Chesapeake College unveils agriculture degree
WYE MILLS — The “college in the corn field” just announced a new agriculture degree program that’s the first of its kind in Maryland.
The Mid-Shore’s Chesapeake College, which has undergone an extensive overhaul recently as part of its 50th anniversary, held a move screening of “Farmland” on Thursday, March 31, in conjunction with the announcement of its new agriculture program.
The new program — a two-year program for an Agriculture Associate of Applied Science degree — is designed to cover all aspects of farming and the agriculture business, said Dr. Barbara Viniar, the college’s president.
Nicole Fiorellino, the coordinator of agriculture program, said the degree involves 60 credit hours total, with about 20 credits of general education prerequisites. There are two tracks in the program — production or sustainability.
“We created 11 new courses specifically for the program, and they’re focusing on instruction of the skills necessary to gain employment in agriculture,” Fiorellino said. “Either by diversifying a preexisting operation or even branching out and starting your own agricultural enterprise.”
According to Chesapeake College, the degree emphasizes soil science, horticulture, conventional and organic growing practices, agribusiness, agricultural policy, entrepreneurship, small business skill and emerging technology.
Fiorellino also said the college is focused on helping students gain meaningful internship experiences, and that it’s part of the degree requirements. The curriculum also will cover some topics that would appear on national certification exams, and the college is going to investigate administering those exams on campus for students, “so we just make them even more employable upon graduation from the program,” Fiorellino said.
Viniar said one of the things she likes about the program is all the career opportunities for students that can come from it.
Before the screening of “Farmland,” attendees of the event gathered in the Todd Performing Arts Center lobby and snacked on farm-to-table hors d’oeuvres, including locally made cheese.
Viniar, relating the program to the cheese, said, “It’s all well and good to make good cheese.”
“But then you have to package it. You have to market it. So we want students to understand that agriculture is from tilling the ground to growing the food or feeding the cows and making good cheese, to getting the product out, because it’s a business,” Viniar said.
Viniar said the program and degree stems from focus group conversations, asking them what kind of programs the college should have.
But even more so, Viniar said, the program stems from where Chesapeake College is located — the rural and agriculture-centric Eastern Shore. It’s what sets the Eastern Shore and Chesapeake College apart from other community colleges, so it made sense, she said.
Viniar said she would like to work with local farmers, those who have been farming for decades and have in-depth knowledge and expertise of farming, alongside the faculty who will teach the students the latest technology, “and we’ll marry those.”
“That’s what the Eastern Shore is about — the tradition and moving forward,” she said.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder — who owns farms in Caroline and Dorchester counties — attended the “Farmland” screening and praised the new program for the opportunity it presents to young students who are looking to get into the agriculture sector.
He said as secretary of agriculture, he has spoken of the importance of education on agriculture issues in an age when environmental regulations are impacting farmers.
“It will not only educate our farm community on what they need to do, but it’s also going to provide education to the general public on what the farm community has done over the course of the last several years to get us where we are in our efforts to clean up the (Chesapeake) Bay and our tributaries,” Bartenfelder said. “Where we are is we’re really a leader nationally, as far as the steps that we’ve taken and where we’ve come.”
Bartenfelder spoke of the program and one of its focuses, marketing, and the importance of not just marketing in the United States but abroad countries.
On the Eastern Shore, “agriculture is what makes the coin turn,” Bartenfelder said, adding that if it wouldn’t be for the agriculture industry on the Shore, in particular the poultry industry, the Shore’s economy “just wouldn’t survive.”
“Marketing is a key component of the education program that is here and it’s really going to be important for the students to take advantage of that as they move into their future,” he said.
Bartenfelder also said he’s encouraged about the future of agriculture in Maryland, as he’s seeing more young people who want to get involved in the industry, “and with that you know that there’s a future there for them and there’s a future there for agriculture.”
Chesapeake College’s new Agriculture Associate of Applied Science degree is scheduled to debut in the college’s fall 2016 semester.