• Vt Tech introduces new agriculture courses
     | March 07,2014

    RANDOLPH — Vermont Technical College is offering three new short-term agriculture programs in an effort to provide instruction in fields that need more workers and support students who are unsure whether a college experience is right for them.

    The new programs will cover cold-climate wine growing, sustainable vegetable production and diversified agriculture.

    “We worked really hard to have these courses taught by experts in the field,” said Chris Dutton, the college’s director of the Institute for Applied Agriculture and Food Systems.

    “Students will hear directly from people working in the field,” he said. “These courses are designed to build competency and confidence as well as knowledge.”

    Dutton said Vermont Tech’s Institute of Agriculture has been building the curriculum for the courses all year. He said the initiative received a lot of support from industries and businesses that rely on people well trained in agriculture to keep their companies running.

    Dutton said the new programs provide hope of future employment for participants.

    “All of these industries are looking for quality employees that are confident,”he said. “We see these courses as being really useful to multiple markets.”

    Another factor in offering the new programs is to provide a taste of the college experience. “If students are not sure about full-time college, they can come take college-level courses here on a college campus,” Dutton said. “We’re pretty excited about that.”

    The first of the new courses being offered this year is Sustainable Vegetable Production, which runs from March 31 to April 4 at Vermont Tech’s Randolph Center campus. The cost is $635.

    The class will be taught by Mimi Arnstein, who operated an organically certified vegetable farm in Marshfield for 11 years. Arnstein has also worked as a consultant for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

    Molly Willard, the agricultural project manager for Vermont Tech, said Arnstein is the perfect choice to teach the course because she comes in with a wealth of experience in vegetable farming.

    “The way she set up this course is that it really focuses on planning and methods and things that are being used now that work,” Willard said. “She’s trying to put that into a weeklong training.”

    Willard also said the course could serve as an excellent stepping stone for those interested in opening their own farms.

    “With this course you could walk in and leave with the understanding of how you could start a vegetable farm,” Willard said.

    She added that the course goes in depth in the areas of farm business planning, crop planning and production, financial record-keeping analysis, marketing and soil health, and fertility using organic methods.

    The second of the three new courses is Cold Climate Viticulture — the study of grapes. It will be split into four three-day courses throughout the year. Willard said each course focuses on a different aspect, depending on the season.

    The spring course will take place April 15-17, cost $400 and focus on vineyard operations. The registration deadline for that one is April 1. The summer viticulture course will take place June 3-5, cost $450 and primarily deal with grape pests and diseases. In the fall, participants will learn about grape science and basic wine processing Oct. 14-16. That installment costs $450.

    The final course will be Jan. 6-8 and will focus on the science of winemaking, including wine chemistry and nutrition.

    “The idea is people could come to one of these courses if they’re looking for knowledge in one area or they could come to all of them and have a pretty good idea of how to run a vineyard,” Willard said.

    John McCann, co-owner and winemaker at North Branch Vineyards in Montpelier, will be teaching the courses. McCann has degrees in viticulture from Vermont Tech and the University of Vermont.

    The third new agriculture course Vermont Tech is offering this year is the Diversified Agriculture Summer Program from June 23 to Aug. 14.

    “It’s like a summer farming program for people interested in diversified farming,” Willard said.

    According to Willard, participants will have the opportunity to gain practical experience in the areas of business management planning, vegetable and fruit crop management, and poultry and dairy husbandry.

    Willard said a typical day in the program would have participants doing hands-on fieldwork in the morning and learning the science of the things they did in the field during the afternoon.

    Participants will have the opportunity to earn up to six credits through the courses, Willard said, three of which would be in sustainable vegetable production and the other three in agriculture techniques.

    According to Dutton, Vermont Tech has been doing dairy management programs for a long time. He said the college received a $3.4 million grant to do workforce agriculture programs about a year and a half ago, which is part of the reason the institute introduced the courses this year.

    For more information on the courses or to sign up, visit www.vtc.edu/agricultureinstitute.

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