George Bird: NCR-SARE Hero

June 3, 2015
George Bird, photo courtesy of Michigan State University

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.

George Bird is a Professor in the Department of Entomology at Michigan State University. A native of New England, Bird spent time much of his childhood on a poultry-dairy farm in southeastern Vermont and as a teenager, managed a commercial orchard in western Massachusetts. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Rutgers University (1961, 1963) and a Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1966. Prior to starting his position with Michigan State University in 1973, Bird served as a Research Scientist with Agriculture Canada and was a faculty member at the University of Georgia. From 1991-1993, he served as National Director of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program. For 19 years, Bird served on the Board of Directors of the Rodale Institute. He co-edited the 2006 book, Developing and Extending Sustainable Agriculture: A New Social Contract. Currently, Bird participates in the Central Asia Integrated Pest Management - Collaborative Research Support Program (IPM-CRS) and the Borlaug Fellowship Program. 

The NCR-SARE Hero Recognition acknowledges individuals who 1) have provided service to NCR-SARE, sustainability, and/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.

Leaders in sustainable agriculture offered tributes as Bird was nominated and selected to receive this recognition:

  • "When I first met Dr. George Bird, he was Director of the Nematode Department in the Entomology Department at Michigan State University.  He tested soil samples for nematode levels and made recommendations on nematicides to use in controlling various pathogenic nematodes.  Dr. Bird then spent some time on assignment to USDA working on sustainable agriculture systems.  When he came back to MSU, he was quite a changed man.  Dr. Bird now is a strong advocate of sustainable ag practices and devotes a lot time to such research and talking on grower educational programs (even after retiring) about knowing the bigger picture on soil eco life and understanding how cultivating microorganisms in the soil make the soil healthy and productive for crops.  He has championed cover crop practices that focus on biological means to build the soil health.  I highly support Dr. George Bird’s contributions to sustainable agriculture being recognized with the NCR-SARE Hero’s Recognition." - James Bardenhagen, Bardenhagen Farms & Retired County MSU Extension Director
  • "I first met Dr. George Bird in Imlay City, MI on a muck farm in the early 1980s at an extension event, where I am sure George was talking about 'his' nematodes, and then again a little later at IPM programs on campus at MSU.  It really wasn't until the 1990s that we overlapped on some Research Test Plots at the Northwest MI Research Station in Suttons Bay. This is when we really got to know each other and overlapped on the topic of "What's Soil Quality Have To Do With It?"  I really appreciate what George has been able to explain in respect to beneficial soil biology and the workings of the soil.  His commitment to MOFFA (MI Organic Food and Farming Alliance), work on the Rodale Board, and international work in recent years really helps define his long-term commitment to Sustainable Agriculture, which is very much appreciated by the Organic and Conventional Farming Community in MI."  - Joe Scrimger, owner/manger. Bio-Systems, Scrimger Farm and Life Time Foods located in Marlette & Clifford, MI
  • "George played an instrumental role in the evolution of the SARE program, leading the program during critical years when program heads rotated in from universities and during a stretch of time when key decisions implementing the SARE farm bill authorization were being made.  He never failed to reach out to the farmer-based NGOs and advocates who worked with and on behalf of the program, and never failed to include them in all aspects of the program, a commitment on George's part for which I am personally very grateful.  The SARE implementation guidance documents developed under his leadership set the program on a great trajectory.  He championed the sometimes forgotten social and quality of life aspects of sustainability. He brought a very advanced understanding of systems and systems science to SARE discussions. His leadership (and courage) to rigorously assess USDA and LGU research for its contributions (or lack thereof) to sustainability was groundbreaking and something we at NSAC still regularly point to and cite today.  NSAC continued to benefit from George's sage advice and strong advocacy for sustainable agriculture after returning from DC to MSU (and MOFFA) right on up to the present time. George Bird is without a doubt an NSAC hero, and very rightfully a SARE hero as well!  Bravo to NCR-SARE for making the very well deserved recognition, and Bravo George!" - Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Related Locations: North Central