Students learn that there’s more to agriculture than farming
Contributed by VSU College of Agriculture
ETTRICK, Va.- On March 22, amid National Agriculture week, Virginia State University College of Agriculture hosted agriculture-awareness events on campus celebrating food, fiber, and well-being while dispelling misconceptions about the industry and expounding on the need for minority students to become involved in Virginia’s number one industry.
The inaugural VSU Ag Fest Block Party on campus kicked off the celebration. Hundreds attended, including students, faculty, staff, community members, and government officials. Most were there to learn more about agriculture. Through food, music, ag research showcases, live animals, fashion designs, hydroponic plant displays, and physical activities, the College of Agriculture exposed the crowd to how the industry affects everyday life.
“I see so many people here with an interest in learning more about agriculture. It is truly inspiring. But quite frankly, it should not be surprising at all, right? Each of us is impacted by agriculture, in every facet of our lives—in ways we don’t even realize or think about,” said Dr. Dionne Toombs, acting director, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, during her opening remarks.
Debunking the thought that agriculture is only for people who want to work on a farm was the goal of Ag Fest. Agriculture is a diverse industry that offers a wide range of career paths, from marketing and sales to research and development. There are also many opportunities for entrepreneurship in agriculture, such as starting a food business. Food trucks by black-owned food companies and the VSU Hospitality Management Department sponsored free meals and snacks to attendees. The owner of Everything Legendary, featured on Shark Tank resulting in a deal with Mark Cuban, served plant-based burgers while inspiring students with his entrepreneurial background.
Virginia State University is making minority students aware of how important agriculture is to our future and that they can sit at the table through various opportunities beyond farming. Ag Fest concluded with a panel discussion on minorities in agriculture.
“As we move towards 2050, with global food shortages and issues like climate change, minority students are needed in the world of agriculture now more than ever,” said Dr. Janine Woods, associate dean of VSU College of Agriculture and associate administrator for Virginia Cooperative Extension. “From working in ag production or technology, to working with fibers, the Minorities in Agriculture Panel members addressed where students will be most needed for greatest impact.”
The National Agriculture Week celebrations ended with a wellness-focused outdoor yoga and forest bathing event at VSU Randolph Farm in Ettrick, VA., to connect the dots to physical and mental health.
VSU, a recognized Tree Campus along the Appomattox River, offers ample green space to help students reduce stress, walk or exercise. Furthermore, VSU Randolph Farm has walking trails for trojans to enjoy during specified hours.
Joel Koci, Virginia Cooperative Extension associate for Urban Forestry at Virginia State University, explained the benefits of forest bathing. Scientifically measurable results include better immune system function, decreased sensory pain response, lower cholesterol, a slower pulse rate, and reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Attendees also learned the importance of dietetics for themselves and their future clients.
There is a place in agriculture for diverse interests—from those who want to farm or start community gardens in food deserts, to those who wish to perform scientific research or use agriculture technology to address nutrition and environmental concerns, help families prevent or manage obesity and diabetes through dietetic, or become involved in nonprofit organizations or government agencies to ensure policies and their implementation.