Organic Farm Argues for Change
(Beyond Pesticides, September 2, 2005) A research instructor and students at a student- run organic farm are arguing it is time for the Schools of Agriculture at the country’s land grant universities to teach organics. James Cassidy, a research assistant and instructor in Oregon State University’s soil physics laboratory oversees the student-run organic farm located a few miles from the campus.
According to Cassidy, “one of the only places to make money in agriculture these days is in this specialized market.” Therefore Cassidy and others who share in this belief are seeking change in curriculums to include courses offered in organics.
According to a story reported in the East Oregonian, Cathy Perillo, a soil sciences professor at Washington State University in Pullman, where a proposed organic agriculture program is under consideration said, “my impression is that there is a lot of activity right now.”
Organic means a product contains all-natural substances, grown without the use of conventional pesticides or fertilizer, biotechnology or radiation. Meat and dairy products that bear the organic label must come from animals raised on organic feed, allowed to roam freely outdoors and never given antibiotics or growth hormones.
According to the report many land-grant universities already offer a unit on organics during more traditional ag-related courses, or even a single course dedicated to “ecological agriculture.” Some feel, hopping aboard the organics bandwagon could be a tough sell at more traditional land-grant schools, which have turned their focus to research, leaving less appetite for hands-on training.
“For some of the schools that have very conventional agriculture departments, they don’t know what to do with students that want to run an organic farm,” said Laura Sayre, a writer and researcher for newfarm.org, a Web site run by the Rodale Institute, a sustainable food nonprofit. “They can’t really assimilate them.”
In addition, starting up such a major can carry an implicit critique of traditional programs, said Matt Liebman, director of the graduate program in sustainable agriculture at Iowa State University in Ames.
The East Oregonian reports, among universities, there are a handful of existing programs, at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., the University of California at Santa Cruz, the University of Maine, the University of Florida and a graduate program at Iowa State. Besides Oregon State and Washington State, a program is also being discussed at Colorado State and the University of California at Davis; there is also interest in the topic at North Carolina State, Ohio State and Penn State, Liebman said.
Stella Coakley, associate dean of Oregon State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, said offering a major in organic agriculture would be too “narrow.” Instead, she said, the school could consider offering an “agricultural systems” major, which would emphasize farming, soil, water and crop sciences, marketing and labor relations.