John Sabella: Agronomist and Environmental expert

January 05, 2014

Agronomist and environmental consultant John Sabella is a visionary force within the sustainable agriculture movement. Through research and education Sabella has worked worldwide to develop and teach farming systems that do not require harmful and expensive chemical inputs and that conserve soil and water quality to help improve food security. From African American farmers struggling to hold onto their small family farms in rural North Carolina to impoverished farmers growing corn and beans on eroded steep slopes in Bolivia, Sabella helps small farmers with limited resources to acknowledge their collective skills and to seek their own solutions to their farming, environmental and social problems.

Sabella has over 25 years of professional agricultural extension, education, and research experience throughout Africa, Latin America, Western Europe, and the United States. He is the founder and Director of Sabella & Associates, a consulting firm, which provides technical assistance and training in areas relating to sustainable agriculture and extension education worldwide. In 2003, Sabella founded Batovi Instituto Organico-Internacional (BIO Uruguay), an Organic Farming Research & Training Institute located in Uruguay. He also served as the director of the Agromedicine Institute in East Carolina University.

While his home is still in North Carolina, Sabella currently serves as a visiting Professor of Agroecology at the Universidad Nacional de Agricultura in Catacamas Olancho, Honduras where he developed educational programs with North Carolina State University. Sabella is coordinating the development of the university's fifteen-acre ecological farm to demonstrate integrated sustainable farming systems appropriate for Honduran farm families.

What role does his heritage as a Palestinian-American play in all of this? Sabella says: "It has so much to do with who I am. My grandparents came to the U.S during a huge immigration wave." Like many immigrant families who try to protect their children from discrimination by assimilating, his family made a point of not speaking Arabic at home. Although Sabella says he was always aware of his Palestinian heritage, he felt that growing up he did not have a clear understanding of why his family left their "old country" or how they suffered. "It was not until much later in life that I came to appreciate what they had left and the consequences of their lives. And that is when I had a re-evaluation of what it meant to be Palestinian." 

Sabella says he hopes to contribute to his homeland by helping to create an agricultural project in Palestine to enable farmers to preserve their land from encroaching Israeli settlements. "I came to realize that after all these years, having worked with farmers all over the world; I had never worked directly with Palestinian growers. I look forward now to the opportunity to focus my energy and attention on making an impact and improving the lives of rural Palestinian farmers and their communities."