N.C. A&T breaks ground for farm pavilion

The first phase of $12.3 million worth of construction at the N.C. A&T University Farm began Wednesday, signaling an expanded era of research, education, community engagement and agribusiness development – including Aggie ice cream.

The College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, which has oversight for the farm, hosted a groundbreaking that drew a standing-room only crowd of university and elected officials and A&T supporters, who came to envision what 7 acres of the 492-acre farm will look like by the year 2022.

That vision includes a $6 million CAES Extension and Farm Pavilion, which officially got underway with the groundbreaking and is expected to be completed by December 2019. Funded by USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, the 17,000-square-foot structure will include an auditorium, laboratories, a demonstration kitchen, a 50-person classroom and a 400-person conference room.

USDA-NIFA will provide financial support for three additional projects in the next four years: an amphitheater, student and community gardens, and a community and urban food complex with a business incubator and an expanded dairy, capable of creating A&T branded dairy products such as ice cream, yogurt and butter.

Speaking on the site where the complex will be built on the south side of McConnell Road, A&T Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. heralded the landmark 19th century laws that created land-grant universities such as A&T, and described the evolution of the farm as integral to providing students with research, outreach and educational opportunities. “There is a lot of history that surrounds the A&T farm,” Martin said.

CAES Interim Dean Shirley Hymon-Parker hailed the farm’s bright future. “This continued development at the University Farm is in keeping with strategic goals of the University and the CAES to promote excellence in research, to strengthen community engagement and outreach and foster entrepreneurial success,” she said.

Other speakers included Interim Associate Dean for Research Valerie Giddings, Farm Superintendent Leon Moses, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Facilities Andrew Perkins, Greensboro City Council Member Sharon Hightower, Guilford County Commissioner Melvin “Skip” Alston, N.C. Sen. Gladys Robinson, USDA-NIFA Acting Director Thomas Shanower, and Associate Dean and Cooperative Extension at A&T Administrator Rosalind Dale.

Moses, who started working at the farm when he was an undergraduate, spoke about the great harvest to come.

 “For 42 years, on the very ground where you sit, I have toiled, tilled and turned this soil so that crops would grow and a harvest might be reaped,” Moses said. “But today we turn this soil so that buildings shall begin to grow. The harvest will be greater opportunities in teaching, research and extension.”