Tuskegee University helping to create new generation of agricultural professionals


TUSKEGEE, Ala. (February 22, 2013) —John Brown, Jr., knows something about what it takes to succeed when you make your living off the land. He has been farming in Alabama’s Black Belt since he was 5 and, now that he has his own grown children, he does not want to see love for the land and his livelihood disappear. The Selma, Ala., grower is the fourth generation of his family’s farmers and he has dedicated his life to ensuring that his generation will not be the last.

Conference participants at one of the many vendors' tables Thursday. 
John Brown, Jr., a farmer in Alabama's Black Belt, was honored along with his family with the 2013 Merit Farm Family Award.
Several varieties of bamboo are grown in the university's greenhouses.
“It’s part of our way of life. It’s just something I enjoy doing,” said Brown, who grows corn, greens, okra, peas, sweet potatoes and watermelons on the 40 acres passed down from his father. 

Brown is one of the hundreds of Alabama farmers who work with Tuskegee University to expand agribusiness education locally and abroad. In addition to sharing his personal knowledge with other agricultural workers; his land has served as a demonstration site for Tuskegee to showcase examples of agricultural technology and he worked with the university to secure a two-year grant for marketing and sustainable vegetable production research.

“It’s something that really has got to be in your heart to be a farmer,” Brown said. “It’s got to be a part of you.”

Learning and earning more

Today, Brown and his family were honored for their efforts with the 2013 Merit Farm Family Award during the 121st Annual Farmers Conference at the university. The event at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center at Tuskegee University concluded today after two days of workshops and information sessions aimed at addressing the issues of small-scale farmers and landowners and rural families in Alabama and around the world. Sessions featured topics such as selling to alternative markets, sustainability practices, agribusiness planning, food safety and affordable health care.

“Any farmer that wants to remain in this business, just like any other business, you have to make changes,” Brown said. “You have to continue to educate yourself.”

Passing it on

As part of the conference, Tuskegee invited students from area high schools to campus for a youth forum today. Busloads of students spent the day learning about agricultural careers, camp programs and educational opportunities. Desmond Mortley, Tuskegee professor of horticulture, said programs like the forum are important for exposing young people to the possibilities in agriculture.

“When we look at our farm population, a lot of those people are way above retirement age and the young people are not staying on the farm,” Mortley said. “We want to get the students interested in agriculture and let them know that it’s a science.”

During a tour of Tuskegee’s farmland, the students got a chance to learn about some of the university’s ongoing research work such as environmental science graduate student Josh Madison’s project making ethanol from sweet potatoes. The process is easier and less costly than using corn as a supply for the fuel.

At 24, the native of Monroeville, Ala., not only is interested in the research aspect of agriculture, but he sees the benefits of becoming a full-time grower himself and currently works two acres of land near his hometown. 

“I can be a major supplier. I want to be a farmer for the school systems; they’re trying to go more green. Right now is the time to do it,” he said. 

Miles Payton, a freshman at Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Ala., said he was impressed by all the food science information he picked up at the forum.

“I want to help people and nutrition science really stuck out to me,” Payton said. 

Haley Coleman, a senior at Booker T. Washington High School in Tuskegee, Ala., said she came to the forum to get a college experience and learn more about possible choices for her major. She was impressed by the environmental science aspect of the tour and attracted to the uniqueness of studying agriculture.

“This is different. You don’t see everyone out there majoring in this. You don’t see a lot of people major in agriculture and food science,” Coleman said. 

A high school student learns to handle a chicken during the youth forum Friday.

Students examine and weigh eggs during a tour at the university.

A Tuskegee student demonstrates how to find the acidity of soil to a group of high schoolers.

Graduate student Josh Madison explains how he makes ethanol from sweet potatoes.

Plants in one of Tuskegee University's greenhouses. High school students on a tour learned that the plants are part of project testing fertilizer made from discarded fish parts.

© 2013 Tuskegee University

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