A certificate program in Sustainable Food Production is one of the newest things being grown at Spoon River College.
Inspired by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and his own childhood memories of working with his grandfather on the family’s Missouri farm, Ag education instructor Jeff Bash has created a “training center” – two acres at the Canton Campus planted with a variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers – to supplement the classroom component of the program. Chickens also roam on those two acres, naturally fertilizing the ground, providing eggs for sale, and on occasion being sacrificed for the dinner table.
I think the demand for local food is slowly changing the culture; people are starting to think more about where their food comes from.
“The garden is the place for aspiring farmers to get hands-on experience as they learn how to create a farm operation that can provide fresh, locally grown foods as well as an income on much less acreage than the typical family or corporate farm,” said Bash, adding that produce from the SRC garden is sold to College employees, at the Canton Farmer’s Market, and to several local businesses.
The certificate can be completed in one year, and offers a mix of classes from the ag curriculum along with small business management courses. Students learn everything from preparing the soil for planting to pricing, marketing, and selling their harvest.
New Opportunities in Farming
Bash believes there are opportunities for young people in farming, a belief that was reinforced by USDA secretary Tom Vilsack, who recently said, “Skyrocketing consumer demand for local and regional food is an economic opportunity for America’s farmers and ranchers,” and noted that the success of the movement was a mix of “entrepreneurship, sound business sense, and a desire for social impact.”
“I think the demand for local food is slowly changing the culture; people are starting to think more about where their food comes from. I want to be part of this movement,” said Bash, who likes to remind people that “food doesn’t really come from a grocery store.”
Spoon River College also offers a certificate in Natural Resources and Conservation, and an Associate in Applied Science degree. Regardless of the path a student chooses, the College’s 160 acres provides plenty of hands-on land management skills. Students also gain employment skills by working with local agriculture businesses during a paid eight-week internship. Career options available include farming, research, sales, conservation, and park/wildlife management.