January 7, 2013

Grant enables Kennebec Valley Community College to offer sustainable agriculture program

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD -- One year after acquiring a farm as part of a 700-acre expansion, Kennebec Valley Community College announced Monday that a grant will help the school offer the first two-year sustainable agricultural degree in the state.

The college announced it was awarded a $100,000 grant from Jane's Trust, a charitable foundation established in 2002. The money will be used to hire a farm manager and buy equipment needed to work the land, including a tractor.

The college's applied science degree in sustainable agriculture would be the first active program at its new Harold Alfond Campus, and also the first such program in the state.

Andrew Marshall, director of education at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said the program is needed to meet an expanding marketplace and a population of people who want to farm for a living but lack the practical experience to do so.

"Most of these folks haven't grown up on farms because there's so few farms left, so their needs are a little bit different than the farm kid who is going back to school," Marshall said.

He said that many of those who are seeking to farm are well-educated and want to farm because of their environmental or social activist views.

He said the degree will serve a growing demand in Maine for locally grown foods.

The college bought a 120-acre farm last January as part of a larger land deal from the former Good Will-Hinckley school on U.S. Route 201.

The college also plans to upgrade the farm buildings and build a visitors center on the Alfond campus.

The farm, which includes about 20 acres of fields and 90 acres of pasture and hayfields, would be used to teach students how to compete in Maine's $1.7 billion agricultural industry.

Marshall said that the college is well positioned to offer the degree because of the farming infrastructure on the property and its tradition of vocational instruction.

The program will not only teach students innovative farming techniques but will also include information on marketing techniques, food safety and protecting public health.

Jonathan Humphrey, a spokesman for the college, said administrators hope to attract between 18 and 24 students to the program for an inaugural offering this fall. The $100,000 grant will not fully fund the program but has allowed the college to begin implementing plans for the fall timetable, he said.

Students in the program will attend for five semesters, including a summer semester at the farm or a local agricultural business, over the course of the two years.

A program description provided by the college said the curriculum includes classes in soil, plant and animal science, crop production, integrated pest management, farm infrastructure and sustainable livestock management.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287

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