When it comes to the A&T Farm, silence is not goldenBy Afrique I. Kilimanjaro, Editor
Published: February 14, 2013
I attended the town hall meeting held in the new Academic Classroom Building on the campus of my alma mater, North Carolina Agricultural &Technical State University. No, my degree is NOT in journalism. I earned a B.S. degree in 1992 in Professional Biology (magna cum laude) and went on to become an environmental policy writer for good ‘ole Uncle Sam. For full disclosure, I think it is important to acknowledge that like many people, who are A&T Alumni and who support the institution, I have roots in the A&T family.
My father began his teaching career at the college in 1955 after graduating from two other land grant institutions steeped in agriculture, Arkansas AM&N College in Pine Bluff Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. My mother was raised on a farm in eastern North Carolina. She is a graduate of North Carolina College (now N.C. Central University- NCCU) and earned a master’s degree from A&T. My sister, who is a physician in Tennessee, along with a host of cousins are all graduates of the Department of Biology at North Carolina A&T State University. Oh, did I mention that all of my siblings and I were “Little Aggies,” having attended the A&T Nursery School? It was there, at the age of four, that my nursery school class toured the A&T Farm where I had my first encounter with a dairy cow.
Today, my niece is enrolled and studying animal science in the School of Agriculture. As a prospective student, my niece was given a grand tour by the chairperson of the Animal Science Department. After the tour, her parents took her out to the farm, which sealed her decision to attend A&T.
I am opposed to the Florida Street Extension through A&T’s Farm. This road is not about economic benefit for East Greensboro. This plan will only benefit developers who reside elsewhere in the city and state. Our city can build every Target, Macy’s, Harris Teeter and Sheets in northwest Greensboro, but East Greensboro can’t secure a full service grocery to serve the community. There is no real plan for economic development in East Greensboro. However, I believe there is a movement afoot to destroy a farm which has had close ties with the U.S. Department of Agriculture since its inception in 1891.
At Monday night’s town hall meeting to discuss the city’s proposed plan to run the Florida Street extension through A&T Farmland, Chancellor Harold Martin presented a lecture on the purpose of A&T. He recounted how the college was established in 1891 as a land grant academic institution rooted in agriculture collaborating with the university’s schools of engineering, technology, business and disciplines in the arts and sciences. Martin explained that A&T’s Farm is not simply a farm which raises crops and animals. It is a research farm which explores new and innovative agricultural technologies, ways to produce higher crop yields and produce more livestock and has a federal cooperative extension program which helps farmers across the state and beyond. Martin also disclosed that the farm brings $20 million annually in research grants to the university.
Martin concluded his presentation by stating that the 492 acre farm is a vital part of the university. “No one is going to take this farm and its land.” Then, he told the audience that this decision lies in the hands of the university’s Board of Trustees.
Here’s the problem. Whenever the leader of a university stands before the local community which includes alumni, those concerned citizens in attendance need to see who is actually on the president’s team. If there were members of the Board of Trustees present or even members of the chancellor’s cabinet present at this town hall, it would show solidarity of purpose. This was not the time to be “invisible” to the alumni, especially since they are being charged with ultimately making the decision whether to grant the city permission to run a road through a tract of land set aside for the university back in 1890 for the sole purpose of agricultural research.
As an A&T alumna, I’m supposed to question the powers that be on the campus. Every alumnus has that right, especially when the university expects your support in return. Chancellor Martin has the same North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University degree, albeit in engineering, hanging on his wall, as I do. I think he wants to protect the university. But I’m not so sure about the individuals who may surround the chancellor daily – those in administration who sat on their hands in the audience Monday night, silent and comfortable in their tailored suits.
I have good reason to be alarmed because history shows that it was undoubtedly silent people in pivotal university positions who sat by and watched A&T’s Department of Foreign Languages be systematically dismantled and destroyed. A&T students interested in becoming global citizens can no longer study or earn a degree in French or Spanish. Meanwhile, the university’s sister state school to the west offers undergraduate degrees in multiple languages all the way to the Ph.D. No one is taking their land or dismantling their academic programs. As a matter of fact, they’re buying property in the Glenwood neighborhood like I-40 headed west .
I have found it somewhat unnerving to attend meetings on A&T’s campus listening to staff talk about making the university a global community when there are those who are silent and behind the scenes systematically destroying what took so many people like Foreign Language Chairs Dr. Waverlyn N. Rice (1930s to 60s) and Dr. Helene LaBlanc Disher (1970s to 80s) so long to help build. The Aggie family tree is only as strong as its roots. Some of those silent folks are in need of lessons on A&T’s history and I and a few other like fellow alumni Lewis Brandon (‘61 ), Jim Pettiford (‘65) and several others are happy to give those lessons.
I am worried not only about the farm’s present predicament, but its long-term future. We must remain actively involved and urge those who walk the halls of our alma mater to act to protect the university.
The mayor says he wants to improve Greensboro’s connectivity by extending a street which is currently lined by residential houses and neighborhoods from Lee Street all the way to Holden Road. Is the city planning to displace the thousands of people along that route? Mr. Mayor, I- 85 is less than a mile from the farm. That is your connectivity courtesy of the State of North Carolina.
When the Gateway Research Park was built, city planners were so sure they could run this road through the farm that they built the Gateway entrance to accommodate a total of four lanes (two on each side) with a median. According to Martin, maps drawn for this proposed road extension were designed by Greensboro City officials without consulting or contacting anyone at the university.
This extension is a bad idea, and not just for the land and surrounding residents. Scientists have already shown in several published research studies that cows and other livestock do not reproduce or thrive in urban settings, particularly areas in close proximity to high traffic and carbon emissions from cars and trucks.
How did we get to this point? Someone was asleep at the wheel or just didn’t give a damn. In this instance, the cows were out of the dairy long before Martin returned to A&T. As Dr. Henry Revell, a retired A&T professor of agriculture said to me at the meeting, “It took an act of Congress to get the farm and the college established. How does the city have the authority to take land from the farm?”
At this moment, there are several tracts of land along McConnell Road waiting to be sold and developed. I would implore the university to get the board and the alumni together and let’s buy up some land around the farm. It’s going to take the collective voices of the A&T Alumni, professors, students and Greensboro residents to bend the ears of Greensboro City Council members to stop this extension through the farm. Make your voices heard by calling the A&T Board of Trustees and Cabinet, too. A petition is currently circulating to oppose this measure. Contact Lewis Brandon at 336-230-0001 or stop by the Peacemaker office to sign it. Say no to the Florida Street extension.
Afrique I. Kilimanjaro is an 1992 graduate of North Carolina A&T State University (B.S. Professional Biology, magna cum laude) where she was active as president of Beta Kappa Chi Scientific Honor Society, a member of Phi Delta Pi French Honor Society, the Alpha Mu Gamma Foreign Language Honor Society and a member of the Alpha Phi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.