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MCC New Entrepreneurial Agriculture Initiative Receives Grant from Food:Land:Opportunity

[Tuesday, August 27, 2019]
     

After a year of intensive discovery with farmers, agricultural and business experts throughout McHenry County and the region, McHenry County College (MCC) is launching two unique efforts that make up a comprehensive entrepreneurial agriculture initiative in the coming year. A new Entrepreneurial Agriculture degree program and a new Center for Agrarian Learning (CAL) will prepare both degree students and food and farm innovators for a successful and rewarding future in the regional food economy.

Generously supported by a grant from Food:Land:Opportunity, a collaboration between Kinship Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust, and funded through Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, MCC’s entrepreneurial agriculture effort is focused on transforming sustainable agriculture enterprises in McHenry County and beyond. This focus is aligned with the Food:Land:Opportunity mission to “create a resilient local food economy that protects and conserves land and other natural resources while promoting market innovation and building wealth and assets in the Chicago region’s communities.”

“Our communities in and surrounding McHenry County have a rich tradition of both working with the land for economic opportunity and careful stewardship of this fundamental resource,” stated MCC President, Dr. Clint Gabbard. “We are thrilled to have Food:Land:Opportunity recognize and support the work of McHenry County College’s new Center for Agrarian Learning (CAL) and the Entrepreneurial Agriculture degree program.”

The new degree programming in Entrepreneurial Agriculture will combine production techniques, soil and plant science, and business, marketing and entrepreneurship fundamentals. Students will gain hands-on experience in innovative practices like season extension, through the use of two new high-tunnels that facilitate winter growing, in both hydroponic and aquaponic systems recently added to state-of –the-art greenhouses, as well as in organic food production on a scale appropriate to small businesses. This degree goes beyond learning to grow plants and provides students with access to learning strong business development skills. Graduates may seek employment as managers of innovative farm businesses, buyers for produce departments in grocery stores or food delivery services, growers for sustainable landscape companies, and more, or they may move toward launching their own enterprises. As the demand for entrepreneurial thinking in our economy increases, the degree will prepare students to be both creative and practical as they enter the world of food-related business.

The Center for Agrarian Learning will provide a platform for engagement across the food and farming spectrum. Models of smart experimentation will be held up to inspire those who are struggling in a traditionally low-profit industry, and skills-based education will support those who are determined to make it work. From Recordkeeping to Ratio Analysis, Corn Breeding to Vertical Farming, the Center will provide workshops and conferences for the local agricultural community, with a focus on entrepreneurship and land stewardship. The Center will also act as a conduit and gathering space for ongoing initiatives focused on regional food system development.

“Food:Land:Opportunity is excited to support the Center for Agrarian Learning at McHenry County College and its focus on preparing farmers for economic profitability and learning the variety of skills to succeed in the regional local food system,” shared Lenore Beyer, Director of Conservation Programs for the Kinship Foundation. “We look forward to ongoing collaboration with MCC and other groups in McHenry County working to conserve natural resources while creating a resilient local food economy.”

The grant from Food:Land:Opportunity will be used to fund two positions: a Director for the Center for Agrarian Learning, and a Field Practicum Director. The Director will be responsible for creation and delivery of curriculum and course offerings for the agricultural community, as well as overseeing initiatives that will enhance regional food system development that are housed in the Center. The Director will work to ensure that future course offerings are developed in conjunction with the local and regional farming population, in order to ensure the delivery of a highly relevant curriculum. Potential initiatives could include partnerships with local conservation organizations to facilitate the transfer of agricultural land to new entrepreneurs, a pilot program to increase farm-to-institution purchasing in the region, and emerging market symposiums. The Director will also be responsible for forging key partnerships with several organizations currently engaged in both urban and rural food system work. The Field Practicum Director will oversee and coordinate the hands-on farming experience of students in the Entrepreneurial Degree program, facilitate apprenticeships, and manage how the produce grown onsite at MCC is utilized on-campus.

With its long history of continuing education, enrichment, and workforce training, MCC will have much to offer the agricultural community through the Center. The Center will be a place where current farm businesses can come to articulate ongoing challenges in local and regional markets, to forge new connections, and for continued training. Through these trainings, partnerships, and new initiatives, the Center will support agricultural entrepreneurs of all types so that they might contribute positively to the local and regional food economy.

“Current and future individuals and families who are passionate about participating in solving complex issues in the emerging food economy will be served by our new Center and the educational programming MCC will offer. New challenges require new skills and an entrepreneurial spirit, and the Food:Land:Opportunity partnership with McHenry County College is a collaboration full of potential,” Gabbard added.

            For more information on MCC’s entrepreneurial agriculture effort, visit www.mchenry.edu/ag 

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