March 2020

Planting the Seed: QAI Scholarship Winner Hopes to Grow Organic

Sebastian farm

Quality Assurance International (QAI), part of the NSF International family of companies, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary by creating the first QAI Growing Organic Scholarship. The effort recognized an aspiring student dedicated to learning organic and sustainable agriculture. Students submitted essays on why they believe organic agriculture is important and how the scholarship will help them advance their education.

Sebastian McRae of Redmond, Wash. was selected as this year’s Growing Organic Scholarship recipient. Raised on the wet, western slopes of the Cascade Mountains, Sebastian learned to appreciate fresh food. Between his parents’ and grandparents’ home gardens, he helped harvest tomatoes, onions, salad greens, zucchini, squash and a variety of herbs. “Growing food acknowledges both the earth’s amazing ability to provide for us, and the responsibility it gives us to reciprocate with an attitude of stewardship,” said Sebastian. “It wasn’t until I left Redmond for college that I realized how locally grown food can be taken for granted. Unfortunately, it isn’t something that everyone has access to.”

Sebastian holding climate strike sign

He was introduced to soil health his junior year of high school in AP Environmental Science. That experience sparked an interest that led him to volunteer with the Oxbow Farm and Conservation Center to remove invasive species and plant native trees along the Snoqualmie River. Fast forward to today, Sebastian is a sophomore at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., studying environmental science and sustainability.

In his second year, Sebastian established Allegheny College’s first Sustainable Design Team. Using permaculture design principles, the group reevaluates the campus’ lawn and green spaces and creates plans to make them more harmonious, sustainable and productive. Right now, Sebastian and his peers are working collaboratively with faculty to propose an expanded garden space that can support campus dining year-round. This effort will also further advance Allegheny College’s commitment to reaching climate neutrality in 2020.

So what’s next for Sebastian? First, finishing his education. Then, he’d like to set out to achieve his ultimate goal: helping spread the practice of organic agriculture across the United States, and eventually, the world. He is determined to achieve this by providing farmers with the resources and knowledge necessary to successfully complete the organic certification process.

“I’m so grateful to QAI for this scholarship,” Sebastian shared. “With it, my undergraduate education will be more affordable so I can pursue a master’s in urban planning later down the road. Alleviating that financial burden is truly an enabling and powerful gift.”

QAI awarded Sebastian with a $2,500 scholarship to assist with his continued education in this field. Find out more about QAI’s Growing Organic Scholarship by contacting us at qai2@qai-inc.com.