CAHS’ Specialty Crops Program is the Definition of “Service”

October 2, 2017

If you haven’t taken a ride through Prairie View A&M University’s farm lately, you’re missing out on something special – the College of Agriculture and Human Sciences’ (CAHS) Specialty Crops Program. “The goal of this project is to help Texas’ small farmers diversify their farm operations, and improve their incomes and livelihoods,” said Dr. Peter Ampim, a research scientist in the CAHS who leads the project. “We started the program earlier this year, and we are really excited about it.”

So, here’s how the Specialty Crops Program works:

PVAMU researchers come up with a list of high value and highly nutritious fruits, vegetables, root crops, and herbs that aren’t typically grown in the state of Texas. “Right now, we are working with the fruits Pepino melon, goji berry, and honey berry; vegetables Malabar spinach, Egyptian spinach, purslane, vegetable amaranth, and grafted cucumber; root crop cocoyam; and herb epazote (Mexican tea),” said Ampim. “A large portion of our highly diverse urban population in Texas consumes these items.”

Researchers within CAHS then work with students to develop the best research-based methods for growing the crops in Texas’ unique climate. Last, but not least, PVAMU’s Cooperative Extension Program identifies farmers in US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Strike Force Counties, or counties that have persistent poverty, who can best benefit from the program. “Chosen farmers are provided with hands-on training covering topics such as farm planning, development, and diversification, as well as production of the crops,” said Ampim. “What many people don’t realize is that with the more common crops, like corn, grown here, you typically need heavy equipment and machinery and sizeable capital to be successful. But, with these specialty crops, any small farmer, with the right training, can grow them and profit from them using small equipment and hand tools.”

The Specialty Crops Program is funded by a USDA-NIFA Capacity Building Grant and is ongoing on the university’s farm.

By Marchita Shilo