From liberal arts colleges to land-grant universities, sustainable agriculture is making its mark upon higher education. Not so much for growing organic food on campus, as it’s making an education in agriculture a desirable career pursuit again.
Hearing that enrollment in traditional agriculture studies stagnated back in 2008 doesn’t surprise me at all. Kids entering college that year had probably been exposed to the problems with GMOs throughout high school, if not longer. Consumer revolt against Roundup Ready food crops and mad science plant ‘breeding’ was already underway and picking up steam. The actual grocery store exodus from poor, urban neighborhoods was over or drawing to a conclusion.
Granted, the cash crop crash back in the ’80s didn’t do university agriculture programs any favors. Farmers fervently discouraged their kids from following their career path. Industry gobbled up many family farms in the wake of that crop price crash. I can count myself among those steered elsewhere because of “only a fool would take up farming” guidance. However, I still think that sheep is an excellent sustainable agriculture option. Not one part of the animal is waste, and their manure creates the most balanced analysis fertilizer of all livestock.
Sustainable Agriculture & Liberal Arts
A couple of years ago, we featured Paul Quinn College in Dallas in GCM’s Who’s Growing What Where. Turning the football field into an urban farm-saved the school from closing by increasing enrollment at this historically African-American college. Now I learn that farm has also increased student success. Even though this liberal arts college has no farming focus, sustainable agriculture changed students’ perspectives enough that graduation is up 262%. Still, the USDA lists their WE Over Me Farm under alternative sustainable agriculture. It now attracts young people who see an agricultural education as the path to changing what’s wrong with food today. Take Chandler Taylor-Henry, whose goal is landing a career in Big Food to correct its ills from the inside, rather than battling it from the outside. Smart thinking. Fight the devil on his own turf.
Sustainable Agriculture & Land-Grants
Though Monsanto and peers would love nothing better than for chemical bath farming to continue forever, the world has other ideas. A shift in programming is the only reason these agricultural specialist universities have seen an enrollment upswing of late. Academics often refer to it as Agroecology, which is spilling over into press and media coverage of sustainable farming. But it’s just a fancy word for sustainable agriculture education, which is now found at major US ag schools. Like consumers instigating change in the food system with their dollars, students have brought change to farming education. They’re only interested in pursuing studies in sustainable agriculture. So, the schools had no option but to follow suit, because shrinking enrollment can collapse the mightiest of alma maters. Paul Quinn College is an excellent example, with its history in education that stretches back to 1872. Of course, this change was not without challenge. The pesticides proponents at these land-grant universities presented roadblocks between student interests and study programs. The aging ag scientists who helped Big Ag chemical corps become what they are today are a shrinking lot. Younger faculty members have worked diligently at bringing sustainable agriculture education to the forefront.
It’s a National Thing
This isn’t isolated to ag schools in the states where organic farming has long prospered. Joining the University of Maine and California are some stalwart conventional farming schools. The tobacco industry’s foundation, North Carolina State University, and Texas A&M with its reputation of chemical innovation science are among them. So is corn belt, ruling Iowa State University. An education in sustainable agriculture is becoming available in more states as the years pass. Perhaps in the not so distant future, conventional farming will take second place to sustainable agriculture. It isn’t as outlandish as some may think. After all, once upon a time, all paint contained lead, “housewife” was most women’s career, and everyone used a phone wired to the wall. Nothing ever stays the same. Change is inevitable, especially when the crowd driving it grows to massive proportions. Images courtesy of Online Athens (UGA), Stockbridge School of Ag (UMass), and Goshen College (respectively).
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