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TSU’s Small Farms Expo highlights state’s agricultural diversity and continuing expansion

Expo Farm
NASHVILLE – (TSU News Service) – From beekeeping in Franklin County to crop growing in Williamson County, and 4-H and adult agriculture in Bledsoe County, the 2014 Tennessee State University Small Farms Expo highlighted the diversity in the state’s vast agricultural industry.
Participation in the Expo (July 17th) also showcased the University’s outreach initiatives through its Cooperative Extension Program, now covering more than 50 counties across Tennessee.
“This yearly Expo and TSU’s extension effort really give farmers an opportunity to educate the public about what we are doing out there,” said John Ingle, a Franklin County cattle breeder, who was this year’s Small Farmer of the Year Award winner. “Consumers only see the beef but it takes a lot more effort to get it to their dining room tables.”
As seasoned farmers, producers and University researchers, faculty and staff engaged the nearly 400 visitors with various displays and exhibitions, school children – from elementary to high school – considered potential future farmers of America, also got the opportunity to learn about agriculture. 
Accompanied by chaperons and TSU staff, the children, who came in several busloads from the surrounding counties, took part in tours and educational workshops and hands-on activities including teamwork and leadership exercises, and demonstrations in alternative fuel production and technology.
“Coming here today was really eye-opening for me,” said future medical doctor Cierra Williams, a 10th grader from Murfreesboro, who wants to major in biology when she enters college.
Although Williams volunteers with the 4-H program in Rutherford County, through intermediate cooking and camp activities, she has never been on a farm before, and did not know TSU had a farm and a vast agricultural program.
“I am really excited to see this part of the university and to learn about these farm animals and plants,” she said.  “Even though we might not think about it now, the team-building and leadership exercises today could be very helpful in the future in job interviews and other career efforts.”
The Expo, held at the Agricultural Research and Education Center on the main campus, also featured research and discussions on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in corn croplands, enhancing sustainable production of bioenergy crops, pigeon pea production for limited resources farmers of Tennessee, and enhancing plant protection against fungal diseases and environmental stresses.
Workshops included organic vegetable production techniques, pesticide handling and safety, food preservation, new equipment technologies for small producers, and soil and plant tissue sampling, among others.
The highlight of the Expo was recognition of the state’s top four farmers for various awards. An overall winner was selected for the Small Farmer of the Year Award. That honor went to Ingle, of Cowan, Tenn., who promotes a 100-percent green technology in cattle breeding and beef production. He was first recognized for “Best Management Practices.”
The other three award winners were Chris Hampton, a beef cattle farmer in Celina, Tenn., “Innovative Marketing,” for better recordkeeping that helps to meet customers’ need; Leigh Funderburk, of Franklin, Tenn., “Innovative Marketing; and Billy McCraw, of Clarksville, Tennessee, who received the award for “Alternative Enterprise.”
In presenting the awards, Dr. Chandra Reddy, Dean of the College of Agriculture, assisted by University officials, and Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson, congratulated the honorees, and the institution and agency representatives for the support and cooperation in making the Expo a success.
“This could not have been possible without your partnership and cooperation,” Reddy told the packed luncheon on the TSU farm. He spoke about the “remarkable” growth in the college, especially its Extension program making special reference to head Expo organizer, Dr. Latif Lighari, Associate Dean for Extension, for “yet another” successful Expo.
Latif, who has headed the Expo since its inception 10 years ago, recognized his fellow organizers, the various farm managers and research leaders, small farmers, schools and students for their participation.
“Your input and participation made this event very successful,” Lighari said. “We thank you and especially the small farmers who are the lifeline of what we do.”
Other speakers included TSU Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Alisa Mosley; State Sen. Thelma Harper, State Rep. Harold Love Jr., Agriculture Commissioner Johnson; and Dr. Tim Cross, Dean of Extension at the University of Tennessee.
Other TSU partners, Expo organizers, and agencies and sponsors present were the Tennessee Farm Bureau, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Farm Service Agency, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency.

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