Extension TodayNews from and about the 1890 Land-Grant Extension System
Message from the Chair
Vonda Richardson, Extension Administrator, Florida A&M University
Extension Today is a monthly digital newsletter designed to highlight 1890 Cooperative Extension and provide updates across the 1890 Land-Grant System.
In July's edition, we are highlighting 1890 Extension’s active role in promoting healthy communities through horticulture and urban agriculture. Horticulture and urban agriculture offer better access to healthy, locally grown and culturally appropriate food sources.
Our outreach across the system includes increasing health and economic viability in communities that are food deserts, educating underserved farmers and landowners about the benefits of mushroom production and preparing urban youth for environmental and horticultural careers. Other efforts involve promoting the benefits of plasticulture in production agriculture, micro farming, agribusiness and more.
Please enjoy reading about the impactful work by our 1890 Extension specialists. Continue to stay safe.
Urban agriculture gets funding boost
By Wendi Williams, Communications & Marketing Coordinator
The United States Botanic Garden (USBG) and the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) formed an alliance to support public gardens and their partners engaging in urban agriculture. This partnership, dubbed the Urban Agriculture Resilience Program (UARP), strengthens collaborations, promotes resilience and gathers best practices from across the United States. It also addresses food security challenges worsened by COVID-19.
The USBG and APGA recently awarded $403,450 to 21 public garden partnerships in 16 states and Washington, D.C. Alabama is among the 16 states that received an award. The partnership, established between the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Alabama A&M University and Community Kitchens, received a $10,000 award. The award will support the Bruno Vegetable Garden located on the grounds of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
The Bruno Vegetable Garden is a 5,000-square-foot food relief garden designated for growing vegetables. Each year, more than 3,000 pounds of fresh vegetables are donated to organizations like Community Kitchens.
AAMU Extension Horticulture Specialist Rudy Pacumbaba manages urban agriculture initiatives across the state. Urban Regional Extension Agent Tyler Mason oversees Extension urban agriculture education and projects in Jefferson and surrounding counties, including initiatives at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, like the Bruno Vegetable Garden.
Staff educates underserved farmers, landowners about the benefits of mushroom production
By Renita Lacy, Staff Writer
For a while, there has been a stigma about consuming mushrooms. However, specialty mushrooms such as shiitakes, oysters and other exotic mushrooms are extensively promoted as a nutritional supplement, and many studies suggest that consuming them serves as a preventive measure for chronic diseases.
Recently, the Alcorn State University Extension Program (ASUEP) held a forest farming education workshop in Southwest Mississippi. According to Dr. Frank Mrema, assistant professor of agriculture, and Margeria Smith, agricultural educator at ASUEP, the purpose of the training was to educate underserved farmers and forest landowners (UFFL) on the advantages of mushroom cultivation and consumption.
According to Mrema, specialty crops such as shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus and P. pulmonarius) mushrooms could be potential sources of fresh food that can minimize the impact of food insecurity, as well as provide additional income for UFFL.
Throughout their demonstrations, staff members provided hands-on training utilizing wheat straw as substrates in oyster mushroom production. Participants got the chance to learn about substrate processing, pasteurization, fruiting to initiate pinning and much more. After conducting retrospective surveys following each training workshop, it was indicated that 90 percent of participants acquired some knowledge about the cultivation of oyster mushrooms from on-farm residues.
For more information or to learn more about growing and marketing mushrooms, contact Mrema at (601) 877-6596 or email@example.com.
Central State University Extension awarded grant to increase health, economic viability
Improving the health and economic viability within struggling communities classified as a food desert, Central State University Extension (CSUE) received a three-year $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). This grant will establish incubator farms and farmers markets in underserved Dayton-area neighborhoods, says CSUE Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Leader Dr. Cindy Folck.
“Socially disadvantaged communities face barriers to fresh fruits and vegetables within communities defined as food deserts,” says Folck. “Access to affordable and healthy foods is difficult because of limited transportation, low number of retail outlets selling fresh produce and the high number of fast food options. The end result leaves residents at greater risk for obesity, heart disease and diabetes.”
The funds will be used to create and support a local food system by training local residents to become sustainable farmers through educational opportunities and incubator farms. The grant also connects these beginning farmers with local consumers through farmers markets and other marketing outlets.
Two incubator farms have been created in the Edgemont neighborhood in West Dayton, as well as Trotwood to recruit and train beginning farmers on how to farm and how to operate a farm business. Farmers will be assigned plots to grow produce, as well as receive training from CSUE educators, partners and mentors.
Promoting ethnic agribusiness throughout Delaware
As the Agribusiness Ethnic Crop specialist for Delaware State University Cooperative Extension, Andy Wetherill continues to serve limited resource farmers and ranchers, including minority and immigrant operators of small agricultural enterprises. Since 2006, Wetherill, a native of Antigua, has cultivated relationships with agricultural producers in Spanish speaking, West-Indian and other communities throughout Delaware.
Shortly after joining DSU Extension, Wetherill drafted a series of fact sheets on ethnic crops based upon crop trials at DSU’s Outreach and Research Center. Those fact sheets were designed to educate the growing immigrant population in Delaware about the requirements to produce culturally-familiar fruits and vegetables. The series is still relevant and available on DSU Extension’s publication webpage.
“As population diversity increases in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, so does the demand for local foods,” Wetherill said. “This presents an unprecedented opportunity for producers of fruits, vegetables and other high-value niche products to enhance profitability, while also supporting rural economic development.”
Over the past year, Wetherill has worked with commercial agriculture producers, like Your Farm LLC, by providing technical assistance in ethnic crop production, business plan development, marketing and sales.
Horticulture: Beauty, sustainability, tree safety
Leon County, Florida, is known for its stately and beautiful trees. These trees are at their best when they are properly managed and maintained. Management requires educated individuals with a deep appreciation and concern for the natural environment. Sam Hand and Dr. Ed Duke are Florida A&M University Extension professors who use their knowledge and skills to educate Florida residents about how to care for trees and landscapes.
Hand is a registered landscape architect and a certified consulting arborist. Duke has a doctorate in landscape horticulture. As part of landscape Extension programming, they provide educational seminars on tree care and safety and landscape maintenance. They contribute articles to various newspapers throughout north Florida, as well as have an internet presence through several social media sites.
Many tree safety issues also require on-site evaluation, or tree calls, and approximately 100-200 visits to homeowners and commercial entity sites are provided each year. Trees not only supply us with cleaner air, oxygen, shade, stormwater management, wildlife habitat and more, but they also greatly enhance the beauty of our neighborhoods. Hand and Duke are glad to be part of the effort to get the most out of our landscapes.
Dreams come true: Horticulture graduate builds garden in Atlanta
By ChaNae’ Bradley, Senior Communications Specialist
In 2019, the Atlanta Journal Constitution released an article titled "Five Black–Owned Businesses Killing the Agriculture Game Right Now."
Fort Valley State University alumna Kennise “Latricia” Elder, owner of Georgia Roots Urban Farm LLC, was one of the five featured southern entrepreneurs. Elder, a 2014 horticulture graduate, said she had a dream in 2008 that revealed to her that she needed to attend Fort Valley State University.
“Literally, in the dream I heard, ‘Attend Fort Valley State University and learn the science of the land,’” Elder said.
The Atlanta native left the city with her son in 2009, enrolled him in school in Peach County, while simultaneously working nights as a home health aide. Dr. James Brown, a FVSU professor of horticulture who taught Elder, said he remembers how Elder took initiative early.
“She’s always had passion and she’s doing exactly what she wanted to do,” Brown said, referencing Elder's entrepreneurial pursuits.
Hence, Brown was not surprised when Elder purchased land before graduating in 2012. She and her husband, Kwesi Elder, purchased 10 acres of property in Bibb County. In 2015, the Elders sold a portion of the property because of eminent domain, but remained farming at the smaller plot to stay current and active in agriculture. As time progressed, the couple heard about a plot of land in Atlanta. With a desire to join the urban farming movement, the couple decided to take their talents to the city. In June 2019, Georgia Roots Urban Farm LLC became an official farm store.
Summer agriculture program benefits youth, families
Kentucky State University Area Agriculture Agent Mason Crawford partnered with the Russellville Urban Gardening Project this summer to host agriculture programming for youth and families in the area.
Run by Dr. Nancy Dawson with the purpose of “gardening for engagement,” the Russellville Urban Gardening Project owns 3 acres in historically Black Russellville. Dawson and the RUGP have long partnered with Kentucky State University.
This summer, Crawford worked with about 20 children and adults from Russellville and nearby Clarksville, Tennessee. He helped them construct a chicken coop, taught adult volunteers how to safely operate equipment like tillers and trimmers, repaired the trickle tape irrigation system and worked alongside the volunteers to cultivate the garden. Crawford often brings supplies for the project, and the RUGP received grant money from Kentucky State.
In mid-June, Crawford taught the Williams family how to hatch and raise chickens. Eight-year-old Alyssa Williams wants to be a veterinarian and was excited to take home the eggs, which should be hatching soon. “I’m learning a lot,” Alyssa said.
“The impact of this project and program can be seen in a resurgence of agriculture-related careers being considered by urban minority youth,” Crawford said.
Activities will continue throughout the summer, including a field trip to Crawford’s farm in central Kentucky. The summer’s work will culminate in a fall festival using produce from the garden and encouraging agritourism in the area.
Langston University CEOP offers beginning farmer training
The Langston University Cooperative Extension and Outreach Program (LU-CEOP) collaborated with Oklahoma State University Extension in offering the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program from May-July 2021. Classes are currently being held for farmers in Stephens and Wagoner counties, Oklahoma.
Participants proactively engage in skills training and gain information that will help them to develop successful agricultural and related business enterprises. James Arati, Agribusiness and Small Farm Program leader (LU-CEOP), coordinates the broad program activities and conducts the training assistance for beginner farmers in Stephens County through an eight-week training series covering several topics in agriculture production, business planning and marketing.
In Wagoner County, Micah Anderson, horticulture Extension educator (LU-CEOP), provides customized training for farmers with little or no experience in market gardening. The purpose is to mentor through classroom instruction by assisting participating farmers and ranchers with new knowledge, resources, field demonstrations and hands-on activities.
Great effort ensures that participants in the program receive in-depth instructions in all phases of sustainable agriculture. In the early stage, beginner farmers learn field planning, farm supply acquisition strategies, ground preparation, soil fertility management, irrigation techniques, weeds-pest control, harvest/post-harvest handling and marketing. Development of business plans for review with the Extension educators is a core component of the beginning farmer training.
Anderson explained, “Participants are enthusiastic about learning new farming techniques and developing business plans. They show real joy after completing the course and receive their Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program certificate.”
Growing your future
Growing Your Future began with a desire to educate urban youth about environmental and horticultural careers and opportunities available after high school. The program prepares youth to successfully enter colleges of agriculture and afterward begin careers that are not only profitable, but in many ways a part of a positive reconstruction of our roots.
Horticultural jobs are on the rise, and it is predicted that by 2050, there will be a lack of applicants to fill the demand. Lincoln University is teaching youth in the Summer Leadership Academy to make a connection between food and the cultural contributions to food we eat in America.
The importance of Growing Your Future is to broaden horizons and keep students engaged in an industry that is inherently their own. The program is carving a path to a positive perception of what agriculture is all about. This perception is not remnants of slavery or negative connotations, but a positive and critical part of our self-sustainability.
Plasticulture Rental Program helps small farmers increase yields, profits and more
Using plasticulture in production agriculture has been proven to increase yields and extend the growing season for small farmers.
However, plasticulture equipment is expensive and beyond the reach of many small farmers. To make plasticulture production more accessible to North Carolina’s small farmers, Extension at North Carolina A&T State University created a Plasticulture Equipment Rental/Cash Back program in 2018. The equipment is provided at county Extension centers across the state at strategic locations that give the most access to small farmers.
Rental cost to the farmer is $25 a day. The savings are significant. An RB448 plastic mulch layer costs about $2,100, according to Randy Fulk, Extension associate in horticulture production. Given the $25 a day rental cost, a farmer can save as much as $2,075 by renting compared to buying their own mulch layer. In addition to helping farmers save money, the rental program focuses on educating farmers about the value of plasticulture.
PVAMU’S Mini Love watermelon
Texas is the fourth leading state in watermelon production, with cash receipts that exceed $50 million and a statewide economic impact of more than $160 million.
At Prairie View A&M University, researchers are trying to think creatively and develop ways to perfect the shape of watermelons. Uniquely shaped melons can bring higher profit margins for melon growers. At PVAMU's greenhouse, crews were looking at growing square watermelons, but success came with the heart-shaped melon. The new heart-shaped melon, called Mini Love, is a red meat melon that matures in 70 days, producing a 6-9-pound melon.
Specifically designed molds are used during harvest to produce uniquely shaped melons. The Mini Love melon is too tiny for the square molds but just suitable for the smaller, compacted, heart-shaped molds. COVID-19 delayed the project in 2020, and this year the rain was disastrous to the crops. The plan is to try a late harvest this year and again next year until a process is created that will help producers.
This project was funded through a risk management grant acquired through a cooperative effort spearheaded by Ag and Natural Resources, Nelson Daniels, Ph.D., Cooperative Extension Program's Community and Economic Development's Talia Washington and College of Agriculture Research Center's Rafash Brew, all co-principal investigators of the grant. The goal is to find ways to increase profits for limited resource farmers. The Mini Love may increase profits for farmers markets and roadside stand sales.
Improving students’ well-being through gardening
Evidence of the positive effects of gardening on human well-being is stacking up as more researchers are looking into the ways that gardening benefits our social, emotional and physical wellness. A new three-year $500,000 research grant funded by the South Carolina State University 1890 Research and Extension Program, in partnership with the university’s counselor education program, will attempt to prove the benefits of gardening through a program designed for elementary school students. The program is being implemented at Mellichamp Elementary School in the Orangeburg County School District.
The research project intends to investigate horticultural therapy, the practice of connecting people to plants, gardens and nature in ways that improve quality of life and enhance personal goals such as self-esteem, resilience and wellness.
“Gardening is meaningful work, and by teaching students the skill of growing things, we are giving them the tools they need to feel empowered and self-reliant,” said Dr. Antoinette C. Hollis, lead researcher and assistant professor in the counselor education program in the Department of Human Services.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the program is currently held virtually; however, there are plans for hands-on activities in the future.
"As we transition to the new norm, I'm excited to teach the participants about irrigation, gardening and farming," said Mark Nettles, SC State 1890 sustainable agriculture Extension agent. "Students will be exposed to different career paths while learning valuable life skills."
Permission to thrive
Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grant, Using Agriculture as a Vehicle for Change through Experiential Learning (Fast Track), the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center (SU Ag Center) provides agricultural training to incarcerated and adjudicated youth.
The SU Ag Center currently works with two sites in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, through the Fast Track program. Thrive Academy has had a campus garden for the past seven years. Over this time, research has been conducted to differentiate behavioral patterns between garden participants and non-participants. Results indicate a significant difference in the rate of behavioral write-ups of 2.8 for garden program participants vs. a rate of 7.8 for non-garden participants (Elwood, 2019). These outcomes support the known benefits of therapeutic horticulture positively affecting mental health. These results can be attained through gardening or by simply being in nature.
The newest site is AMI Kids. This site provides GED/Hi Set and vocational classes to youth ages 18-24. The SU Ag Center’s partnership with AMI Kids not only exposes them to the horticultural therapy benefits of gardening, but also the workforce development component of it. Through this program, students learn how to grow their own food and how to work in the landscape industry, providing many opportunities for the youth to join the workforce or become entrepreneurs.
For additional information about the SU Ag Center’s Using Agriculture as a Vehicle for Change through Experiential Learning (Fast Track) program, contact Stephanie Elwood, SU Ag Center Extension associate, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plant nutrient researcher coping with tornado, COVID-19 damage
By Joan Kite
Since July 2008, associate professor Dr. Dharma Pitchay has devoted his talents to researching plant health and improving defense systems against plant disease and distress since he arrived at Tennessee State University.
He documented deficiency systems of broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce, cucumber, blueberry and Russet and Burbank potatoes. He published world-class e-books and posters on plant nutrition diagnostics of potatoes and broccoli. Pitchay is now investigating the crops banana and peanuts – research directly related to current climate change.
Pitchay also explored new and improved crop production techniques using the state-of-the-art soilless/hydroponic farming system for farmers with limited resources (namely land). Ironically, Pitchay would find himself one of those limited resource farmers in 2020 when a tornado wiped out his greenhouses and much of his research at the Agricultural Research and Education Center.
Pitchay is waiting patiently while insurance adjusters and state regulators sort out the financial details to settle the numerous claims coming in from the tornado damage on the farm. This includes damage to the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) nursery demonstration site containing numerous research plants that were destroyed.
“We are getting temporary greenhouses brought in by the end of this month,” Pitchay said. Temporary, but far from permanent, relief.
Decreasing food insecurity in urban communities
Tuskegee University’s College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences is working with the city of Montgomery to address food security while also revitalizing a former downtown historic neighborhood. The Peacock Tract community will become home to the Tuskegee University Urban Agriculture Innovation Center (TUAIC).
The center broke ground in February 2020 and will assist the local community and decrease food insecurity found within urban areas. Though travel restrictions through the pandemic considerably slowed the process, implementation is beginning to pick up again at the TUAIC. The innovation center will focus on offering the community a public garden and provide educational tips and promote entrepreneurship.
“Tuskegee has historically been engaged in agriculture in the Black Belt counties since the founding in 1881, and we’re looking to increase not only the innovations within agriculture, but we also want to engage and expose youth and the surrounding community to the entire food system in a way that develops and empowers the community,” explained Dr. Raymon Shange, assistant dean for Cooperative Extension in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.
“We’re taking the legacy of Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension and creating a demonstration center to host workshops that teach pre-harvest, growing and postharvest techniques, serves as a community gathering space, as well as a resource center for the local community,” noted Shange. “We’re partnering with artists, entrepreneurs, educators and more to provide a healthy and healing experience to this historic neighborhood.”
UAPB Extension horticulture specialist helps expand community gardens in south Arkansas
Shaun Francis, Extension horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), cites a senior center in Eudora, Arkansas, as an example of the impact made through the university’s Extension horticulture outreach efforts. As part of a sustainable food systems project, UAPB Extension personnel helped install a garden at the center.
“The senior center is a place where local seniors come to interact, play card games and dominoes or knit,” Francis said. “After we helped the administrators install a garden, the seniors started eating fresh produce they might have otherwise not had access to.”
Francis said the university’s horticulture outreach work strives to bring nutritious food to communities in food deserts. Currently, UAPB provides support to eight community gardens in central and southern Arkansas, which are managed by organizations including churches, community centers and retirement homes. Most of the organizations give away the food they produce.
“The people creating these gardens are professionals who want to make a statement,” he said. “They want to make a difference by making sure their neighbors and other members of the community have access to healthy food. And these are exactly the kind of projects UAPB wants to help grow.”
UMES Extension specialist helps veterans through horticulture
Serving the region’s military veterans through horticulture training is one of Dr. Naveen Kumar Dixit’s passions. The horticulturist and University of Maryland Eastern Shore Extension specialist has partnered over the past three years with regional agencies to provide free workshops on fruit and vegetable cultivation and is on the road to forming a Veterans Agriculture Association on Delmarva.
“Beginning farmers who are veterans are learning to produce specialty crops,” Dixit said. "Not only will it provide fresh food to local people, it also provides a source of income."
Dixit has worked with veterans interested in agricultural enterprises through TALMAR Horticultural Therapy Center in Baltimore and the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, Northeast. His efforts have been met with one of his protégé’s interest in purchasing a 2-acre piece of land around Baltimore to hire other veterans to produce fruits and vegetables for sale. Another, a woman, is interested in a start-up, apple orchard venture in Virginia, where Dixit hopes to expand his Extension outreach services soon.
For more information, call Dixit at (410) 621-3650 or visit his UMES Extension page.
VSU scientists granted more than half a million dollars to help solve food insecurity
Virginia State University (VSU) is a leader in urban agriculture in Virginia and will help the nation in addressing food insecurity with a $600,000 grant to explore micro farms as a potential solution to food deserts in urban neighborhoods.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded the grant to Dr. Leonard Githinji, project director and sustainable and urban agriculture Cooperative Extension specialist at VSU.
“Micro farms are small-scale farms suitable for urban areas where agricultural land is scarce. These farms maximize the use of space and produce higher crop yields per unit area,” Githinji said.
It is estimated that 80 percent of the United States’ population lives in urban areas where space for farming is limited. The funding will help build VSU’s capacity to provide comprehensive education on micro farming.
“Currently, there is a lack of systematic education on micro farming at VSU,” Githinji said. “Developing a comprehensive program will help us educate others on the best practices for micro farms.” More than 11 percent of the nation’s population and 10 percent of Virginia’s population are reported to be food insecure, a situation that is likely to worsen as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food systems continues to unfold, he added.
Virginia Cooperative Extension extends the resources of Virginia's two land-grant universities, Virginia State University and Virginia Tech, to solve problems facing Virginians every day.
WVSU Extension Service assists minority farmers with urban agriculture education
West Virginia State University (WVSU) Extension Service is helping minority farmers in McDowell County, West Virginia, discover the many career opportunities in urban agriculture. Through a partnership with McDowell County Farms, Extension educators are bringing education and resources to people interested in launching agribusiness careers.
Established in 2014, McDowell County Farms is a farming cooperative association that works to bring exposure and awareness to the agricultural opportunities that exist within the region and to provide farmer training as a means of economic development in an area of the state facing issues such as high unemployment, poor health and a lack of access to healthy, locally grown foods.
“We’re probably the only all minority-run farm cooperative in the state of West Virginia,” said founder Jason Tartt. “Historically, in this region and this country, African Americans have had major roles in agriculture, so we want to regain some of that and bring back some of that culture.”
So far, Tartt and his group are succeeding. At their farm location in Berwind, West Virginia, they have established an agricultural training facility that includes high tunnels and an orchard, with multiple plans for expansion.
“I’ve been told that somebody’s got to do it or they won’t believe it can be done,” he said. “And we’re doing it. I think the sky is the limit.”