5. Costs of Producing Organic Beef
New study outlines the cost of a 50-head cow-calf operation.
Compiled by staff
In the first study of its kind in
6. New MSU certificate program to cultivate an ... EARTHY EDUCATION
Demand, growing popularity of natural products spurs college to create organic farming program
Come January, the farm will be working on a different sort of harvest: Not just fruits and vegetables but the next generation of organic farmers as well.
MSU plans to launch a new certificate program in organic farming
next year. It will be one of only three university programs in organic
agriculture in the country, one of only four in
"The university is responding to student demand and to opportunities," said John Biernbaum, a professor of horticulture and one of the chief architects of the new program.
For years, students have been asking why MSU, a school with a long tradition of agricultural research, wasn't focusing on organic farming, he said.
"We encountered resistance from older faculty members, who said, 'That's never going to feed the world,' " said Seth Murray, one of the students whose efforts led to the creation of the organic farm in 2002.
"That may or may not be true," he added, "but we figured it's a place to start."
The demand for more opportunities to learn about organic farming has continued, Biernbaum said.
But the program also owes its existence to the decade-long explosion in the market for organic foods, which has created opportunities for organic farmers and helped convince universities that growing organic is more than just a fad for hippies and health nuts.
Skip the hormones
Organic food is produced without unnatural fertilizers, antibiotics or hormones and with very few chemicals.
In other words: Organic farmers reject as unhealthy or environmentally unsustainable techniques that many conventional farmers think of as advances in the science of agriculture.
For that reason, Biernbaum said, "land-grant universities didn't just ignore organic, they did more than ignore it."
"They thought it didn't work and didn't make any sense," he said. "Of course, that wasn't the truth."
According to E. Ann Clack, the few classes on organics taught at universities almost always were created because of student demand and the efforts of "wing-nut faculty."
"It was branded as a marginal, weirdo, backyard,
granola-cruncher thing," said Clark, who teaches courses on organics at
That's changing, though.
Clark herself helped to create a major program in organic
agriculture at the
The shift is happening, Biernbaum said, in part because, "There's enough evidence now, enough successful organic farms, enough research showing that this can work."
Organic food sales up
Then, of course, there's the economics. For the past several years, organic food has been selling like hotcakes.
In 2005, American consumers bought $13.8 billion worth. That's 2.5
percent of total
What's more, the market is growing, and growing fast. The Nutrition Business Journal predicts sales will reach $23.8 billion by the end of the decade.
Even now, demand sometimes outstrips supply.
"I guarantee we're nowhere near that in production," he said.
"And if we (at MSU) don't provide opportunities for farmers to take advantage of these things that are arising, what value are we?"
Michael Potter is the chairman of Eden Foods, a Clinton-based organic foods manufacturer.
He said things have improved significantly since the late 1960s,
when he had to go door to door through rural
But he added there's "a lot of potential for more variety in the state, particularly in organic vegetables."
"Why, when you walk into a large natural foods store, are all
the vegetables from
"We can grow carrots here."
The students most interested in organic farming typically are not the sons and daughters of farmers.
Corie Pierce, a manager at the Student Organic Farm and an instructor, said that there are more English and anthropology majors among their volunteers than agriculture majors.
They're students who are interested in "broader issues," she said, things such as environmental sustainability, building community and finding meaningful work.
But, when it comes to farming, she said, "they need to learn almost everything."
Which is why the certificate program will start with the basics and run through everything from direct marketing of organic food to the use of passive solar greenhouses for winter growing.
Program has internship
Students in the program will take classes and work the organic farm for a year, following their formal education with a several-month internship.
The idea is that students will have the skills they need to run their own small organic farm or community garden.
But the continuing expansion of the organic market likely will mean other career options, with grocery chains, for example, or organic food manufacturers.
Holly Markham, an MSU sophomore who's interning at the farm this summer, said the program is a step in a very right direction.
"It's really cool to get the ball rolling on that," she said.
"If people can go and get an education in it, they're more likely to practice it in the real world."
Organic Vegetable and Crop Outreach Specialist
C.S. Mott Sustainable Food Systems
303 Natural Resources Bldg.
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