Greensboro's African American Community Newspaper since 1967

N.C. A&T breaks ground on Urban and Community Food Complex

University officials, including Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr., center, and interim College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Dean Shirley Hymon-Parker, third from right, break ground on the Urban and Community Food Complex alongside N.C. Sen. Gladys Robinson, center left and Greensboro City Councilman Hugh Holston. Photo by Ivan Saul Cutler/Carolina Peacemaker.

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University leaders, elected officials, faculty, staff and project team members picked up shovels and officially broke ground on the Urban and Community Food Complex, the latest expansion of the 492-acre University Farm.

N.C. A&T Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr., N.C. Sen. Gladys Robinson, Greensboro City Councilman Hugh Holston, A&T Board of Trustees Chair Kim Gatling and Venu Kalavacharla, Ph.D., a deputy director from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, joined interim College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Dean Shirley Hymon-Parker, interim farm superintendent Daniel Cooper, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Tonya Smith-Jackson and other university leaders for the event.

Interim College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Dean Shirley Hymon-Parker, left, A&T Board of Trustees Chair Kim Gatling, Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. Photo by Ivan Saul Cutler/Carolina Peacemaker.
“This new facility is expected to assist East Greensboro’s economic revival by spurring food and agribusiness entrepreneurship,” said Martin. “There needs to be a driver for promoting access to nutritious, fresh food for the East Greensboro area. As the largest college of agriculture in the nation and the largest HBCU, we have a responsibility to be that driver.”

The complex, which has been planned for more than 15 years, is designed to be part small business incubator, part research and engagement facility, said Hymon-Parker.

“In this building, food entrepreneurs will be able to research and test their business ideas with assistance from the college faculty and Cooperative Extension specialists,” she said. “Students will be able to learn from an integrated curriculum, spanning Animal Science, Food and Nutritional Science to Agribusiness. The complex will expand the college’s capabilities in all three mission areas: research, teaching and outreach.”

Robinson, whose district includes Guilford County, and Holston praised the farm’s reach as a research and teaching facility and noted its potential as an economic driver for East Greensboro.

“This is so important,” said Robinson. “This whole plot of land – the Pavilion, the student and community farm, the research complex – adds value, not only to N.C. A&T and the city of Greensboro, but to the state of North Carolina.”

Included in the $12 million, nearly 15,000-square-foot building will be a sensory lab for conducting consumer research; a post-harvest physiology lab for examining harvested products; a food processing lab, a commercial kitchen, and a food safety lab. Blue Cross and Blue Shield Endowed Professor Hao Feng, Ph.D., will direct the facility.

But its standout feature will be a creamery, allowing the farm to produce Aggie Ice Cream for the first time since the early 1970s, when the University Farm produced much of the food served on campus.

“We’re the last HBCU with a dairy,” Hymon-Parker said. “Our A2A2 Jersey cows produce milk that is more easily tolerated, and using their milk, we will bring back Aggie Ice Cream, the ultimate sweet treat, for sale and for visitors. Our students will help shape the product, designing flavors and packaging.”

Set to open in 2025, the facility is the fourth in a series of projects designed to provide greater community access, student participation and faculty utility at the farm, which supports research projects, teaching and outreach, through A&T’s division of N.C. Cooperative Extension.

Previous projects included the Student Farm, the Community Farm and the $6 million University Farm Pavilion, which opened in 2021.

“I have dreamed of a facility like this,” said Kalavacharla. “And with your leadership, dean and chancellor, it has happened here.”