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Anonymous Donor Gives MCC $500,000 to develop Urban Ag Degree

[Friday, August 25, 2017]


Pictured from l-r: Aquaponics and hydroponics growing stations in the MCC Greenhouse

An anonymous donor has given McHenry County College $500,000, facilitated by the McHenry County Community

Foundation, toward the first phase of an effort designated to promote sustainable urban agriculture education in our community. The project "Transforming Sustainable Agriculture Enterprises in McHenry County through the Delivery of Innovative Education," will provide experiential learning related to intensive, organic food production, business management, and marketing.

During a two-year pilot program, the new 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. "We look forward to further developing the educational efforts of MCC related to growing local sustainable food crops to better serve residents throughout the area."

According to MCC President Clint Gabbard, Ph.D., the grant allows the college to continue its mission of providing new career opportunities.

"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," Gabbard said.

A key component of this initiative is to strengthen educational and career pathways in food systems and sustainable agriculture. The goal is for students to learn small-scale organic food production in a farm setting, year-round; learn how to develop and apply sustainable, profitable models for processing and marketing food with area restaurants, grocers, distributors, and farmers' markets; apply economic, agronomic, environmental and social aspects of farming operations; and learn how to incorporate entrepreneurship principles and practices into sustainable food systems.

"I am excited that this grant will allow MCC to expand the Urban Agriculture program in a meaningful way," said Terri Berryman, executive dean of Workforce and Community Development at MCC. "As a community deeply rooted in agriculture, MCC will be positioned to help our future farmers sustain and grow this rich tradition. We are already offering cutting edge learning in the area of 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."

MCC will promote partnerships with Loyola University’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability, McHenry County Farm Bureau, McHenry County Soil and Water Conservation District, the University of Illinois Extension, and other local organizations dedicated to agricultural and environmental sustainability. The project builds on the recommendations of recent local and regional planning efforts that highlight the need for investing in sustainable local food systems in Illinois. The McHenry County Food and Farmland Assessment Report, published in 2013, cited the importance of educational institutions providing training for current and future farmers and chefs, stating that such efforts are critical to promoting a sustainable local food system and the economy in the county.

According to a report published by the Community Food Security Coalition, sustainable and locally-generated food production are becoming increasingly viable alternatives to industrialized agriculture. Local, sustainable food production results in significant societal benefits, including promoting economic and community development, increasing food security, and improving public and environmental health. However, in the Chicago region, few opportunities currently exist for farmers to obtain the agricultural, business management, or marketing skills needed to be successful. There are even fewer opportunities to pursue either a two-year or a four-year degree in the field of sustainable agriculture. This initiative will respond to these challenges by promoting greater economic opportunities for current and aspiring farmers, and creating educational pathways for students in the burgeoning sustainable agriculture job market.

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