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Central State lands $10M grant to study sustainable agriculture systems

CESTA Student.jpg
Central State University
A student works in a lab at Central State University's College of Engineering, Science, Technology, and Agriculture.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding Central State University in Wilberforce a $10 million grant to research the potential of hemp to address certain food safety and sustainability issues.

The award is part of $146 million the USDA is handing out to boost sustainable agriculture systems (SAS). Central State is the only university in Ohio and only historically Black college or university (HBCU) to receive an SAS grant, according to a release.

Over five years, the project will explore how hemp might be used as an aquaculture feed ingredient to deal with food safety issues related to eating seafood raised with hemp feed additives. Researchers will look for ways to increase economic markets and production sustainability for seafood and hemp.

"This project is my heart and soul," says Brandy E. Phipps, Ph.D., research assistant professor of food, nutrition and health at Central State who wrote the grant and serves as the principle investigator.

She points to systemic structures that have led to Black, Latinx and Native Americans having some of the worst health outcomes.

"If we are going to address health outcomes in a way that's sustainable and truly meets the needs - especially of those who have been historically disadvantaged - then we have to do it in a holistic way. We have to be able to say 'These are the foods that are going to contribute to health.' "

She says that means going beyond just teaching people about food, but giving them access and sovereignty over their food choices.

"It's going into a community (and) forming real, lasting partnerships that say 'Tell me what you need and how can I utilize and leverage my privilege and my resources to come alongside you and amplify that and help you accomplish your goals toward your own food sovereignty and health outcomes.' "

Dr. Brandy Phipps.jpg
Central State University
Brandy E. Phipps, Ph.D. is the principle investigator on the project.

The project includes partnerships with College of Menominee Nation, Kentucky State University, University of Delaware, University of Kentucky and Mississippi State University

Phipps notes the project will provide training and degrees for African American and Native American students in the agriSTEM fields where they aren't well represented. New certificate programs will be created in hemp production and aquaculture fields. Community members will also be able to earn those certificates. Part of the agreement means students at College of Menominee Nation - primarily a two-year Tribal college - can also earn four year bachelor's degrees in various agricultural-related fields.

"They can then hopefully take that - those skill sets and those degrees - back to their community and build those communities in that way as well," Phipps says.

She says the goal in five years it to "show that hemp can be used safely as a seed for aquaculture, which would lead to the potential for increasing markets for both hemp grain as well as aquaculture production in a way that's environmentally sustainable. ... We would have a whole lot more African American and Native American graduates and agriSTEM. We're going to diversify the workforce. Hopefully, we're going to have new local producers in the communities that we're working with."

She also would like to see the program be a model for other institutions.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.