An anonymous $500,000 donation will help McHenry County College strengthen educational and career pathways in food systems and sustainable agriculture.
Facilitated by the McHenry County Community Foundation, this new initiative will provide experiential learning in intensive, organic food production, business management, and marketing. During a two-year pilot program, the funds will be used to research sustainable agricultural trends and practices, develop programming to support the needs of farmers, facilitate partnerships across the agricultural community, and promote the use of sustainable practices and food production in the region.
"This generous donation will help us expand our horticulture programming and facilities in the area of urban agriculture and local food crop production," said Bruce Spangenburg, horticulture instructor and department chairman.
A 2013 McHenry County Food and Farmland Assessment Report cited the importance of educational institutions providing training for current and future farmers and chefs, critical to promoting a sustainable local food system and the county's economy. Yet, few colleges offer a two-or four-year degree program in sustainable agriculture.
"Our vision is to assist the region in continuing the transformation from industrialized farming to sustainable, innovative micro-agricultural enterprises that offer both career opportunities for individuals and families, as well as pathways to viable urban and rural food resourcing," MCC President Clint Gabbard said.
The goal is for students to learn small-scale organic food production in a farm setting, year-round. They will learn how to develop and apply sustainable, profitable models for processing and marketing food with area restaurants, grocers, distributors and farmers' markets.
Students also will learn to apply economic, agronomic, environmental and social aspects of farming operations, and how to incorporate entrepreneurship principles and practices into sustainable food systems.
"As a community deeply rooted in agriculture, MCC will be positioned to help our future farmers sustain and grow this rich tradition," said Terri Berryman, MCC's executive dean of Workforce and Community Development. "We are already offering cutting-edge learning in hydroponics and aquaponics and this will allow us to expand curricular offerings and facilities to include season extension methods and partner with our culinary department in the areas of food production and preservation."