Perspectives Online

Dedicated to Prosperity - It’s open house at the North Carolina Research Campus, and College programs there are open for business.

Academicians, scientists, politicians and other state leaders gather Oct. 20 for dedication ceremonies at the N.C. Research Campus.
Photo by Marc Hall

The vision of David Murdock is becoming clear. Three years ago, in 2005, Murdock, a California billionaire who owns Dole Food Co. and other businesses, announced plans to reshape Kannapolis, a down-on-its-luck textile mill town just outside Charlotte.

Where a textile mill once stood, Murdock would build state-of-the-art laboratories, and in those labs, scientists from North Carolina’s universities, particularly the University of North Carolina system, would work to better understand the links between the foods we eat and our health and wellness, as well as vegetable and fruit improvement and food safety.

David Murdock (above) calls the NCRC “a thriving scientific community where the best minds will shape the way we understand nutrition and its relationship to disease.”
Photo byMarc Hall
On Oct. 20, Murdock unveiled a portion of what he plans for Kannapolis: three buildings totaling more than 500,000 square feet of lab and office space that will house many of the scientists who will work on what is now called the North Carolina Research Campus. Political, academic and business leaders from across the state attended the building dedication.

N.C. State University and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will play a major role on the campus, and like Murdock’s vision for Kannapolis, the College’s presence on the N.C. Research Campus has been fleshed out considerably in recent months. The College’s presence will take the form of two programs: the Plants for Human Health Institute and the Program for Value-Added and Alternative Agriculture. Both programs, now open for business, participated in a well-attended open house during the Oct. 20 building dedication.

The Plants for Human Health Institute was originally called the Fruit and Vegetable Science Institute. The name was changed to more accurately reflect the groundbreaking research approach the institute will take, focusing on identifying and making available to consumers bioactive compounds in plants that prevent and treat disease.

At the same time, Institute faculty members are working to determine how best to commercially produce plants containing bioactive compounds. Research will also focus on increasing yields, extending the North Carolina growing season, developing pest-resistant plants and enhancing pre- and postharvest technologies.

Dr. Mary Ann Lila, an internationally known scientist who has devoted nearly a quarter-century to studying the biologically active properties of plants, is directing the institute. Thus far, three scientists have been hired to staff the institute: Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie, postharvest physiologist; Dr. Allan Brown, applied molecular geneticist; and Dr. Jeremy Pattison, strawberry breeder.

Eventually, the institute is expected to include 12 to 15 scientists, while the total staff will number around 150.

N.C. State Chancellor James Oblinger (far left) looks on as UNC system President Erskine Bowles (center) and other dignitaries perform the ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the Kannapolis campus. The NCRC is a private-public venture created to foster collaboration and further advancements in the fields of biotechnology, nutrition and health.
Photo by Marc Hall
“The Plants for Human Health Institute will join together the expertise of scientists in genomics, metabolomics, pharmacogenomics, conventional and molecular breeding, postharvest innovations and phytochemistry in order to capitalize on the benefits that key food crops can provide for health maintenance and human metabolic performance,” said Lila.

Housed with the Plants for Human Health Institute, the Program for Value-Added and Alternative Agriculture is a North Carolina Cooperative Extension effort designed to serve as the Institute’s public interface.

Under the direction of Dr. Blake Brown, Hugh C. Kiger Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the program has already secured more than $2 million in grant funding. The funding supports five focus areas: fresh produce safety, agricultural and alternative agricultural enterprise development, business skills education, strengthening markets, and horticultural skills education.

Providing educational opportunities and resources designed to help farmers improve their businesses and grow safe, fresh, high-quality produce for markets in North Carolina and beyond is a major focus of the program.

A five-person team staffs the program. In addition to Brown, team members and their areas of expertise are Gary Bullen, agricultural and resource economics, who specializes in new enterprise evaluation, business skills development, direct marketing and financial management; Leah Chester-Davis, communications and marketing, who provides team leadership for communication plans, program delivery, packaging and marketing and media relations; Diane

Ducharme, horticulture and food safety, who shares leadership of the N.C. Fresh Produce Safety Task Force; and Rod Gurganus, entrepreneurial horticulture, who works with agribusinesses, economic development officials and farmers to identify and develop horticultural opportunities for value-added and innovative agriculture.

Said Brown, “Our program in value-added and alternative agriculture will help North Carolina farm families take advantage of opportunities and overcome challenges in finding new income sources in a rapidly changing business environment.”

The Program for Value-Added and Alternative Agriculture helps tobacco farm families and others who want to transition to new agricultural enterprises with assistance assessing new enterprises and business skills training as well as information on fresh produce safety, customer service and marketing.

Then there’s the Produce Lady. Need to know how to prepare or store squash, eggplant, blueberries or other produce? Ask the Produce Lady.

Brenda Sutton of Rockingham County is the Produce Lady.
Photo by Daniel Kim
Produce Lady is the “nom de chef” of Brenda Sutton, North Carolina Cooperative Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Rockingham County. Featuring Sutton as the Produce Lady, the Program for Value-Added and Alternative Agriculture has produced videos in which Sutton provides information on different types of produce.

The videos are designed to give growers who sell produce at farmers’ markets information they can pass on to their customers, information that may entice those customers to buy squash or eggplant, even though the customer doesn’t know much about squash or eggplant. Of course, the Produce Lady is on line at

The Produce Lady is just one of a number of Program for Value-Added and Alternative Agriculture efforts designed to help growers.

Value-Added and Alternative Agriculture team member Rod Gurganus and Dr. Gary Roberson, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, are using a grant from the Agricultural Advancement Consortium of the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center to design and build a portable hand-washing facility that can be used in the field.

Then there’s a Web site — — that brings together produce safety information from around the nation. The program is also using grants from Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE) and the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission to develop fresh produce safety curricula for Extension agents.

The program will also provide growers with tools for direct marketing and has grants to support certification and training in a nationally recognized business-planning curriculum for Extension agents and agritourism business and training and business resource development for growers. Marketing efforts will extend beyond produce to commodities such as beef.

The program’s Web site,, provides resources for agents and growers. In 2009, the program will develop Web pages for selected commodities, with the value-added team working with College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty to include production, cost and return, marketing and other information.

Another grant will provide cost-share funds for equipment, feasibility studies and grant writing that support value-added projects, while yet another grant supports the development and operation of producer groups, such as cooperatives.

Clearly, this is a program that focuses on prosperity.

— Dave Caldwell