Vermont Tech Announces Vision for Future “Center for Agriculture & Food Entrepreneurship”

21 Feb 2022

Vermont Technical College (VTC) builds on its 120-year history of educating Vermont’s farmers and food system workers with the announcement of a new Center for Agriculture & Food Entrepreneurship, set to open as early as the fall of 2023 at Vermont State University. The vision for the center aligns with Vermont’s agricultural future and ever-evolving local and regional food system. Students can expect expanded educational degrees offered in a variety of modalities (on-campus, virtual, and hybrid) as well as a robust internship program.

The centerpiece of the program will be an Associate Degree in Agriculture & Food Entrepreneurship, with concentrations in either Agriculture & Livestock Production or Food Entrepreneurship. Students may choose to go on to complete a bachelor’s degree in either Diversified Agriculture, or another degree offered at Vermont State University. The Dairy Farm Management Degree with a pathway to the University of Vermont will remain in place. Vermont’s dairy farms still generate approximately 70% of the State’s agricultural sales and utilize over 80% of its working land.

The new center comes at a critical time for Vermont’s farm and food sector which employs more than 64,000 Vermonters and supports more than 11,500 private sector farm and food enterprises (2019). Combined, these enterprises generate more than $11.3 billion in economic output annually (2017). Concurrently, local food consumption has increased over the past 10 years and represents more than $412 million in annual sales (2020). Growing interest from people wanting to enter the business of diversified, livestock or regenerative farming, brewing, meat curing, and other value-added products, has necessitated a new approach to education and training. Vermont Future of Agriculture Commission Action Plan recently noted that “times change, and Vermont food and agriculture needs to grow, attract new and diverse farmers and workers, and adapt.”

“Vermont’s production agriculture and value-added food businesses must have the skills and market savvy to successfully adapt to a shifting marketplace, whether locally, regionally, or nationally,” said Patricia Moulton, president at VTC. “We are changing so that we may continue to play a vital role in educating and training the next generation of bright, innovative farmers, food workers, and food entrepreneurs.”

The new programming comes as a result of a 20-month process to re-envision the agriculture and food educational degree programs and to re-design and modernize the campus farm at VTC. A group of more than 40 Vermonters, including alumni, farm and food producers, education professionals from other Vermont institutions as well as leaders in government, business, and the nonprofit sectors, engaged in the planning process.

“This is an exciting time to realign agriculture education programs with the future of agriculture in Vermont and all of its diversity and new opportunities,” said Meg Nelson at Nelson Farms and Shadagee Farm. “As a farmer in Vermont in both dairy and other agricultural enterprises, we need to have graduates educated with more diverse skills. The emphasis on entrepreneurism is exciting to see as well.”

The transformation process will also involve changes to the VTC Farm, which serves as a working laboratory to complement classroom-based learning. Planned changes include updating the farm facilities and launching new enterprises, including custom dairy heifer grazing, deep bedded hogs, vegetables, grass-fed beef, alongside the existing apple orchard and maple sugaring operations. These enterprises will give students real world experience in production, marketing, and sales of a wide range of products.

Also planned is a meat processing training lab and program, which will support credit, non-credit, and apprenticeship opportunities, serving as a workforce training program for meat processing facilities and supermarkets.

To enable a focus of time and resources on the program’s redesign, VTC has chosen to pause admissions to its current agricultural programs as it prepares the facilities and curriculum for the launch of the new programs, center, and operations. Current students will be engaged in their programs until their respective graduations.

To support the development of the new Center for Agriculture & Food Entrepreneurship at Vermont State University, please visit our donation page, or learn more on our Agricultural and Food System Education Transformation web page.