Community college grows new farmers
By PATTY MAMULA
For the Capital Press
OREGON CITY, Ore. -- The new urban agriculture program at Clackamas Community College prepares students to run small-scale farms, manage community and school gardens, direct farmers' markets and work for established farmers.
The four-term certificate program, the first in the state, officially began last fall after a one-year trial.
"We began developing it about three years ago," said adviser Renee Harber. "Interest in our horticulture and landscape classes was down, and we saw a growing demand for local food."
Bruce Nelson, who supervises the campus farm site, agreed.
"Students here are increasingly interested in food production, a big change since 14 years ago when I started," he said, adding that since the average age of farmers continues to rise the need for new farmers is great.
During the winter and spring practicum students prepare, plant and tend the crops using hand tools. The half-acre farm, developed last year, consists of 34 planting beds, each 3-by-100-feet.
The land was a neglected and overgrown community garden area full of weeds and grass.
"We got killed by weeding last year," said Nelson.
Within a couple years, the plan is to prepare an identical plot adjacent to the first.
"Our goal is to have two fields with permanent beds that we rotate annually," said Nelson. The entire area will be fenced because of the deer.
The summer class encompasses the whole experience -- production and marketing, harvest to cleaning, then selling at the mini-farmers' market on campus. Profits go to a general college study fund.
Experienced small farmer Josh Volk of Slow Hand Farm will supervise the students this summer.
Academic courses include the history of agriculture in the Willamette Valley, small business management, weed and pest management, equipment and production methods. The 60- to 63-credit program focuses on sustainable practices.
Harber said, "Our group of 12 students are diverse." Student Jamie Bone has started her own farm. She has 42 acres in nearby Mulino and opened her first community supported agriculture -- CSA -- effort this spring with 10 subscribers.
Classmate Michael Silberstein, a veteran, enrolled in the program because he didn't like where our food system was headed. He runs an aquaponic farm in Canby and wants to sell his farm-raised tilapia to New Seasons markets.
Most of the students are interested in having their own farm and selling directly through farmers' markets and CSAs and to restaurants. Some are more interested in policy or advocacy. Others want to provide healthful food for their families.
Erinn Criswell, who has one term left, hopes to become a farmer's rep and source local food for companies like Organically Grown or Bon Appetit.
Rebecca Johnson, who has a nutrition and culinary school background, wants to grow food for her family and community and teach gardening.
Nelson said the challenge is how to grow food and make a living at it.
The program started small, but intends more promotion in the coming year. The horticulture department is in the process of hiring a new department chair with an urban agriculture background.