Professor brings communications and sustainability passions together

For Associate Professor of Communications Michelle Ferrier, what began as survivor’s guilt became a life-changing sustainability project.


A week after Michelle Ferrier arrived at Elon University three years ago, the team of journalists she left behind in Daytona Beach, Fla., was laid off.

In an effort to help, Ferrier decided to start a project all those who lost their jobs could work on, focusing on a topic they had all covered previously — local food.

“I applied for a grant to look for a way to replicate what we had done on the newspaper, but focus it on a specific content area,” Ferrier said. “I came from a newspaper where I developed an online community and one of the channels on it was about sustainability.”

The product of her vision, Locally Grown News, is now a national news aggregator and producer for the local food industry. Ferrier said she sees the site as a demonstration project of how to engage audiences online around sustainability.

The site offers readers news, tips and guidance for living sustainably and eating locally. Ferrier said her goal is to bring readers together through three stages: awareness, education and outreach.

“Education is how to grow your own food and find local food and recipes,” she explained. “Awareness is pointing people to resources to understand local food policy, and how large agriculture impacts local communities.

“Action is helping people understand how to move themselves to action as individuals, and outreach is learning about things they might be able to do as a community.”

Locally Grown News was initially based on two main initiatives, according to Ferrier.

“The idea was to help women replicate community news organizations across the country, to provide a platform, some standardized content,” she said. “Then it was to hopefully bring some of the folks on board that I had worked with.”

Ferrier has certainly achieved her original two goals. The site was started with the help of members of Ferrier’s Florida team and helps women in both Guilford and Forsyth counties. It has even earned traffic across North Carolina and the country.

The project has also helped Ferrier in the classroom. She teaches magazine publishing, media writing and communications in a global age, as well as a course in the university’s Interactive Media graduate program. Working in the field is integral to her ability to bring students the most current information and skills.

“I’m constantly looking at new tools and reevaluating and tweaking, so I’m bringing into the classroom not only the realities of what it takes to run a side business but what I’ve learned about using technology to build audience and build brand,” she said.

By teaching students to be expert media consumers and creators, Ferrier hopes to inspire innovators, enabling future professionals to create communities as meaningful as Locally Grown News.