The Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture has been serving Le
Flore County and southeastern Oklahoma since 1965 (read more history of
the Kerr Center).
The award-winning non-profit educational foundation has its headquarters
on the historic Kerr Ranch, five miles south of Poteau on highway
The agricultural division of the Kerr Foundation was first established
in the mid-60s by the family of Robert S. Kerr, the late Oklahoma
governor, senator and oilman.
The center still manages 4000 acres of the original Kerr Ranch,
where the popular politician raised Black Angus and entertained
visitors such as President John F. Kennedy.
In 1985, the Kerr Foundation was divided and the agricultural
division became the new Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture,
with a new mission.
The center committed its resources and programs to the goals of “sustainable” agriculture.
For agriculture to be sustainable it must be profitable, environmentally
responsible, and enhance the quality of life of farm families and
The center gives farmers, ranchers, gardeners and educators from
around Oklahoma the tools they need to be successful in challenging
times. Through projects on the ranch, a comprehensive website and
well-regarded educational events, the center reaches people around
Members of the Kerr Center staff have expertise in animal science, agronomy, agricultural economics, biological science, education, food and agriculture policy, horticulture, journalism/communications, and natural resource management.
The staff not only works with Oklahoma family farmers and ranchers, but with home and community gardeners, community and interest groups, educators, consumers, conservationists, and health advocates.
The center operates from earnings from its endowment, as well
as grants and donations. People can support the Kerr Center’s
work by becoming a “Friend of
the Kerr Center.”
James E. Horne, PhD, has led the Kerr Center since 1985. Under his leadership, the Kerr Center has chalked up many firsts including:
the first organization in the state to devote all of its resources to sustainable agriculture
the first to establish a producer grant program in sustainable agriculture
the first private non-profit to manage a key USDA sustainable agriculture program (Southern SARE PDP)
the first to institute a training program for beginning farmers and ranchers in sustainable agriculture.
To name just a few. The center’s efforts have reached into every corner of the state and spurred positive change not only in Oklahoma but far beyond.
In partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Kerr Center formed one of the first food policy councils in the nation in 2001. The work of the council and its partners resulted in the establishment of one of the first statewide, state-supported farm-to-school programs in the country reaching children in hundreds of school districts and opening up a new market for Oklahoma’s farmers.
Other firsts: organization and sponsorship of the first sustainable agriculture conference in the state, Future Farms 2000, and subsequent Future Farms conferences through 2008.
In 2003, the center compiled and published The Oklahoma Food Connection, the first statewide directory of farmers selling directly to the public.
The 2001 book The Next Green Revolution: Essential Steps to a Healthy Sustainable Agriculture has been ranked at the top of a popular list of “Great Books for Sustainable Agriculture.”
In 2006, the center published Closer to Home: Healthier Food, Farms and Families in Oklahoma, the first book to look at Oklahoma’s food system from farm to table.
In 2007, the first buck test for meat goats in this region was done on the Kerr Ranch. Kerr Center has also led the way in the preservation of heritage breeds of livestock, including the Pineywoods cow.
For twenty years (until 2010) the center operated the Overstreet-Kerr Historical Farm south of Sallisaw and sponsored the annual Fall Farm-Fest, the first and only such event in the area. It was unique for its presentation of farm life in Indian Territory and early Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Tourism Department awarded the farm two prestigious Redbud Awards, including best attraction and best website.
The center’s certified six-acre organic Cannon Horticulture Project is one of only a few certified organic farms in the state, and presently the only one conducting research. The groundbreaking trials of heirloom varieties of vegetables done there have brought hitherto lost or unknown varieties into the spotlight for possible use by market farmers and home gardeners.
The Kerr Center is now pioneering the concept of “resilience” farming with the goal of helping farms and farm families meet the challenges of climate change, economic downturns and input price increases. The intensive work being done with farmers as they implement sustainable production techniques is not being done anywhere else in Arklahoma (Arkansas and Oklahoma).
In 2011, the Kerr Center launched its three year Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program, funded by a grant from the USDA NIFA program. This kind of free training in sustainable horticulture and livestock production is a first in the state.
That same year, Kerr Center stepped up work with endangered native pollinators. We are bringing information about this important area of conservation to the region, with the first workshop on the subject held at the Kerr Center in the spring of 2012.
The Kerr Center has been honored for its soil and water conservation work, for environmental education, and for promoting children’s health. Dr. Horne received the first Henry Bellmon Award for Sustainability in 2010 for his vision and leadership of the Kerr Center. Land Legacy, Oklahoma’s first and only statewide farmland conservation group, honored him for his vital support that same year. As one of its founders, he and Kerr Center supported its work in various ways including farmland preservation workshops, the first to be held in the state.
The previous year he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from Keep Oklahoma Beautiful for his and the center’s efforts to make Oklahoma a better place to live.
The Kerr Center continues to innovate and lead the way as people everywhere recognize the need for sustainability on the farm and in all areas of life.
James Horne, winner of the Henry Bellmon Sustainability Awards for 2010, discusses the sustainability advances made at the Kerr Ranch in Poteau, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma farmers and ranchers learned a hard lesson from the dust bowl: if you don't protect the land, it will disappear. The Kerr Center has worked for decades to find ways to encourage and improve conservation.