EdCC offers program on sustainable agriculture

By Mina Williams The Herald Business Journal

LYNNWOOD — When looking for a job, just look down.

That’s the advice of Jason Niebler, director of Edmonds Community College’s new Sustainable Agriculture Education program.

“Growing food can happen in residential and community gardens, rooftops, even parking lots,” Niebler said. “There is nothing but opportunity. We need people to produce food and opportunities are emerging daily.”

The Sustainable Agriculture Education program, started at the college last winter, aims to teach people how to grow food, harvest it in a manageable way, market the product and deal with compostable material.

“Consumers want to be more connected to their food and are looking for options to reduce the distance food travels through to market,” Niebler said.

People can use the skills taught in the program to get jobs in production, processing or distribution on farms or at food banks, commercial greenhouses or hydroponic operations.

Niebler also envisions people starting their own firms— such as an edible landscaper— or becoming consultants or educators.

One of the students is Marni Swart, who is also a program assistant. She said the nation must overhaul its food policy and the program will help her teach others.

“(I entered the program) because I want to educate myself so that I can educate others,” Swart said. “Our food system has to change and I want to be a constructive part of the solution, not just someone who sits around complaining.”

Niebler spent several years in Latin America and when he returned, he noted an increased consumer interest in sustainable food and organics.

This spurred him to explore developing an educational program. He and the college received a $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to start an urban agriculture program.

EdCC is working in partnership with Skagit Valley College, Seattle Central Community College and Washington State University to develop the program to prepare students for emerging green careers in sustainable agriculture and related environmental fields.

The program aims to develop new and improve existing community college curriculum; offer field-based research and real-world service and internship opportunities; design education and career pathways from secondary school through two- and four-year institutions.

It also aims to establish a metro and rural student farm in cooperation with farm partners; and expand the collaborative throughout Puget Sound to demonstrate a bioregional model for sustainable agriculture education and community development.

The Sustainable Agriculture Education Program offers three different certifications ranging from a 15-credit micro-certificate to a 40-credit program that can be completed within one year.

Students have the opportunity to continue coursework through transfers to Washington State University, The Evergreen State College or Antioch University.

Edmonds Community College also has partnered with Pinchot University, a graduate studies institution in Seattle, offering students a seminar series on developing a business plan and acquiring capital.

Putting practice to work, the program has space within the college’s Community Farm, a pocket-sized garden full of raised beds, edible trees and shrubs, bee-loving flowers, an edible rain garden and a hoop house.

Students also have access to seminars with experts and working professionals.

Internships round out students’ access to the workings of food banks, edible landscaping, green house businesses, aquaculture and food hub processing.