By WILSON RING
RANDOLPH, Vt. (AP) -- The students, faculty and staff at the Vermont Technical College are embarking on a new adventure as they implement a federal grant designed to make people ready to work in unique agricultural businesses, a new training system that could be copied by other schools across the country, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said Tuesday.
The $3.4 million grant that Solis announced will enable the Randolph school to build a food processing plant to help ease a statewide shortage of meat cutters and yogurt makers, said Martha Trombley Oakes, Vermont Tech associate dean for institutional advancement
The grant will also help buy modern farm equipment, update the school's apple orchard, establish a program to train welders, manage farm waste, set up an alternative energy program and hire seven staff members who will continue the process of creating the Applied Agriculture and Food Systems Institute at Vermont Tech.
It's a system that could be copied by other schools across the country, Solis said.
"The beauty is it's a whole new, how could I say, adventure in terms of looking at agriculture, conservation, renewable energy, waste management and conservation, but also knowing there is a market to create new products," Solis said after touring the dairy farm and an apple orchard.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant provides grants to schools to deliver education and career training in two years or less.
In Vermont, the program is being run in consultation with businesses that are searching for skilled workers. Bob Reese, the co-founder of Vermont Butter and Cheese of Websterville, said during a meeting at the school there are 51 dairy and cheese plants in Vermont. In 1984, when he went into business, there were 13.
"The growth in our industry is very, very exciting. It's small artisanal farmsteads, specialty cheese companies that are leading the way," Reese said. "Not all of us can afford to have food scientists on our staffs. That's an important thing about this grant. We need to train students to be technicians, we need them to understand and give them internships to see what it's like to be in the industry."
During her visit to the Vermont Tech campus, Solis was given a tour by two students studying agriculture. One of her tour guides was Stephanie Nault, of Goffstown, N.H., who completed a two-year degree at Vermont Tech in farm management. She's now studying business and hopes to work on a large dairy farm.
"My overall goal is to own and operate my own small scale dairy farm in Vermont," she said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.