ASU lands $300,000 grant to improve nutrition, alleviate food insecurity with garden, tech

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Charles Gibbs, of The Propel Center, from left, Alabama State University President Quinton Ross and, assistant professor of Biology Michelle Samuel-Foo during an Impact Grant presentation on the ASU campus in Montgomery, Ala., on Friday January 21, 2022.
Charles Gibbs, of The Propel Center, from left, Alabama State University President Quinton Ross and, assistant professor of Biology Michelle Samuel-Foo during an Impact Grant presentation on the ASU campus in Montgomery, Ala., on Friday January 21, 2022.

Audryana Stokes, an undergraduate student at Alabama State University, said that working in the garden at ASU gave her the confidence to start her own home garden.

Stokes had some gardening experience, but she didn't know much about the science behind soil temperature and other conditions that affect the health of her plants. At the university garden and now at home, she is applying what she's learned.

That's just the kind of impact Dr. Michelle Samuel-Foo, Assistant Professor of Biology at Alabama State University, has worked to build at the garden, which sits on a half-acre of university land near the edge of campus and provides fresh food to Alabama State University students.

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Now the garden will grow in new ways. Propel HBCU Consortium announced Friday it will provide a $300,000 grant to help support agricultural studies at the school. Samuel-Foo, who joined the faculty in 2008, wrote the grant proposal to better integrate AgriTech and limit food insecurity for Alabama State University students.

The grant will pay for $100,000 worth of Apple products, and the team is developing an iOS-based app that can scan QR codes on the plants, Samuel-Foo said. Garden visitors will be able to get nutritional information about the plant they scan, as well as simple recipes that incorporate the crop.

Samuel-Foo said her interest in students’ food insecurity emerged from a 2019 Temple University study that found almost 40% of two- and four-year degree students suffered from food insecurity.

The garden has allowed Samuel-Foo to address the needs of her students who struggle with food insecurity and also encourage better eating habits and provide fresh food for other Alabama State University students.

Because of its association with field labor, agricultural studies haven't been a big draw for many Historically Black College and University students, Samuel-Foo said. But the studies open many other doors, allowing students to become scientists or work with the United Nations or U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“So initially, there was some hesitation,” Samuel-Foo said about students’ initial reactions to the garden. “But, once students volunteered that initial time, we had students that even after they graduated come back wanting to be involved in the garden. They're definitely excited and we're happy for them.”

Dr. Charles Gibb of the Propel Center said Samuel-Foo's proposal was in line with the Propel Center’s goal of supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Gibb brought out an oversized check to award Alabama State University and called it a “small token of our appreciation.”

“If this is small, I do want to know what big is,” said Dr. Quinton Ross, Jr., President of Alabama State University.

Jemma Stephenson is the children and education reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser. She can be reached at jstephenson@gannett.com or 334-261-1569.

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Propel HBCU Consortium awards ASU $300,000 grant for agriculture study

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