Organics Provide Hope for College Agriculture Programs

Just over a month ago, we took note of Washington State University's announcement of its new major in Organic Agriculture. The program's attracting students quickly, with one scheduled to graduate this Fall, and administrators in the University's agricultural college believe the program and others like it could stem the tide of rapidly decreasing interest in agriculture as a college major and career choice:

American agriculture is facing a demographic problem, said Rick Routh, interim director of the sustainable agriculture program at the University of California, Davis. The average farmer is around 55 years old.

"At the level of family-owned and -operated farms, we're getting to the level where people are getting close to retirement and aren't going to be replaced," Routh said.

Dan Bernardo, dean of WSU's College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, believes agriculture schools need to innovate in order to respond to those trends. He's championed programs to appeal to urban and suburban students — urban horticulture and landscaping.

"We are facing a consumer-driven agriculture," Bernardo said. "What this means is we're not just training farmers, we're training people to work at all levels of the food system. ... That's what this organic thing is about. The organic sector is the fastest-growing sector in the agricultural economy."

We're encouraged that Washington State, as well as Colorado State and Michigan State, see enough demand in organic agriculture to offer this option to their students. We also hope that many of these students go back to the farm and plug that demographic gap. While many will certainly find careers in the corporate sector, a rebirth of smaller, locally-focused organic farms will create the best of all possible situations for consumers, the environment, and the farmers themselves. ::Seattle Times via WorldChanging

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