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Vermont Tech poised to lead the world in farm-based education

Monday, November 25, 2013
Burlington Free Press
At Vermont Tech we’re proud of the fact we provide hands-on, farm-based educational programs in agriculture. By working directly with students on our farm, our faculty are able to see exactly what students know, and students learn exactly what they need to be successful. Direct application and hands-on learning are at the heart of our programs.

School farms are expensive to operate, however, for a number of reasons: they have trouble responding quickly to markets, their mission usually requires students to perform every labor-intensive task and students very often have many additional duties compared to private farms.

It’s our goal to provide world-class, practical education, while also operating a productive and successful farm that our students can learn from. Our state needs a vibrant, educational farm, and Vermont Tech is filling that niche through the new Institute for Applied Agriculture and Food Systems.

Vermont Tech received a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor last year to deliver short courses, designed to immediately improve employability in agricultural fields. In exchange for this work, Vermont Tech will receive money to invest in its farm infrastructure.

With these funds, we will be building a dairy and food processing plant, and are currently in the midst of constructing a state-of-the-art anaerobic digester. When these infrastructures are completed, we will have a complete food system: a lab in which students can study food production from dirt, to plant, to animal, to food processing, to dining hall, to waste handling, to methane digester, back to dirt. We are creating the full agricultural loop that our state’s economy depends on, right in Randolph Center at a career-supporting scale.

Our short, convenient courses will look at every aspect of the food system. This summer we plan to offer a series of food processing courses designed to teach farmers and aspiring farmers how to increase the profitability of Vermont-made food by processing it into cheese, yogurt, liquor, beer, sausage, honey products and more.

Each course will include food safety, science, production and cash flow analysis components. Every program will connect students with Vermont's best food entrepreneurs and all courses will work standing alone, built into master certificates or as part of larger degree programs.

Next fall, we will be teaching farm equipment courses in a similar fashion. We are actively inviting other agriculture educators to join us on our farm and in the classroom. We are in contact with University of Vermont extension, Vermont Law School and many of the great agriculture industry organizations within the state.

If we all pitch in together, we can have a place in our state where all aspects of food production, processing and management can be learned quickly and conveniently. Vermont already leads the world in farm-based food processing. Let's lead the world in farm-based education.