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Sustainable Farming Goes to College

  • Shelley Gollust

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Many colleges and universities in the United States provide education in agriculture. But only a few schools offer experience in traditional hands-on field work in addition to classes. Sustainable agriculture is a major goal at these colleges. They teach the need for farming to improve the environment and make good use of natural resources.
Students grow organic food and use aslittle fossil fuels and chemicals as possible. Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vermont is one of the colleges that supports sustainable agriculture. Students produce some of their own food. They prepare the soil for planting with their hands or simple tools. They do not use much big machinery that uses gasoline.

This month, students are making their own sugar and maple syrup. After liquid sap is taken from sugar maple trees, it goes to a sugarhouse where the sap is boiled. Students built the sugar-house. The college farm has solar-powered barns, gardens, fruit trees, greenhouses and animals. Sterling College President Will Wootton says the school's Sustainable Agriculture Program includes pay for farm jobs. The money reduces the cost of the students' education. The students care for steers, oxen, chickens, a turkey, goats and sheep. A pig and a guard llama also live on the farm.

Goshen College in Wolf Lake, Indiana is another college teaching sustainable agriculture. In June, students at the Agroecology Summer Intensive Program begin taking courses like Introduction to Soils. Agroecology examines the connection between agricultural
crops and the environment.

At the same time, Goshen students start nine weeks of workon the college's farm. They will plant crops like collard greens, kale, tomatoes, lettuce and eggplant. They will mix leaves, animal waste and food waste from the college's kitchens to make compost. The students use the mixture to fertilize the soil instead of buying chemical fertilizers that could harm the environment.

Professor Dale Hess directs Goshen College's Environmental Education Collegiate Program. Professor Hess says a major value of sustainable agriculture is making good use of what you have. He says knowing how to do this may be especially valuable if fossil fuel should become unavailable. Professor Hess says food security is national security.

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