Kathleen Liang, Ph.D., has been awarded a $40,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to study ways that farmers can profit by growing ethnic crops.
The one-year study’s objective is to identify and evaluate three or four new specialty crops that N.C. farmers could grow to capitalize on the state’s emerging market for organic, ethnic vegetables, fruits and flowers. Information gleaned from the study will be shared with farmers, restaurant owners, grocers and other agriculture professionals through demonstrations, training and workshops.
“This program not only seeks to identify viable specialty crops and flowers and train farmers in how to grow them, but will also teach them how to create financial tools to track their venture’s profitability,” said Liang, a professor in the Department of Agribusiness, Applied Economics and Agriscience Education. “It is a direct way to support N.C. farmers in using small-scale plots to produce high profit-margin, specialty annuals and perennials.”
Liang is the co-director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, one of the nation’s most important centers for research, extension and education in sustainable agriculture and community-based food systems. The center is a partnership of NC State University, N.C. A&T and the NCDA&CS.
In recent years, North Carolina’s population has become more diverse, with a significant portion of the population coming from Asia, Africa and South America. At the same time, consumer demand for fresh and healthy foods has increased, leading more restaurants, community grocery stores and farmers’ markets to become interested in ethnic foods, according to the NCDA&CS.
The study is part of the department’s Bioenergy Research Initiative and New and Emerging Crops Program, which recently funded 15 projects aimed at boosting bioenergy opportunities and crop production across the state.
The study will link farm planning, production, management, market, financial analysis, food preparation, and nutrition and health, Liang said.
“We will keep clear, consistent records during the project period to document not only the plants’ outcomes, but expenses, practices, labor hours, yields, handling and cooking guides, and other information,” Liang said. “If the project is successful, we’ll be able to duplicate our strategies.”