WINGATE — Union County is without doubt one of the prime agricultural producers within the state, rating fourth total in the latest USDA Census of Agriculture.
But regardless of the abundance of food, almost 10 p.c of Union County, and nearly 17 p.c of neighboring Anson County, is food insecure.
It is smart, then, that Wingate University is starting an agriculture and food systems focus inside the biology major.
“We produce so much food here in Union County, but we still have a high amount of food insecurity,” mentioned Dr. Erika Niland, chair of the University’s Biology Department. “It’s just the right time. Sort of the perfect storm of everything is here to go ahead and do it.”
The University will admit 10 college students every fall into this system, which can include a mix of biology, chemistry, agriculture and enterprise programs, along with the usual basic schooling necessities. A coordinator will likely be employed to supervise the focus, which can characteristic a course in agroecology, an internship and a capstone course, along with biology and chemistry lessons. On the enterprise facet, college students will take programs in economics, advertising and marketing, entrepreneurship, regulation and different matters.
The new focus will attraction to a wide range of college students: those that wish to research biology however have determined to not pursue well being sciences, youngsters of native farmers who want enterprise schooling, college students excited by working for nonprofits related to food insecurity, and college students who’re eyeing a profession in agriculture however don’t wish to attend a big land-grant establishment.
The program will emphasize experiential studying, particularly when college students do their internships and capstone tasks. Since Wingate doesn’t have a working farm to function a lab, the University is forging partnerships with farms, nonprofits and different companies and organizations locally.
“It’s going to be more of a high-impact program, so there’s going to be a lot of experiential components to it,” Niland says. “That’s where the community comes in. Internships and that senior project would essentially allow the student to give back to the community to some degree, but also then walk away with some experience on their resume.”
“To me, it’s the manifestation of everything we talk about in terms of serving our neighbors,” mentioned Vint Tilson, vice chairman for strategic partnerships, who has been assembly with native farmers and different organizations to kind the mandatory connections.
One seemingly accomplice is Monroe-Union County Economic Development, which is within the course of of building a cluster of food-related firms in japanese Union County. In the county proper now, plenty of food is produced and bought, however little or no of the processing and packaging is dealt with right here. The food cluster is designed to allow Union County to say a slice of that sizable portion of the trade.
The cluster will embrace an industrial park anchored by the BARN (Building Agricultural Resources and Nutrition), a food kitchen and useful resource facility that may allow small and medium-sized farming operations to do some mild processing so as to promote their merchandise regionally.
“If you examine the revenue generated in a food system, a small portion is generated by the producers and growers while another small portion is generated by the retailers,” mentioned Chris Platé, govt director of Monroe-Union County Economic Development. “The significant amount of revenue is generated from the actual processing of the food product. Having the processing closer to the producers allows them to lessen transportation costs and earn higher prices by having a more direct selling opportunity, therefore keeping farming as a viable business now and in the future.”
If the cluster develops as deliberate, it can present internship alternatives for college kids in Wingate’s agriculture and food systems focus.
“Our goal is to utilize the synergy created by the proximity of our agricultural network and the University’s food systems and other programs that will build the next generation of agribusiness,” Platé mentioned.
One promoting level of the focus is the pliability it affords college students who may wish to work in agricultural advertising and marketing, in regulatory compliance or for a nonprofit specializing in feeding the hungry. All of those potential roles could possibly be served by the brand new focus.
“It really allows the student to pick which part of the food systems they’re interested in,” Niland mentioned. “We’re hoping that by offering this concentration, it’s going to pull students into an otherwise not-thought-of potential career. That’s, I think, what we’re trying to accomplish. And also trying to help the community around us, since our county has been historically agricultural.
“One of the goals of a university is to support the community, and I think this was kind of a missing piece for us.”