Kendra Gregory ('10) | Honors College

kendra

As a young child, Kendra Gregory loved to play in the dirt.

"The joke when I was two was, 'you're going to be a geologist,' because I would collect all these rocks and I would constantly play in the dirt and soil," the junior Honors student recalls. She also played a game she called "growing crops. I'm not kidding, I would transplant plants for fun," she said. 

How do people get out of this cycle with poverty? What exactly do you do? It’s not an easy answer.

Even so, Kendra was surprised she ended up in the agriculture department at ACU studying environmental science. After all, she was a city girl who grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh with a father who is in computer marketing and a mother who is a registered nurse.

"But once I found what I wanted to do it was 'wow,' because looking back on my childhood it makes a lot of sense," Kendra said. "I have always loved science, absolutely adored science. And I've always been interested in animals and even more so in plants."

Hearts for Haiti

Her love for environmental science took root during high school, as she and her family made several trips with an organization called Hearts for Haiti. Kendra watched her mother, a registered nurse, help the poverty-stricken Haitians with their medical needs. But what captured Kendra's attention was the country's environmental plight.

"Basically they've completely deforested their side of the island," Kendra said. "They've killed nearly all the indigenous species by overhunting. There's massive erosion, so now all the topsoil, which the trees were holding in place, is gone. So it's really hard for the people to scratch out a living."

That, said Kendra, "is what touched me more than helping the people with the medicine."

As a student at Abilene Christian, Kendra found an opportunity to use her interest in environmental agriculture to help poor farmers in another third-world country.  Last summer, she was one of eight students to study in Honduras during a Maymester short course, working with Mission Lazarus and Healing Hands International. When the other seven students returned to the states, Kendra remained behind for a summer internship, managing three major research projects.

Research that matters

The first project was begun by the ACU students studying abroad, who planted the seeds of six tropical legumes grown in Honduras. Kendra evaluated the agronomic performance and nutritive value of these legumes. The results will help identify the most suitable legumes that can be grown in Honduras to improve milk yield.  Kendra also is studying the milk records of the dairy herd at Mission Lazarus to help farmers in management and decision making.

Kendra also conducted a baseline survey in Honduras to identify factors limiting agricultural production among farmers in the mountainous regions of the country.

"It was amazing talking to them and getting to know how they live," Kendra said. "Most cultivate only corn and beans, and it's all generally for consumption. They grow them on mountainsides. You drive along a highway and there's a steep slope, and there are people planting corns and beans. And it's amazing. You wonder, how did they get it up there? But that's the only land, if they have any land at all, to grow things."

The problem of poverty

Kendra's experience with Mission Lazarus fueled her desire to help the poor in developing countries.  

"How do people get out of this cycle with poverty? What exactly do you do? It’s not an easy answer," she said. "You have to work in the cultural context. You need to couple the scientific expertise with the people themselves, because they know how they live, they know what they want, they know their culture much better than anyone else."

When Kendra graduates from ACU in 2010, she will not only have degrees in environmental science and Spanish, but also minors in chemistry and biology. She plans to attend graduate school to study the developing field of sustainable agriculture, which is the ability of a farm to produce food indefinitely, without causing severe or irreversible damage to ecosystem health.

"We need to learn to meet our needs and the needs of people now, but do it in such a way that we don't compromise the ability of our future generations to meet their needs," Kendra explained. "So it's a self-sufficient and continuous process. Right now we're not leading very sustainable lives. But it's a movement that’s gaining ground."

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