“Chefs-of-Tomorrow” Visit Local Farm to Learn About Agriculture

(From left to right) Amy Hellman and Amber Brewer, culinary students from Johnson & Wales University, tour Barbee Farms in Concord, N.C. with owner Tommy Barbee as part of the N.C. Strawberry Project, a partnership of N.C. State and Johnson & Wales universities supported by a Golden LEAF Foundation grant.

More than 30 culinary students from Johnson & Wales University visited a local farm and agricultural research station on April 1, 2011, as part of the N.C. Strawberry Project, a first-of-its-kind partnership between North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis and Johnson & Wales University. The project, supported by a grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, aims to breed a better strawberry and connect chefs with farmers. Students toured Barbee Farms in Concord and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury.

This unique opportunity allowed students to learn more about food production from its start and the research and science behind creating new food products. Additionally, it gave the students a chance to begin to forge relationships with local farmers. The project hopes that educating students on the benefits of using locally grown foods, including increased nutrition, freshness and flavor, will encourage them to supply their future kitchens from local farms when they graduate – no matter where they are located.

Barbee Farms, a sixth generation family farm with approximately 70 acres devoted to fruits and vegetables, sells its products at five farmers markets and a farm stand each week. Additionally, the farm sells to many local restaurants and grocery stores.

With more than 1,000 acres of land divided into four units of research (dairy, poultry, field crops and horticultural crops), the Piedmont Research Station is one of 18 N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ research stations across the state and is the site of much of Dr. Jeremy Pattison’s research for the N.C. Strawberry Project. Pattison is an N.C. State University faculty member and strawberry breeder.

Pattison is looking to the partnership to help him tap the culinary industry’s expertise. He will determine specific attributes – flavor, color, texture and size – that can be incorporated into his traditional strawberry breeding program.

N.C. State expects the ultimate beneficiaries to be the consumer. By facilitating relationships between plant breeders, chefs, farmers and consumers, project coordinators hope more people become aware of and involved in the food production process. The state’s economy could benefit as well. Project coordinators expect to grow strawberry sales from $20.8 million to $26 million.

Anyone who loves strawberries can benefit now. Chef Mark Allison, dean of culinary education, and students at Johnson & Wales University, have created recipes that feature this most-consumed berry.

Writer: Kristen Bright