Entrepreneurship Ag Day broadens students’ plans
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (Jan. 1, 2018) — A number of graduate and undergraduate students gathered at Foran Hall here on the Cook campus of Rutgers University recently to discuss results of agriculture-related research projects they’ve undertaken.
Called Entrepreneurship Ag Day, the program is coordinated by Dr. Albert Ayeni, who has his mind and hands in specialty and exotic peppers and a number of other vegetable research projects at Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.
“I think everyone knows that one of the critical problems facing humanity is food,” Dr. Ayeni told a small crowd assembled in a lecture room at Foran Hall.
“How we are going to feed ourselves in coming years is a very important consideration and one that will require us to think outside the box,” Ayeni said, noting the annual Ag Entreneurship Day is now five years old.
“For me, there is a lot of joy to share many of own experiences with my students,” he said, noting students who presented talks were a mix of graduate and undergrad students at Rutgers SEBS.
“We’ll have to look at new ways of tending to things to meet the needs of the population that is coming in the next couple of years.”
Ayeni then introduced all of the various undergrad and grad student presenters, whose research projects included foods like tiger nuts, specialty peppers, hydroponic growing experiments and growing roselle.
In attendance was Dr. Don Kobayashi, the chairman of SEBS’ Department of Plant Biology. Ayeni credited him for his support of the annual seminar event.
The keynote speaker was a 2008 alumnus of SEBS at Rutgers, Michael Corragio of Flemington, who has based his start-up business building and maintaining plant-filled vertical indoor walls at Rutgers EcoComplex off Route 295 in Bordentown.
“He is a recent alumnus who has gone out there and made a difference, accomplished a lot and made life better using plants,” Ayeni said of Corragio, who majored in Landscape Design at SEBS.
“When you are an Ag entrepreneur, you may have to work 80 hours a week in your first few years,” Ayeni said, smiling, “but if you work hard enough, eventually you can work 40 hours per week; finally you can work just 10 hours per week,” if your start-up business is managed correctly, he pointed out to the amused audience.
Kobayashi credited Ayeni for being “the main driver of the EA program,” and said what all faculty and staff involved with it enjoy is the chance to bring together students from varying backgrounds to work on something that’s important in developing new agricultural products.
“We’re looking to expand this program in coming years,” Kobayashi noted, adding “the school is very proud of what Michael Corragio has achieved and it’s nice to see alumni like Michael who have done well for themselves.”
In addition to keynote speaker Corragio, who talked about launching his EcoWalls small business, a firm that designs and then maintains indoor vertical plant-filled walls, other speakers included graduate and under graduate students at SEBS. Others who offered multimedia and PowerPoint presentations. Here’s a sampling of the student projects.
• Adam Butrico, who offered a presentation based on his internship in hydroponics research at the Rutgers EcoComplex in Bordentown;
• Nolan Callahan, who offered a presentation on production and marketing of exotic peppers as ethnic markets for these foods grow in a culturally diverse place like New Jersey;
• Garibaldi Gonzalez, who offered a presentation on produce marketing;
• Cody Lin, who offered a talk on the impact of soil nutrients and how they benefit corps as well as the health and safety aspects of applying chemicals on farms;
• Maisarah Mokhtar offered a presentation on indoor hydroponics to grow better quality lettuce and other vegetables;
• Anish Pandian gave a presentation on okra production and marketing in New Jersey;
• Jennifer Paul delivered a presentation on the production of the grain known as amaranth; and
• Tianxin Wu, a grad student who interned at Rutgers Gardens and the New Brunswick Farmers markets and analyzed consumer trends.
Kobayashi said the plant biology department is working to integrate its various academic programs and courses of study with real world projects going on at the Rutgers Food Innovation Centers in Bridgeton and Piscataway.
“One of the things we want to do with this entrepreneurship Ag program is have students work in teams to research things that they can actually develop and sell,” Kobayashi said.
“We want to take it from farm to table with food and we want to provide that opportunity for students to learn the entire process,” he said.
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