Biology students in Wingate’s new agricultural food systems concentration now have some land on which to grow their knowledge. Thanks to the University’s partnership with Union County and the N.C. Cooperative Extension, an eight-acre plot just five minutes from campus has become home to the Wingate University Research and Education Farm.
Now mainly open fields and a few trees near the Union County Agricultural & Event Complex, the location blooms with possibility in the mind of Gena Moore, instructor and director of Wingate’s agriculture and food systems program. She says it will eventually include annual and perennial production, a greenhouse, field trials, a natural area and walking trails.
Already, she has some small projects in the works, including a quarter-acre pollinator habitat project with Cooperative Extension and some raised beds. The next steps will be delineating the fields and focusing on soil health, which will start with planting cover crops. Then there’s the need for a proper road into the property, so that an outdoor classroom, a storage shed and a greenhouse can be constructed.
It will be several years before full implementation, but the framework is in place to create a farm that will benefit students, the county as a whole and area farmers in particular.
Ultimately, Moore says, the land, which the University is leasing from the county, will be home to an “interactive, hands-on-learning farm facility integrating practical research, community, and diverse programming to meet the needs of Wingate University students, Union County residents and the agricultural community.”
Agricultural food systems majors will be doing everything from growing crops to running ag-based educational events for K-12 students.
“The farm will offer opportunities that span the ag and food systems field,” Moore says. “We will have tours and projects with other University programs that want to integrate ag into their curriculum.”
The facility, which will be the first working educational farm on county property, will enhance the Ag Complex by giving Cooperative Extension and other community organizations a place to teach and offer demonstrations. Other partnerships will include those with regional companies to execute seed trials or other research.
Moore has already started taking students to the land, including a trio who worked to clean up part of the property as a One Day, One Dog volunteer project on March 30.
“Students are excited to have a farm and a land base to practice what they are learning in class,” Moore says. “We have been using local farmers for our hands-on experiences, but we’ll be able to do more longer-term activities at the farm.”
Because the farm will specialize in producing fruits and vegetables that already grow well in the region, the research that students and faculty members perform can help local farmers.
“It offers the opportunity for locally based information to be generated,” Moore explains. “Farmers rely on data to make good decisions on everything from which varieties of crops to plant where to how and when to fertilize. If, over time, we can contribute to that database, it can be valuable for farmers and ultimately consumers.”
She expects to host course labs on farm development and biodiversity on the property this fall. Goals for 2024 include installing the greenhouse, starting annual production, hosting educational workshops and research projects and taking part in Wake Up to Agriculture, a Cooperative Extension educational program for third-graders.
There are no current plans to raise animals on the farm, but that idea may be revisited in the future. As for the farm’s eventual harvest, the majority of crops grown will be donated to local food-justice organizations.
To learn more, visit wingate.edu.