Reza Tahergorabi, left, a food and nutritional science professor in A&T, works on a project with his lab assistant. With the USDA award, Tahergorabi will lead students in conducting plant-based food research with the goal of developing plant-based surimi (minced) seafood.

N.C. A&T’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences will receive nearly $2 million to test environmentally friendly growing techniques, improve educational training on food allergies, strengthen nutritional science programs and more – six projects in all – as part of a competitive grant program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

USDA announced recently that it will invest more than $33 million to support capacity-building programs at the nation’s 1890 Land-grant institutions. The 1890 Capacity Building Grants Program will fund 82 research, Cooperative Extension and educational projects across the 19 Historically Black College and Universities. N.C. A&T’s is the largest college of agriculture among all HBCUs and is the nation’s top producer of diverse agriculture and environmental science majors.

The federal agency expects these projects to “deliver real-life, applicable solutions to make our food system stronger, while at the same time inspiring a next generation of students and scientists who will help us meet tomorrow’s agricultural challenges,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small.

Six projects, spanning both the college’s research and Cooperative Extension divisions, will begin this fall with funding from the program:

Mark Blevins, Ed.D., associate administrator in Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T, will lead a study of  biodegradable mulches – a more environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic mulch – in commercial vegetable production, in both high tunnels and open fields;

Roberta Claro da Silva, Ph.D., assistant professor of food and nutritional science, will lead a project to create a pipeline for graduate study and a diverse workforce in the food and nutritional sciences, in response to industry’s need for well-prepared minority graduates;

Reza Tahergorabi, Ph.D., associate professor of food and nutritional science, will lead students in conducting plant-based food research with the goal of developing plant-based surimi (minced) seafood;

Leonard Williams, Ph.D., director of the Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies at the UNC Research Campus in Kannapolis, will develop courses to familiarize food and agricultural sciences students with the principles of food allergies and immunology, and to develop food-grade research strategies for safer, controlled immunotherapy, including desensitization to allergy-producing foods;

Meeshay Williams-Wheeler, Ph.D., professor of Family and Consumer Sciences, will work to increase the number of students enrolled in department programs and grow their communication, critical thinking, interpersonal and problem- solving skills and cultural competencies;

Jianmei Yu, Ph.D., a food and nutritional science professor, will work to develop a safe, natural alternative to antibiotics in livestock feed.

“This work will help strengthen knowledge and understanding of the nation’s food systems, improve the preparedness and diversity of the nation’s work force, provide leadership training and bolster research into much-needed areas of sustainable food production and both human and animal health,” said Mohamed Ahmedna, Ph.D., dean of the college. “The ripple effect from these impactful projects will be felt across the industry. We thank USDA for their investment.”

These awards closely follow USDA’s $18.1 million grant to the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences to build and sustain students’ interest and participation in agriculture, part of the agency’s new initiative, “From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals (NEXTGEN).”

N.C. A&T’s project, called SAPLINGS (System Approach to Promote Learning and Innovation for the Next GenerationS) will involve faculty and staff from each department of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and specialists with Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T.