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Two days in the life: Dean Richard Linton’s 2014 state bus tour

From wine-making to aseptic processing, a group of N.C. State University faculty and staff members covered a variety of topics during the 2014 Dean’s Tour, hosted by College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Richard Linton. In this second annual bus tour, Linton and his department heads led a two-day exploration of North Carolina’s piedmont region.

On September 25 and 26, the CALS group visited research stations, Extension offices and various facilities for agriculture and life science industry partners.

Tour participants, about 25 in all, included heads from nearly every College department, the dean, associate deans, regional partners and staff members who helped coordinate the tour,  which took them from the N.C. State campus to Greensboro, Lexington, Salisbury, Troy and Sanford. The tour offered faculty members time to explore cross-departmental relationships, setting the foundation for future partnerships and collaborations.

The first stop was N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro, where the group met with N.C. A&T’s Dean Bill Randle and faculty members. Among activities was a discussion of strategic planning and of N.C. A&T’s recent shift of program structure to focus on small-scale and organic farming practices, as well as a visit to the university’s field lab.

Pete Burnette, farm research specialist, guided the group to the field lab’s facilities for cattle, hogs and poultry, and to sites for both organic and conventional produce. Corey Burgess, N.C. A&T research technician, told the visitors, “We’ve hosted many groups of kids recently. Some of them from downtown Greensboro have no idea where their food comes from; they think it starts and ends in the grocery store. Our tours give us a chance to connect their lives to agriculture.”

The group makes a stop at Childress Vineyards in Lexington, where they toured the winery.
The group makes a stop at Childress Vineyards in Lexington, where they toured the winery.

That evening the group visited Childress Vineyards, where they joined Steve Troxler, commissioner of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, to learn about native N.C. grapes. Also along were, from NCDA&CS,  Zane Hedgecock, Dr. Richard Reich, Dr. Sandy Stewart and Joe Hampton; N.C. A&T’s Randle; N.C. Farm Bureau’s Peter Daniel; and CALS grape specialist Dr. Sara Spayd, who spoke about chardonnay and cabernet wines and revealed that “all scuppernongs are muscadines, but not all muscadines are scuppernongs.”

The second day of the tour began with a trip to the Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury. Joe Hampton, research operations manager, and his team led the crowd in exploring the research station. Two highlights included Hampton’s explanation of rotating soybean experiments and the active milking parlor.

Dr. C. Michael Williams, head of the Prestage Department of Poultry Science, found it to be “especially valuable to the group to be able to observe the resources available at N.C. A&T and at the Piedmont Research Station for potential research and outreach collaboration.”

The 2014 CALS Dean's Tour group gives a Wolfpack salute before boarding the bus.
The 2014 CALS Dean’s Tour group gives a Wolfpack salute before boarding the bus.

The next stop was Wright Foods, a state-of-the-art aseptic food processing company in Troy. Dr. Pablo Coronel, Wright Foods vice president of research and development and CALS Food Science alumnus, led the tour. Coronel’s doctoral thesis at N.C. State was on aseptically processed foods. His work helped lay the foundation for Wright Foods’ technology — a microwave system that helps preserve food in its final packaging, creating the highest-quality shelf-stable foods.

Next, the group members stopped at the Montgomery County Extension Center, where they met with a variety of local elected officials and were hosted by Molly Alexi, county Extension director. Alexi presented the center’s recent successes and plan for the next few years. Upon the group’s departure, Alexi and her staff shared Montgomery County’s famous peach preserves.

The travelers then headed to Lee County to visit Pilgrim’s Pride, the second-largest chicken producer in the world.

Processing and manufacturing plants are often resistant to opening their doors to the public, but Pilgrim’s Pride graciously welcomed the group to tour its processing facility in Cumnock, near Sanford. Pilgrim’s Pride exports chicken products to customers in approximately 105 countries. With 25 fresh processing plants in the United States, it has the capacity to process more than 36 million birds per week for a total of more than 9.5 billion pounds of live chicken annually.

After donning the necessary protective garments to enter the processing plant, the group was introduced to CALS senior Melissa Achterman, who spent her summer interning with Pilgrim’s Pride and learning about poultry manufacturing plant management. The hiring of student interns reaffirms the partnership between the state’s agricultural industry and N.C. State.

The Dean’s Tour was begun last year by Linton based on his own experience with a similar tour at Purdue University. Linton calls that tour “the most important activity I ever did as a new faculty member.” The CALS participants have expressed similar enthusiasm.

The group sets off during the "very productive two days." Linton plans to host another tour in 2015.
The group sets off during the “very productive two days.” Linton plans to host another tour in 2015.

Upon returning to Raleigh, Williams said, “This was a very productive two days. It was very good to have the time with colleagues to discuss the future direction of the College.”

And although the group’s time together was short, “it was a great way for me to get to know nearly all of the department heads in CALS,” said Dr. Michael Vepraskas, interim head of the Department of Soil Science.

Added Dr. Eric Davis, head of the Department of Plant Pathology, said, “The tour provided a comfortable and open format to promote communication among the participants and a unique learning environment.”

Linton plans to hold tour No. 3 in 2015. That should be good news to first-year participant Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky, CALS food scientist at the Plants for Human Health Institute in Kannapolis, who had asked, “Are there still spaces left on this year’s tour?” – Janine Brumfield