NC State
Small Fruits

Our Team 2020-2021

From left to right: Back row: Emma Volk, Amanda Lay-Walters, Rania Hassan, Kiara McKenzie Perry, Kyle Freedman. Front row: Austin Wrenn, Mark Hoffmann, Sarah Barbee.

Team Lead: Dr. Mark Hoffmann

Areas of Expertise: Strawberry Production, Viticulture, Strawberry Propagation, Muscadine Production; Mark has a PhD and MS in Biology from University of Mainz, Germany. He has more than 10 years experience in viticulture and more than 7 years in strawberry production. Mark is main editor of several production guides, of more than 15 peer-reviewed publications, and currently the director of the Strawberry PIP-CAP project.

Strawberry PIP-CAP project

Program Coordinator: Lizeth Vigil, M.S.

Program Coordination and Administration. Lizeth has a M.S. in business administration and worked as high school administrator before joining our group in 2022. Lizeth helps us all to keep on track. She manages the Strawberry PIP-CAP project and helps with administrative tasks around research and graduate students.

Strawberry PIP-CAP project

Research Assistant and M.S. Student: Emma Volk

Thesis: Evaluation of weed and pathogen control of soil disinfestation with steam, CaO and Allyl-Isothiocyanate in strawberry. Emma is the good saint of the very berry lab. She earned a BS. in Sustainable Agriculture from Cornell University. She works as Research Assistant with us since 2019. In addition, she became a M.S. student in 2020. Emma is involved in strawberry and viticulture research projects and is also responsible to manage our indoor strawberry nursery.

Strawberry PIP-CAP project

Communication Assistant: Amanda Lewis

Amanda an undergraduate student at NCSU. After graduation, she wants to be involved in science communication. Amanda helps to organize extension events, write newsletter articles and coordinate extension related communication. She further is the hear and soul of our social media accounts (Twitter and Instagram)

PhD-Student: Kyle Freedman

Thesis: Developing Precise Indoor Vine Conditioning (PIVC) protocols. In collaboration with Ricardo Hernandez and Cristian Collado, NCSU. Kyle has a B.S in Philosophy from UNC Chapel Hill, and a M.S. in International Agriculture Development from UC Davis. He worked for several years as project manager in international agriculture in projects in South America and Africa, before he joined us in 2021. Kyle is focusing on a proof of concept study to develop grape transplants for a potential annual grape production system.

PhD-Student: Michael Palmer (starting August 2022)

Thesis: Development, conditioning and evaluation of 250cc strawberry tray plants for strawberry greenhouse production. Michael graduated with a B.S. from CalPoly San Luis Obispo, where he worked on strawberry production related issues at the California Strawberry Center. He worked as an Agronomist in California before he joins our group, starting in August 2022. Michael will be working as PhD student on the strawberry PIP-CAP project.

Strawberry PIP-CAP project

M.S.-Student: Joy Johnston (starting August 2022)

Thesis: Evaluation of strawberry cultivars in greenhouse production and field environments. Joy has graduated with a B.S. in Horticultural Science from Michigan State University. Joy's goal is to become a breeder. She will focus on the evaluation of plant and fruit traits related to different strawberry genotypes in greenhouse and field production, setting the ground work for a successful breeding career in fruit crops.

MHS Student: Austin Wrenn

Thesis: Substrate based performance of strawberry cultivars in greenhouse growing systems. Austin is a friend of the very berry lab since it's beginnings. He worked with us as Technician in 2017, and decided to become a half-time master student in 2020. Austin graduated with a BS in AgEconomics from NCSU. However, first and foremost Austin is a farmer at heart, an absolute wizard in strawberry greenhouse production, and the president of the NC Strawberry Association. The very berry lab is very fortunate to have him around, and he has become an integral part of our lab culture.

Undergraduate Research Assistant: Sarah Barbee

Sarah works on Pythium Assays, Soil Nitrogen assessments, strawberry runner tip development and a lot more! Sarah is an undergraduate in Biology at NCSU. She joined us in 2020. She has become the glue that keeps people connected and everyone enjoys working with her!

Undergraduate Research Assistant: Caleb Stephenson

Caleb works on indoor vine growing systems, Nitrogen assessment in soil and any viticulture related questions. Caleb is an undergraduate in Horticultural Science at NCSU. He previously worked with Phyllatech, a start-up company here in NC. Caleb is striving for a career in Horticulture. He joined our lab early 2022, and learns everything about viticulture in the very berry lab.

ASPIRE Summer Intern: Leah Guercio

Leah is our 2022 Aspire Intern: Her project focuses on rooting behavior of grapevines and strawberry runners in controlled environments. Leah Guercio is a rising junior at NC State double majoring in Agroecology and Spanish with a minor in Horticulture. She is expected to graduate spring of 2024 with two degrees as part of the Thomas Jefferson Scholars, a dual-degree program at NC State between the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Her long-term goal is to work with farmers in Latin America to implement more sustainable farming practices. Though she is originally from Charlotte, NC, she has enjoyed living and learning in Raleigh since coming to campus and is looking forward to interning in the Berry Lab this summer as part of the ASPIRE internship with the Center for Environmental Farms Systems (CEFS).


2019-2021: Amanda Lay-Walters (Write Amanda an email). Amanda investigated pre-plant fertilizer rates and Nitrogen availability in strawberry production for her M.S. in our lab. She did continue her path to investigate small fruit fertility in blackberries as PhD student at the University of Arkansas.

2018-2021: Rania Hassan. Rania was our outreach assistant for almost 3 years. Since August 2021, she works as Communication Assistant to governor Coopers team.

2021: Kiara McKenzie-Perry. Kiara was a ASPIRE intern in our group in summer 2021 and assessed on root development of grapevine rootstocks under supplemental lights. Kiara is currently a senior honors sustainable land and food systems student at NC A&T.

2018-2020: Xiaonan Shi (Write Xiaonan an email). Xiaonan did graduate with an M.S. (Master Thesis) in June 2020 from our program. She achieved a B.S. in Horticulture in 2018 from the China Agriculture University in Beijing, one of the top 20 agriculture universities in the world. Xiaonan is currently pursuing a PhD in the controlled environments research group at NC State.

2018 – 2020: Tekan Rana. Tekan joined our team in August 2018 and graduated in December 2020 with an MHS. He currently pursues a PhD at NC A&T in Greensboro, NC.

2017- 2019: Owen Washam. Owen was the ‘good saint’ and the cornerstone of our laboratories for more than two years. Owen just recently finished his M.S. in the Silva lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

2018: Abby Whitaker. Abby worked in our group as a full time technician in summer 2018. Today, she brings value to the NC Extension Service and to the Asheville area as area wide agent for livestock and forage.




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