Monday, April 20, 2009

Sustainable agriculture - putting ideas to work

Have you been listening to Richard Heinberg and Sharon Astyk's call for a nation of farmers - a renaissance of smallholdings using organic and sustainable agriculture? Have you been yearning to find a new profession, one where you grow nutritious food without degrading the earth? Perhaps you have, but you've encountered barriers. A major one is not knowing where to start - you can read all the books you want, but when it comes down to buying land, investing in farm equipment, and choosing your crops, you want to make the right choices the first time.

Help is here! Oklahoma State University - OKC recently announced a timely new horticulture program, an Associates Degree called Sustainable Crops Production. The program is targeted to people who want to sell food through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Farmer's Markets, Food Cooperatives, or directly to restaurants. The program covers topics related to organic/sustainable agriculture, such as managing crops without pesticides, soil fertility, choosing crops that grow well AND will sell well, legal and regulatory requirements, and season extension. Classes also cover the day-to-day practical aspects of food sales like food safety, packaging and labeling, and post-harvest handling.

I spoke with the Head of OSU's Horticultural Department, Julia Laughlin, about the program. She described the courses as being very hands-on / action-oriented, with lots of farm tours, as well as paid farm internships. One of the goals of the program is to eliminate the troubleshooting and trial-and-error process for new farmers/market gardeners, which reduces costs of mistakes and helps students get up and running quickly with their new ventures.

Oklahoma residents pay $96.30 per tuition credit hour at OSU-OKC. The Associates Degree is 61 credit hours, for a total cost of $5874 (my calculations only - not guaranteed!), not including fees, books, room, board, etc. Julia mentioned that OSU-OKC also has a new "Buy 2 Get 1 semester free" tuition waiver program for degree-seeking students, which could cut down costs considerably.

There are three courses being offered that are specific to sustainable food: Sustainable Horticultural Practices, Market Gardening in Fall and Winter, and Market Gardening in Spring and Summer. These are integrated into the OSU's Associate in Applied Science Degree - Sustainable Emphasis. Classes can be taken for credit or non-credit.

Of course, if you are an experienced gardener who wants some specific information about growing, marketing and selling food sustainably, or some time with knowledgeable instructors who can answer questions, you might just take the three Sustainable Practices and Market Gardening courses - 9 hours for $864. Not bad for the education to start a new business, prevent costly mistakes, and help guide your choices.

I asked Adam Carpenter, one of the Sustainable Agriculture program students, his opinion about the program. According to Adam, one of the best features of the classes is the farm tours. The farmers are quick to point out what has not worked for them, as well as what HAS worked. This type of local advice is priceless.

By the way, Adam has already started a CSA and is now taking clients. If you are looking for a Community Supported Agriculture share in the OKC metro area, you might call Adam Carpenter of Urban Farm at 625-2300. He is currently accepting customers and will be starting delivery/pickup service of his local whole foods in June.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the inspiration, I've got to get off the computer and back out to the gardens. The food revolution has begun.

Alison Kerr said...

Johnson County Community College in Kansas also offer a Sustainable Agriculture Entrepreneurship Certificate.

I recently interviewed Rhonda R Janke, author of the book Farming in the Dark about the future of sustainable agriculture: The Future of Sustainable Agriculture.

I'm off to dig and plant seeds :-)

BOG said...

Nearly everyone can also landscape with edibles if they're interested.