. The ALMH Farmers Market, now in its second year, has created a unique connection between the mainstream medical establishment and small farms in small town America. And a lasting legacy for this 2017 NCR-SARE Hero!" - Dave Bishop, PrairiErth Farm

The NCR-SARE Hero Recognition honors individuals who 1) have provided service to NCR-SARE or national SARE, 2) have shown leadership in sustainable agriculture locally and regionally, and 3) have made lasting impacts to sustainability in the North Central region. 

NCR-SARE is one of four regional offices that run the SARE program, a nationwide grants and education program to advance sustainable innovation to American agriculture. Since 1988, NCR-SARE has helped advance farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities through a nationwide research and education grants program. The program, part of USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture, funds projects and conducts outreach designed to improve agricultural systems.

Related Locations: Illinois, North Central