Officials from Wingate University, Union County, the N.C. Cooperative Extension and the Union County Agricultural Advisory Board cut the ribbon Tuesday on the University’s Research and Education Farm, an eight-acre plot that will serve as the outdoor home of one of Wingate’s newest majors, biology with a concentration in agricultural food systems.
Before venturing from inside the Agricultural and Event Complex to snip the ribbon, they took time to share their excitement about what the farm can eventually produce and their appreciation for all who have had a hand in cultivating the initial idea behind the joint venture.
Dr. Rhett Brown, president of Wingate University, said the farm was a perfect example of how Wingate is living up to its reputation as a lab of difference-making. “That happens when we pair University resources and talent with community expertise and partnership, yielding rich teaching and learning opportunities for our faculty and students,” he told the crowd.
Brown recognized county commissioners David Williams and Melissa Merrell, former commissioner Jerry Simpson and the Ag Advisory Board, as well as longtime Wingate supporters Wendell and Judy Talley and their son, Paul. The Talleys, who operate one of the largest farming operations in the state from Stanfield, gave generously to help Wingate jumpstart the food-systems concentration.
Dr. Jeff Frederick, Wingate’s provost, echoed that appreciation, calling out several Wingate faculty members and Patrick Niland, deputy county manager, all of whom he said helped grow the idea when talks about a student research farm began some three years ago. Frederick lifted up the nature of farm work as a means of teaching problem-solving and critical thinking.
Gena Moore, director of Agricultural Food Systems at Wingate, gave a shoutout to students in the program who were on hand for the ribbon-cutting. She also thanked the Cooperative Extension, the Master Gardeners and representatives from the Soil and Water Conservation district office and Union County Public Schools. She said everyone she had approached about the farm, from local beekeepers to members of an antique-tractor club, had responded the same way: “How can I help?”
While photos of the farm, now mostly vacant land, and drawings of future projects rotated on the screen behind her, Moore gave a rundown of plans.
“Our development of the property will be based on the needs of the community, the people who are going to be working together,” she said. “We will have an ag pavilion. We will have a greenhouse. We will have areas to wash and pack produce, a walk-in cooler, cover crop trials and small-grain research. Our goal is to create a diverse ag landscape that will help cultivate the next generation of ag and food-system professionals.”
The final speaker before the ribbon-cutting, Andrew Baucom, director of the Union County Cooperative Extension, emphasized the power of partnerships across the county and the benefits for students, from elementary through college, who are not pursuing agricultural education but will still be involved on the farm.
“We don’t necessarily need every person to become an agricultural professional,” he said, “but every person needs to understand what it takes to create the food that they eat three times a day.”
The land, which the University is leasing from the county, will be the first working educational farm on county property and will enhance the Ag Complex by giving Cooperative Extension and other community organizations a place to teach and offer demonstrations.
Moore 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.
Learn more about Wingate University at wingate.edu.