Celeste Brogdon: Developing Change
October 21, 2019
Celeste Brogdon grew up working in her family’s large vegetable garden. Every summer she helped her mother “put up” green beans, tomatoes, apple sauce and spaghetti sauce at the Glade Hill Community Cannery in Franklin County, Virginia. Since it opened in 1941, Celeste’s family has canned thousands of jars of vegetables and sauce, a job made easier because of the cannery.
Working with the NC Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL) reminds Celeste of those family cannery visits, so she feels at home in her role as Director of Development for the facility. Celeste is in charge of securing support for NCFIL as it is the cornerstone of NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Food Processing and Manufacturing Initiative. And she’s been engaged with NCFIL since the beginning.
In 2015, the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) and NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) conducted a feasibility study on Food Manufacturing as a potential economic driver for the state. By shipping produce outside of NC to be processed, the state was missing out on the value in processing—in making and packaging a product from NC-grown produce and selling it for a higher profit margin.
Governor Pat McCrory formed a Food Manufacturing Task Force with 26 members from different disciplines, including CALS Dean Richard Linton as chair and Lt. Governor Dan Forest, N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and then NC Department of Commerce Secretary John Skvarla as voting members, to investigate how North Carolina could take advantage of economic opportunities in food manufacturing. NCFIL was born from this taskforce.
Out of recommendations from the Task Force, hard funding was secured for a food processing innovation center. Funding sources included the State of North Carolina to support construction, operation and building; Castle & Cooke, founding partner of the NC Research Campus, to support building renovation; the Golden LEAF Foundation to support equipment purchases; and CALS to fund key positions. Celeste points out, “The variety of partners and perspectives is what made the project strong from the get-go.”
Celeste describes NCFIL as “a tremendous asset to the State” and the hire of Executive Director Bill Aimutis as “icing on the cake,” noting his inherent versatility due to many national and international roles and experiences. Access to Senior Food Scientist Cindy Calhoun and Pilot Plant Manager Tony Toby also benefits future users. Celeste says, “The brain trust users can rely on is as valuable as the building’s stainless steel.”
NCFIL’s overlap of cutting-edge equipment, professional experience and cGMP discipline in a Class A facility is simply impressive. And the fact NCFIL is a partnership between NC State, the NCDA&CS, the Economic Development Partnership of NC (EDPNC) and the NC Research Campus only strengthens the facility’s ability to deliver.
A CALS employee for seven years, Celeste loves to learn about the food industry from her colleagues at NCFIL. With an extensive background in Development, Celeste is an important member of the team committed to NCFIL’s success. Who knows? She may even team with NCFIL to develop her own spaghetti sauce one day.
“I feel like I will look back in 10 years, and the opening of NCFIL will be top of mind as when things really changed for food manufacturing in North Carolina.”