PULLMAN, Wash. — As green collar-jobs continue to emerge, a three-year $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation brings together Washington State University and several Puget Sound community colleges to support undergraduate students interested in pursuing educational opportunities in sustainable agriculture and working on urban and small rural farms.
Edmonds Community College leads the SAgE (Sustainable Agriculture Education) collaborative project, which builds on a previous grant that successfully introduced a sustainable urban agriculture program to Seattle Central Community College, said Jason Niebler, project director and principal investigator on the NSF grant. Part of the focus is to streamline transfer options from high school to two-and-four-year colleges, including EdCC, SCCC, Skagit Valley College and WSU. As the collaboration extends throughout the Puget Sound, students will also dive into service-learning and internship programs.
“WSU is assisting in shaping what we are hoping to be a bioregional consortium of colleges making course agreements, and funneling students who want to continue on and can articulate into WSU programs, specifically the organic agriculture major,” Niebler said.
Considering recent USDA census data estimates the average Washington state farmer is 57 years old, the grant also helps address the challenge of educating the next generation of farmers about science-based methods for sustainable agriculture.
Community college students will have opportunities to work with WSU graduate students and faculty at WSU’s Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon. Field internships, with a production-based “seeds-to-sales” learning lab, will provide educational opportunities for students. Through partnership with Viva Farms in the Skagit Valley, students will also have the chance to sell their produce at roadside stands and farmers markets. Based on the Viva Farms incubator model, the grant will help establish a student farm in the Sammamish Valley near SCCC and EdCC.
The lab and fieldwork will give community college students real-life experience while providing a taste of what their education could look like at a four-year university, said Brad Gaolach, co-principal investigator on the NSF grant and WSU Pierce County Extension director.
“Fundamentally, what changed my education and career path was something like SAgE,” Gaolach said. “Whether at a two-year or four-year college, the ability at an early career age or as an undergraduate to get hands-on practice is what makes a world class education face-to-face.”