The new 17,000-square-foot, $6 million Pavilion will be used for research, teaching, and Cooperative Extension outreach. The building has been in the works since the early 2000s.

Initially, it was just a collection of lines, measurements and artist renderings drawn on white broadsheets, some of them coffee-stained, curling at the corners and developing small tears along the edges from being flipped back and forth. But after years of hard work, focus and dedication, the new 17,000-square-foot CAES Extension and Farm Pavilion is now complete.

The $6 million facility has a barrel-shaped roof and meshes visually with the other buildings on the University Farm. The Pavilion includes a multi-use great room that can be subdivided into smaller spaces, wet and dry laboratories, a 50-seat classroom, conference rooms, offices and a demonstration kitchen. The entrance hall is extra wide to allow it to be used as exhibition space, and the wall of accordion-glass doors can be folded away to expose an adjacent outside space to accommodate agriculture-related programs such as farm equipment shows or livestock exhibitions. The facility is equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

“This will be a highly visible structure that will help us better facilitate programs and activities for the community we serve,” said Mohamed Ahmedna, Ph.D., dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. “This will extend our venue for training, offer labs for demonstrations and provide a place where farmers can be engaged in learning.”

Plans for the building, funded with federal appropriations from USDA-NIFA’s 1890 Facility Funds, have been in the works since the early 2000s and have gone through a few changes and additions. But what hasn’t changed is the vision for space and amenities that the facility adds to the University Farm, the campus’s largest classroom and laboratory.

“This is more than we initially thought about, but it’s just what we need,” said Leon Moses, the Farm’s superintendent.

Moses and several others were part of the original Farm Facility Committee, which anticipated the Farm’s future needs.

“We were looking at something more rough and rugged, something like a barn, where we could hold farm shows and other ag events,” Moses said recently while showing off the new facility. “I didn’t envision anything like this. I was thinking about function. But this is more than that. This will capture the needs of the entire CAES.”

The 492-acre University Farm, like most of the others at land-grant universities, initially was a working farm designed to provide food for the campus and hands-on work for students majoring in agricultural sciences. Over the years, it moved to its present location on McConnell Road, about three miles from campus, and its function has expanded to support projects and hands-on learning opportunities offered by Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T, and agricultural research and teaching in the CAES.

Associate Dean Shirley Hymon-Parker speaks at the July 2018 groundbreaking for the CAES Extension and Farm Pavilion at the University Farm.

While the farm had plenty of facilities to support its work with crops, livestock, vegetables and specialty crops, what was missing was a place where people attending activities and programs could gather.

“This just opens up the door for us to do so much more,” said Rosalind Dale, Ed.D., associate dean and Extension administrator.

For example, for the past several years, Extension has received a Walmart grant that provided instruction for young people in healthy cooking and eating. To do the work, the staff had to use the kitchen at the Guilford County Center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension, work around student needs in the campus kitchen, or rent hotel space. The Pavilion allows Extension specialists and associates to provide training to young people in a convenient location designed to meet their needs.

In addition, because of the flexibility of the great room, the space can be used to host workshops, demonstrations and even small conferences.

The ideal time to train farmers is from January to about March, when inclement and cold weather are the norm. The Pavilion provides Cooperative Extension and research staff a place to offer that training without having to be concerned about the elements.

While the Pavilion is a centerpiece, it is just one of three new farm facilities or spaces that will enhance the CAES’s Cooperative Extension, research and teaching efforts.

Directly behind the Pavilion is the 2-acre Student and Community Garden. Students and community members can request space for a raised-bed plot and get expert assistance in their endeavors. This is part of the USDA’s Local Food, Local Places initiative designed to help alleviate food deserts. A campus committee is working out the details of how space will be allocated, and the garden will be ready for production soon.

The final piece will be an Urban and Community Food Complex that will allow space for developing value-added farm products and serve as a business incubator for new food-related entities. One value-added product will be Aggie ice cream, since the Food Complex will include a creamery. Plans for the Food Complex are in the design phase with completion of the facility expected in 2022, Ahmedna said.

“We will be ready to offer training and meetings and a lab in the Pavilion, hands-on training in production in the Student and Community Garden. And when the Food Complex opens, we will help small producers or entrepreneurs develop value-added products,” Ahmedna said.

“Part of our mission as a land-grant university is to provide the services needed to help the state’s small farmers and to prepare students so they leave here ready for agricultural careers. These facilities are key elements to assist us in doing that work.”