Getting the Degree

Where would you go to college if you wanted to become an organic farmer?

There’s a lot to be said for the “school of hard knocks” and experience from which most of the world’s farmers graduate in order to become successful. The rare individual who grows up on a family farm is raised to appreciate the work ethic and practical savvy it takes to run a farm business. At the same time, the intimate knowledge of the hard labor and long hours that it takes to farm successfully often turns farm kids toward other careers. Rural America can also hold less attraction for many young people who prefer to live in thriving urban areas and enjoy an array of cultural opportunities.

Still, students are signing up to study agriculture in greater numbers at U.S. colleges and universities. Enrollment in college ag programs has seen an overall increase of 14 percent at non-land-grant colleges and 8.5 percent at the land-grants over the past nine years. Clearly, more young people want formal training in farming. But organic agriculture has not typically been in the curriculum—until recently.

Ten years ago, there weren’t many choices for a student who wanted to go to college and study organic farming. Now, it is possible to major in organic agriculture. A broad array of other educational options exists for those seeking an agricultural career outside the conventional mainstream.

In our recent edition of Certified Organic magazine, we investigated the college-level ag training programs in California that reflect the state’s varied ag economy. On one end are long-established conventional ag colleges that offer students training in everything from rodeo and equestrian studies to conventional production agriculture and heavy equipment maintenance. But newer programs have sprung up that offer training in alternative agriculture systems, using varying terminology including sustainable agriculture, ecological horticulture, and “Alternative Food Production Methods.”

While each of the vibrant ag training programs in California deserves acknowledgment, the article profiles a taste of the types of programs available to college students today. Read the full article.

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