As a leading private funder of organic research in the US, Clif Bar has been gifting endowments to land-grant institutions since 2015. Tuskegee is the first HBCU to receive an endowment and the 5th recipient of the company’s $10m programme to boost organic research.
Since founding 30 years ago, Clif Bar has championed sustainable agriculture, specifically organic practices. The company started its transition to organic ingredients in 2003, and to-date, has crafted more than 1.4 billion tons of the good stuff into its Clif, Clif Kid and Luna brands.
“At Clif, our purpose is to redesign the business of food for the benefit of health, equity and Earth, and supporting Tuskegee’s work to make organic more accessible and equitable is a meaningful way to deliver on that promise,” said Roma McCaig, senior VP of Impact & Communications at Clif Bar & Company.
“We are committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion and are proud to support Tuskegee's work that will help create a more inclusive future for organic farming.”
Strengthening the food system
Clif’s grant is being matched by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR), a non-profit organisation formed in the 2014 Farm Bill that matches federal funding from Congress with private funding to address challenges in food and agriculture.
“Organic farming research can assist producers in implementing sustainable soil health management practices, increase resilience to climate change and strengthen our food systems,” said Dr LaKisha Odom, FFAR scientific programme director and Tuskegee alumna.
“FFAR is proud to partner with Clif Bar to maximise investment in the advancement of organic agriculture and support equity in farming through this endowment to Tuskegee University.”
Breaking the glass ceiling
The $2m endowment from Clif Bar and FFAR aims to break that glass ceiling by supporting the work of CAENS’ Dr Joe K. Kpomblekou, Professor of Soil and Environmental Sciences, and Dr Franklin Quarcoo, Professor of Entemology.
Over the past three decades, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System reports that research at US Black land-grant universities has received less than $12.8bn compared to predominantly white counterparts.
This is compounded by the lack of regional and racial diversity in organic farming, according to the Rodale Institute. In fact, the latest US Census of Agriculture notes that only 0.5% of the 30,909 certified organic farmers in the US are Black-owned.
Founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee is renowned for its work in the agricultural field, including the contributions of George Washington Carver, one of the most prominent Black scientists of the early 20th Century.
While a professor at Tuskegee, Carver developed techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton. He wanted poor farmers to grow other crops – such as peanuts and sweet potatoes – as a source of income, as well as their own food, to improve their quality of life.
Today, the university has a centre for Plant Biotechnology Research, which is training scientists from around the world. It also houses one of the first NASA-funded centres to develop a technology for growing food in space during human space missions.
The award to Tuskegee will fund future opportunities and activities that increase the adoption of organic farming practices in the Southeast. It will also support the work by Dr Kpomblekou in developing a network of organic research among Southeast academic institutions, with a focus on HBCUs.
“Investing in an organic and equitable future for US farming and agriculture is imperative to advancing our food systems and ensuring broader access to organic food for all,” said Dr Kpomblekou.
“We are grateful to Clif Bar for their industry leadership and commitment to organic research and education, which will ultimately benefit not just Tuskegee University but inspire more Black leaders in organic farming.”