Urban agriculture is hot: And for good reason. It can help alleviate urban food deserts, make our food as “local” and fresh aspossible and decrease the “food miles” associated with long-distance transportation. From rooftop gardens and aquaponics centers in converted warehouses, to growing crops on abandoned properties, urban agriculture provides a wide range of community benefits, including closer neighborhood ties, reduced crime, education and job training opportunities, and healthy food access for low-income residents.
“That’s why,” says Dr. Leonard Githinji, Virginia State University’s Urban Agriculture Extension Specialist, “It’s no wonder we’re seeing a huge increase in the number of urban farms from Brooklyn to Boise and everywhere in between.”
But training hasn’t kept up with demand for these urban cowboys. As Githinji explains, a lot of non-profits, churches, businesses and municipalities are putting a great deal of resources into getting urban farms up and running. So much so that last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published an Urban Agriculture Toolkit to provide informational resources to these group leaders, many of whom have never farmed before or know a nematode from a horned toad. (For the record, a nematode is a parasitic worm that often causes damage to garden crops like tomatoes and peppers. A horned toad is actually a desert lizard.)
But there’s a lot to learn, he explains, from business planning, legal issues and market development to soil quality, pest management and plant health. And while an online tool kit is a great resource, we need more science-based, boots-on-the-ground training for these urban pioneers.
To help meet the demand for academically trained urban agriculture professionals,?Virginia State University’s College of Agriculture is offering an Urban Agriculture Certificate Program this spring. Designed for anyone charged with starting or managing an urban farm or who wants to increase their marketability to do so, the course provides a curriculum rich in the science-based knowledge needed to successfully and safely grow produce in an urban environment. Courses include: plant propagation and nursery management, plant disease and pest management, sustainable soil management,?greenhouse production (hydroponic and aquaponic), animal husbandry (chickens and rabbits), and more. All courses will be taught by Virginia State University (VSU) and Virginia Tech professors.
Each of the 10 sessions includes classroom work, plus hands-on lab and field work at VSU’s Randolph Farm. Small class sizes allow for personalized attention for each student to master the foundational principles to plan, manage and profit from an urban farm business.
The course is suitable even for those who have had gardening training before, such as Master Gardeners, as it will contribute to their continuing education credits.
The 10-week course begins March 11 and ends May 13. Classes will be conducted Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on VSU’s Randolph Farm located at 4415 River Road, Petersburg, VA. Instruction will consist of morning lectures and afternoon hands-on outdoor and lab activities. Each student must also complete, by the end of July, 80 hours of volunteer work at an approved urban farm in order to successfully graduate from the program with full certification.
Applicants are required to pay a $190 one-time fee that will cover registration, instructional materials and lunch. Registration and a limited number of full and partial scholarships are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Registration is limited and closes March 3. To apply for a scholarship or to register, visit www.ext.vsu.edu/urban-agriculture-certificate-program.
If you need further information or are a person with a disability and desire any assistive devices, services or other accommodations to participate in this activity, please contact Mollie Klein at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (804) 524-6960/TDD (800) 828-1120 during business hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations no later than five days prior to the event.