A new age of farmers and scientists attended the 2nd Annual Robeson County Farm Bureau BioAg Symposium at UNC Pembroke on October 12 to hear about everything from Internet marketing of vegetables to cutting-edge biotechnology research.
Sarah Benton, who works four acres near Maxton, N.C., was listening to Kerrie Roach, a Robeson County Cooperative Extension horticulturist, talking about Internet marketing of farm products direct to consumers. Benton is interested in beekeeping, organic farming and more.
“I have pigs, chickens and vegetables, and I want to expand into other areas,” Benton said. “One thing I want to do is get a cow and make cheese and butter.”
Benton was joined by approximately 150 others at UNCP’s Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Development at COMtech for a daylong event.
Gene Priore, who retired on seven acres near Maxton, sells his blackberries, honey and flowers at the Robeson County Farmers Market in Lumberton.
“I went on the Cooperative Extension website and read about sustainable agriculture. I’ve been successful, and I want to know more,” Priore said. “Blackberries sold real well, and we started some heirloom vegetables and flowers.
“My wife is a flower gardener,” Priore said. “We grew some sunflowers, and they really sold well. People bought a dozen or more at a time.”
Priore said he is not computer savvy. Roach, who maintains a Facebook page for the Farmers Market, had an answer for that.
“Facebook will walk you through it, but if you need help, come see me,” the extension agent said. “This is about marketing small farms in a new age without spending money.”
St. Pauls High School brought 20 students from a biotechnology class to the BioAg Symposium. They listened intently to Dr. Ben Bahr, an Alzheimer’s disease researcher in UNCP’s Biotechnology Center.
Danielle Hurley, who wants to study science in college, was taking notes.
“I learned a lot about the brain that I did not know,” Hurley said. “Dr. Bahr’s work is very interesting.”
Courtnie Riggs said she did not know there are so many careers in biotechnology.
“I went to the micropropagation workshop,” Riggs said. “I did not know you can take a tiny piece of a plant and make it grow.”
Kayla Demery was impressed with Venus flytraps that Southeastern Community College had grown.
“It was interesting to hear that Venus flytraps only grow in Southeastern North Carolina,” Demery said. “I also learned a lot about brain injury caused by proteins from Dr. Bahr.”
Charlie and Lucille Locklear came to show their company – Locklear Vineyard and Winery - and to network. The new operation is located on six acres near Pembroke.
“We started last July, and it’s been going well,” Lucille Locklear said. “I’m learning, and my husband has 30 years experience.”
Charlie Locklear said it’s hard work.
“We grow two kinds of grapes, and we pick and crush the grapes ourselves,” he said. “If you don’t like work, this is not for you.”
Presenters came from NC State University, North Carolina A&T University, and several state departments, including the N.C. Biotechnology Center, N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and Biofuels Center of N.C.
UNCP scientists Dr. Cornelia Tirla and Dr. Siva Mandjiny presented a workshop on efficient biodiesel reactors. Floyd Inman, UNCP’s 2010 Farm Bureau Scholar, presented on “beneficial nematodes.”
Representing the Robeson Farm Bureau was Board President Lycurous Lowry. UNCP Chancellor Kyle R. Carter thanked the Farm Bureau for supporting this important event.
“Partnerships make things happen, and our partnership with the Farm Bureau has made this day possible,” said Chancellor Carter. “If there is one clear and important message I have learned since coming to Pembroke, it is this University resides in a community in need of assistance with economic development.
“We want to become engaged in this process,” Dr. Carter said. “Working to make farms more economically viable is one way we can help.
“We want to learn from you to see how we can become even better partners,” he said.
Annette Dunlap, an agribusiness development specialist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture, also delivered greetings.
“I am here for agriculture because agriculture and economic development go hand-in-hand,” Dunlap said. “Agriculture is still North Carolina’s number one industry.”
Alisia Oxendine, director of major gifts in the Office of Advancement, was pleased with the participation and interest from the agriculture community.
“Agriculture has always served as a vital component of our local economy,” Oxendine said. “I am so proud that the Robeson County Farm Bureau had the interest and vision to partner with UNCP to help advance and promote the bio-ag and educational needs of this important sector.”
Leslie Lowry of Robeson Community College’s BioAg Center, Heather Walters of UNCP’s Biotechnology Center and Oxendine.
For more information about biotechnology at UNCP, please contact the center at 910.775.4000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.