Viticulture, vermiculture, apiculture, mycology, season extension and helix design wind system. This is not your grandfather’s farm — it’s the GreenZone at Robeson Community College.
You may recall that several years ago North Carolina established the BioNetwork among the state’s community colleges using funds from the tobacco settlement. The purpose of the BioNetwork was to spur research in jobs of the future to offset losses from the dying tobacco industry. The BioNetwork was also tasked with developing those jobs and training people to fill them. RCC was selected as the lead institution for the BioAg component of the BioNetwork and has been quietly working to fulfill this mission.
The public will get a chance to see the BioAg center in action on Friday with the grand opening of RCC’s GreenZone. Ed Hunt, Curriculum Coordinator for RCC’s BioNetwork BioAg Center, has been busier than a bee putting together the various components of the GreenZone.
Ask Ed what the GreenZone is and he will tell you that it is a live teaching lab with a lot of stations that focus on sustainability in two areas — agriculture and energy.
Agriculture sustainability means replacing the declining tobacco industry with products and processes that meet the needs of today’s market. To this end, RCC’s GreenZone constructed a greenhouse to experiment with season extension and to discover crops that can be grown and used locally. Season extension can also be accomplished with the use of raised bed covers and row covers.
Demand for products that are difficult to purchase locally is growing. Mushrooms provide one example. Mycology, raising mushrooms as an alternative crop, has attracted some interest in the region. Ed currently has shiitake, maitake, golden oyster and gray dove mushrooms growing in the greenhouse.
Most Robesonians know that viticulture is a growing business in the area, though they may not know it by that name. Viticulture is the science of growing grapes for the purpose of winemaking, an industry that has burgeoned in North Carolina over the past couple of decades. RCC’s BioAg center has been offering winemaking classes for some time now.
Apiculture focuses on maintaining hives and growing the bee population that is vital to the pollination of most crops. RCC hosted a statewide beekeepers meeting this past summer as part of the BioAg program.
The search for safer, more environmentally friendly methods of nourishing plant life led Hunt to experiment with vermiculture in the GreenZone. Vermiculture involves the use of worm beds to convert waste products into usable, natural and safe nutrients to promote plant growth.
Future projects include the installation of a geothermal system to heat the greenhouse. In addition to supplying heat, this system will also supply water irrigation. Research is currently being done to determine the feasibility of installing a Helix design wind system. Solar, geothermal and wind systems are all emerging sustainable energy sources. Continued technological advances and improved efficiencies should allow these cleaner, renewable sources of energy to reduce our dependence on older fossil fuel and nuclear sources.
To learn more about the BioAg Center and the GreenZone at RCC, visit the open house on Friday or contact Jennifer Hickman at email@example.com.
To learn more about North Carolina’s BioNetwork Centers go to www.ncbionetwork.org.
Dennis Watts is the Public Information officer at Robeson Community College. If you have questions about RCC or suggestions for future articles, he can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.