On August 9, 2022, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo announced that the Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) would award a $1.2 million grant to Vermont Technical College to expand the college’s agricultural workforce development and entrepreneurship training programs. This grant is funded by the American Rescue Plan and will support the establishment of agricultural and food entrepreneurship coursework designed to spur innovation and train the next generation of farmers, food workers, and food entrepreneurs. The EDA grant will be matched with $314,775 in local funds and is expected to create 690 jobs, according to grantee estimates.
“The Biden-Harris Administration applauds community-led efforts to grow regional economies,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “This EDA investment will support workforce development efforts designed to spur innovation, fill job vacancies and graduate the next generation of agricultural entrepreneurs.”
“This funding will provide vital support for keeping agricultural land in production and for educating young and beginning agricultural entrepreneurs,” said Senator Patrick Leahy. “For many years, agricultural businesses and organizations in Vermont have struggled to find staff to meet the sector’s growing workforce needs. This investment in Vermont Technical College will create jobs and strengthen our rural economies.”
“When I visited VTC last summer to talk about workforce challenges, we spoke about how important funding like this is to support their plans to grow and develop our workforce,” said Congressman Peter Welch (VT-01). “VTC has demonstrated incredible commitment to expanding opportunities for Vermont’s workers and employers, and I’m thrilled they’ll receive this additional support from EDA.”
In May 2022, Vermont Technical College announced plans for a new Center for Agriculture and Food Entrepreneurship set to launch in late 2023 under the auspices of the new Vermont State University. The Center will provide students with 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 2+2 program at University of Vermont will remain in place. Other educational learning opportunities will include an expansion of the Vermont Technical College farm, which serves as a working laboratory to complement classroom-based learning. Planned changes include updating the greenhouses, 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. 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 for both matriculating and continuing education students.
“This funding will enable Vermont Technical College and the forthcoming Vermont State University to bring our shared vision for our agricultural education to life,” said Parwinder Grewal, PhD, president at Vermont Technical College and inaugural president of Vermont State University. “The grant will allow us to build upon our current programs and expand to new programs in diversified agriculture and food systems. It will also enable us to address programming, staffing student services, internships, and other elements of our new Center. We believe our new offerings will not only be of great interest and benefit to Vermonters but will attract students from across New England and the Northeast.”
Starting in 2020, Vermont Technical College engaged in 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. “Both Vermont’s and New England’s farms and food system businesses are expanding and are in need of more workers and the next generation to take over. Vermont Tech’s applied, hands-on education is a key asset to our region and those graduating from the new Center will play a major role in helping expand local and regional food production so that our food system can be more resilient in the face of climate change and future pandemics,” said Ellen Kahler, executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, and one of the volunteers involved in the re-envisioning effort.