Rodrigues wins early career award for young professionals


An Auburn University assistant professor and Alabama Extension specialist earned an early career award for her research and extension work to address the needs of the local and regional fresh produce industry.

Camila Rodrigues — a researcher for the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station and an Alabama Extension specialty crop food safety specialist — received the John E. Hutchison Extension Award for Young Professionals at the 2024 annual meeting of the American Society for Horticultural Science – Southern Region.

“This was a tremendous honor for me, especially coming from the horticulture society,” Rodrigues said. “This is a prestigious recognition of my dedication, hard work and contributions to horticulture, but also a confirmation of the meaningful impact that I am making on our agriculture communities. This award only motivates me to continue striving for excellence and continue doing the work that I am doing.”

Rodrigues’ research program is focused on identifying potential sources of fresh produce contamination during producing and processing while implementing mitigation strategies to minimize risk of contamination on conventional, organic and soilless farming systems. She currently integrates research and extension efforts to address the needs of the fresh produce industry. Her work is especially vital in Alabama, where the fresh produce industry is lower in acreage than neighboring Georgia and Florida.

One of her first actions when joining Auburn and Alabama Extension in 2021 was to develop a food safety needs assessment for growers in Alabama. The survey indicated that access to a water testing laboratory for microbial quality assessment is a major hurdle for Alabama growers.

To address this, Rodrigues wrote and received a grant in 2022 from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries’ Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to develop and implement the AgWater Safety program, which provides free microbial water testing and technical support to produce growers in the state. It has also provided educational support about water quality to more than 2,000 growers.

The program received a Blue Ribbon Extension Communication Award at 2023 meeting of the American Society for Horticultural Science – Southern Region.

This is but one of the ways Rodrigues has made a mark through her research and extension efforts. She also works with small and disadvantaged farmers from the Black Belt region. Together with the Deep South Food Alliance and Tuskegee University, she has provided technical support and food safety education to these communities.

With the help of federally funded grants from USDA-NIFA and collaborative agreements — including one with the Local Food Safety Collaborative — she also helped deliver specialized food safety training to farmers with limited resources and disabilities by adapting curricula for growers with low vision, hearing or literacy.

“Dr. Rodrigues’ passion and dedication to the founding and enduring principles of the land-grant mission is evidenced through her expert, selfless service to specialty crop growers in Alabama,” said Desmond Layne, head of the Department of Horticulture. “Through her research and extension outreach programs, she is helping to identify and reduce risks to ensure that fresh produce grown in Alabama is as safe to consume as possible.”

Rodrigues said she makes an intentional effort to align her research program with her extension goals.

“It allows me to directly apply my research findings to real-world problems, significantly impacting the needs of our industry,” she said. “Also, it fosters collaboration and knowledge-sharing between researchers, educators and communities, leading to more effective solutions and innovations. And, for me, extension provides a sense of fulfillment by contributing to the betterment of society and empowering individuals and communities to address challenges and seize opportunities.”

Rodrigues was not the only honoree at the American Society for Horticultural Science – Southern Region annual meeting. Several graduate students also received awards, including:

  • Savannah Busby won first place and Erwin Burgos won third place in the oral 3-minute Thesis Competition at the Fruit Crops Working Group meeting,
  • Zoila Chevez won first place in the Graduate Student Poster Competition,
  • and Mackenzie Pennington won first place in the oral Norman F. Childers Graduate Student Paper Competition.

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Mar 7, 2024 | Horticulture, News

<p><a href="" target="_self">Kristen Bowman</a></p>

Kristen Bowman

Kristen Bowman is a communications and marketing specialist with the College of Agriculture. She received her bachelor's degree in journalism from Auburn University and loves reading and spending time with her husband and two children.

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