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Organic-focused Education Paves the Way to Technical Skills

Posted by Laura Gallagher, Program Analyst, AMS National Organic Program in Organic
Jun 29, 2023
College students at a family farm
Valencia College students participate in hands-on learning at McClean Family Farms in Florida.

Consumers around the globe often recognize the USDA organic seal but may want to learn more about the practices the organic standards include. During an Introduction to Organic Farming and Gardening Course offered by USDA Human Capital Initiative partner Florida Organic Growers (FOG), Dr. Juan C. Rodriquez taught Valencia College students about the meaning of organic.

On the first day of class, the FOG Education Manager led students in a discussion about food labels, including the USDA organic seal. “For many students, the discussion was eye-opening,” Dr. Rodriquez shared. Most had seen the USDA organic seal, but many were surprised to learn that it is protected by federal regulations on growing, processing, and handling organic products.

The conversation kicked off a semester of learning about organic agriculture. Classes covered topics from crop production to certification, and students participated in weekly experiential learning at the college garden. On a visit to McClean Family Farms, a multi-generational certified organic farm, students learned about how on-farm research trials led to innovative production practices.

The seeds for this class were planted almost a year earlier, when FOG designed an educational program for students interested in careers in organic agriculture. Supported by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) National Organic Program’s (NOP) Human Capital Capacity Building Initiative, FOG worked with universities to create a program focused on career education and technical skills. After piloting the course at Valencia College, Dr. Rodriquez reflected on the program's success, sharing that “The students believe they can apply their new knowledge as they consider opportunities to become farmers, organic inspectors or other types of organic agriculture specialists.”

Now, NOP is publishing course plans and outlines created by several universities and teams at FOG, Northeast Organic Farmers Association, and Oregon Tilth Certified Organic. These resources are available to high schools, colleges, and universities interested in teaching their own organic-focused courses or programs. By taking these courses, students can develop skills to succeed in a career in the organic sector.

Learn more about all the successful Human Capital Initiative partners and explore program resources in the USDA Organic Integrity Learning Center.

Category/Topic: Organic