Five Colleges Leading the Way in Online Sustainable Agriculture Education
October 14, 2014 | Jenny Smiechowski
As the demand for local, sustainable food grows, so does the need for farmers who are well-versed in the ways of sustainable agriculture. Fortunately, many educational institutions are ready to train the next generation of sustainable farmers through sustainable agriculture curriculums that cover everything from soil fertility to marketing to food policy.
In recent years, many institutions have even started offering these programs in a flexible online format that makes sustainable agriculture education more accessible to working professionals and sustainable agriculture enthusiasts across the country and world.
Here is a list of five colleges helping to grow the next generation of sustainable farmers through online sustainable agriculture programs:
Not only was Washington State University the first school in the country to offer an organic agriculture undergraduate degree, it was also the first to offer an organic agriculture certificate online. Established in 2008, WSU’s organic agriculture certificate is an 18 credit program geared toward professionals in the field as well as others with an interest in organic agriculture. Coursework is comprehensive and includes organic farming and gardening, plant breeding, marketing, economics, food safety and quality, and community and environmental impact. Certificate students can also use their credits toward WSU’s undergraduate organic agriculture degree, should they decide to relocate to Pullman, Washington and pursue their agricultural education further.
Green Mountain College has taught about sustainability for 15 years, so it is no surprise that it was also the first college in the country to offer an online Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems (MSFS). The creation of the online MSFS program was inspired by the success of the college’s campus-based undergraduate major in sustainable agriculture. The college decided to use an online format for the graduate program to give emerging leaders in the field of sustainable agriculture an opportunity to enhance their knowledge of sustainable food systems while continuing their work in the real world. The program’s curriculum focuses on sustainable agriculture production as well as the economic, ecological, and social implications of food systems.
In 2011, UMass began offering an online certificate in sustainable food and farming. The college, which had already developed a campus-based Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Food and Farming, wanted to make sustainable agriculture education more accessible to those who wanted the college credentials but were unable to relocate and attend school. Because of its online format, the certificate program has attracted students from all over the world including countries like Brazil, Korea, and Argentina. The 15 credit certificate can be completed entirely online or by mixing online and traditional classes. Certificate courses focus on three broad areas of study: sustainable farming/marketing and homesteading; agricultural and farm-based education; and public policy, community development, and advocacy. Credits earned through the certificate can also be used toward the Bachelor of Science degree.
For those looking for graduate-level sustainable agriculture courses in a flexible online format, Tufts University offers a three-course online graduate certificate in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. The curriculum focuses on three topics: sustainability on the farm, supply chains and food markets, and sustainability and the food consumer. The program is designed for all professionals looking to implement sustainable practices in their businesses, but especially those involved in production, procurement, processing, distribution, marketing, retail, hospitality and food service. Through its Department of Food & Nutrition Policy, Tufts also offers a campus-based Agriculture, Food and Environment Master of Science degree and Doctor of Philosophy degree.
Triton Community College deserves kudos for offering not only one but two sustainable agriculture certificates that can be completed entirely online. Starting fall 2014, all courses necessary to complete both the Sustainable Food Production Certificate and the Sustainable Agroecology Certificate are offered in a virtual classroom setting. According to the program website, students working toward Sustainable Food Production Certificate will learn sustainable food production practices, policies and regulations impacting sustainable food production, and how to solve the challenges associated with urban food production. Those working toward the Sustainable Agroecology Certificate will learn to design and manage a sustainable urban food production system, analyze the social and political framework of agroecology, and develop solutions to environmental issues caused by agriculture.
For those who want to learn more about sustainable agriculture without the cost and commitment of a formal degree program, there are several colleges and organizations that offer free online sustainable agriculture education and training. For more information, check out Seedstock’s list of online sustainable agriculture training programs located in the resources section of our website: