Scientists, chefs cook up partnership to grow N.C. agriculture

KANNAPOLIS, NC – N.C. State University agricultural researchers and Johnson & Wales University culinary professionals and students are working together in a first-of-its-kind project to breed a better strawberry for North Carolina.

The N.C. Strawberry Project is a dynamic effort created to strengthen the agricultural sector of the N.C. economy. The project connects plant breeders with the culinary world and introduces “chefs of tomorrow” to agricultural research and to N.C. farmers. The overarching goal is to glean important information from the culinary industry, produce buyers and consumers that the N.C. State strawberry breeding program can use to create a new N.C. strawberry.

The project, supported by a $200,000 Golden LEAF Foundation grant, is the first to connect the culinary world with plant breeders, researchers and producers in this manner.

Johnson & Wales, with its internationally recognized culinary education program, brings the Charlotte campus’ renowned Chef Mark Allison and JWU students -– the “chefs of tomorrow” –- to the table.

During this year-long project with N.C. State, they will help identify the characteristics that culinary professionals and high-end restaurants are looking for in strawberries, such as flavor, color, texture and size. Chefs commonly serve as intermediaries between growers and consumers, which gives chefs a unique insider’s perspective of the fresh produce market demands of both parties.

Through a series of guest lecturers from the agricultural sector and visits to the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services’ Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury and local farms, JWU students will learn about the science and business of food production.

Strawberry breeder and researcher Dr. Jeremy Pattison, part of N.C. State’s Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI), located on the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis, will incorporate the culinary feedback into his efforts to breed a better N.C. strawberry. The goal, says Pattison, is to develop superior strawberry varieties that will taste better and contain qualities that N.C. consumers, chefs and producers indicate are important.

“Ultimately, we want to increase the economic value and impact of N.C. strawberries while enhancing the eating experience,” says Pattison.

“The culinary industry looks for superior flavor and quality,” says Allison. “We’re teaching our students to seek out the best quality products. By working with N.C. State we connect our students with both researchers and farmers across the state.”

“The Golden LEAF Foundation is proud to support this unique partnership between N.C. State, N.C. farmers and Johnson & Wales University,” said Dan Gerlach, Golden LEAF president. “This research will ultimately support the agricultural sector by creating a stronger market for North Carolina strawberries and will help support North Carolina’s small businesses as well.”

Media Contacts: Leah Chester-Davis, coordinator of communications and community outreach, N.C. State at the N.C. Research Campus, 704-250-5406, or Melinda Law,communications & media relations manager, Johnson & Wales, 980-598-1004 or

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