Agribusiness major Tianna Neal works on the harvest at the Student and Community Farm, part of the University Farm at N.C. A&T.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Design celebrated World Food Day with two firsts this year: the first sweet potato harvest at the Student and Community Farm, which is in its first year of use.

Lecturer Odile Huchette and William Randle, Ph.D., led a group of dedicated students in planting and harvesting popcorn, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, peanuts and sunflowers during the semester on the first of several planned plots.

Some of the potatoes from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Design’s first sweet potato crop. Ultimately, the students working on the Student and Community Farm want to sell their produce to make the farm self-sustaining.

“We had a successful first effort,” said Huchette, who, with Randle, led the effort to organize and start the student farm.

This semester, the farm has drawn a variety of students from an assortment of cross-disciplinary majors who plant, work and harvest.

Deshawn Matthews and other students come to the farm during the semester to work with sweet potatoes, sunflowers, peanuts and other crops.

“Students in other areas besides agriculture are interested in food, they just don’t know how to get started,” Randle says. “This farm provides them with a way.”

Currently, the faculty’s goal for the student farm is to teach the intricacies of the food cycle, from planting and growing to harvesting and marketing. Eventual plans are to make the farm self-sustaining through marketing the produce, possibly from a roadside stand or through boxed delivery of fresh food items.

Activities like this one are also good for student retention, Randle noted. “We develop a community by having this farm,” he said. “Instead of sitting around talking, the students can get outside and do.”

Agribusiness major Tianna Neal says that she has learned many lessons from the farm.

“There are so many aspects of our food system that we can contribute to,” she said. “We learn about platforms like food hubs, co-ops, and ways to educate people about farming and food.

“I’ve also learned a lot about the business side of a sustainable food system, including the best way to market without competing with other farms. Just how to be a good professional.”

Future plans for the farm include a blueberry patch and high tunnels for season extension, in addition to more plots, Randle said.

World Food Day is an annual event marking the founding of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. This year, 180 countries and many organizations concerned with food security and production marked the day with awareness-raising events.