As a farmer, sociologist and instructor in the Sustainable Food Production (SFP) diploma program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls, I was stunned as I read in Agri-News on Feb. 5 about why the program was abruptly suspended:
“ …’people will move on and start their own farms,’ ” said Mary Devine, director of marketing and communications at M-State. Students don’t need a degree to learn farming skills and the knowledge can be gained in other ways, she said…She added that the college loves the philosophy of the program, but the charge of the community college is to prepare students for the workforce.”
The program that my colleagues and my students built as a national model for an accessible, affordable public community college-based one-year diploma program for sustainable food production is being mothballed because farms apparently just start themselves. That simply isn’t true.
Land Stewardship Project members and allies know the importance of educating and equipping the next generation of family farmers—and how difficult it can be for young and new producers to move into farming. The notion that farmers don’t need training is wrong, as very few young people have the benefit and skills of a farm upbringing these days.
Moreover, as Minnesotans strive to create healthful, economically sustainable local food systems that are community- and earth-friendly, there is a growing curriculum for producers and educators to share with that next wave of farmers.
The notion that agriculture isn’t worthy of post-secondary education flies in the face of over 100 years of American experience, beginning with the agitation that lead to the signing of the first Morrill Act by President Lincoln in the summer of 1862. Indeed, here in Minnesota during the last legislative session, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle promoted funding ag education and research. Moreover, MNSCU isn’t cutting ag programs across the board, only that for sustainable food production.
The logic of this decision—and the rationale for it—are baffling when Minnesotans can pick up any newspaper and read about the explosive growth of CSA operations, farmers’ markets, local food restaurants and community-based public health initiatives to build local food systems that will supply fresh produce, eggs, milk, cheese and meat to consumers. An MPR report on “Fighting for the Countryside” named local food as the first of five economic development (jobs) ideas that excite people.
Fortunately, the community partners, graduates and supporters of the SFP program are working to reinstate the program by developing the “Stand for Food” campaign. Stand for Food has built several social media tools for getting the word out (see sidebar) and providing the public a way to let M-State officials know that the SFP program is a critical part of the college’s educational offerings.
Another way to support this program is to attend the “Deep Roots” community harvest party co-hosted by Land Stewardship Project and Clean Up the River Environment (CURE) on Saturday, Sept. 21, beginning at 5 p.m., at the Watson Town Hall in Watson, Minn. It will be a country potluck social with music and fun catering to new-fangled ideas about sustainable and local food production.
That’s something to celebrate.
Sue Wika was director of M-State’s Sustainable Food Production program and is a member of LSP’s board of directors.