$900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation funds working on small urban farms in Washington State
Educating the next generation in sustainable, urban farming
By Rachel Webber, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences
Washington State University News
Jan 7, 2012
PULLMAN, Wash. – As green-collar jobs continue to emerge, a three-year $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation brings together Washington State University and several Puget Sound community colleges to support undergraduate students interested in pursuing educational opportunities in sustainable agriculture and working on small urban farms.
Edmonds Community College leads the SAgE (Sustainable Agriculture Education) collaborative project, which builds on a previous grant that successfully introduced a sustainable urban agriculture program to Seattle Central Community College, said Jason Niebler, project director and co-principal investigator on the NSF grant.
Part of the focus is to streamline transfer options from high school to two- and four-year colleges, including EdCC, SCCC, Skagit Valley College and WSU. As the collaboration extends throughout the Puget Sound, students also will dive into service-learning and internship programs.
“WSU is assisting in shaping what we are hoping will be a bioregional consortium of colleges making course agreements and funneling students who want to continue … into WSU programs, specifically the organic agriculture major,” Niebler said.
Considering that recent U.S. Department of Agriculture census data estimate the average Washington state farmer is 57 years old, the grant also helps address the challenge of educating the next generation of farmers about science-based methods for sustainable agriculture.
Community college students will have opportunities to work with WSU graduate students and faculty at WSU’s Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon. Field internships, with a production-based “seeds-to-sales” learning lab, will provide educational opportunities for students.
Through partnership with Viva Farms in the Skagit Valley, students will have the chance to sell their produce at roadside stands and farmers markets. Based on the Viva Farms incubator model, the grant will help establish a student farm in the Sammamish Valley near SCCC and EdCC.
The lab and field work will give community college students real-life experience while providing a taste of what their education could look like at a four-year university, said Brad Gaolach, co-principal investigator on the NSF grant and WSU Pierce County Extension director.
“Fundamentally, what changed my education and career path was something like SAgE,” Gaolach said. “Whether at a two-year or four-year college, the ability at an early career age or as an undergraduate to get hands-on practice is what makes a world class education face-to-face.”