By the 1970s there was an increased environmental awareness in the United States and consumer demands spurred the organic agricultural industry. But it was a slow grow. Not until 2002 were there finally set rules and regulations regarding organic production and handling. Now farms have to follow the federal guidelines of the Organic Foods Production Act to be counted as organic. (1) As the organic sector has grown, of course, the educational opportunities has grown with it to include both online courses and full-time immersion programs.
Online Courses on Organic Farming
Most accredited universities in the United States now have specific online courses and certificates in sustainable food and farming. Some offer individual 3 credit courses, others 15 credit certificates to fully online Bachelors of Science degrees in Sustainable Food and Farming. The advantage of online classes is that students can take the classes at their own schedule. If one is looking to start a new career, or not yet ready to go to college full time, the online option is great. One can find the exact course needed online as schools offer courses from agricultural chemistry to organic gardening and farming to leadership to sustainable agriculture.
Schools offering Organic Farming
There are a few schools offering organic farming and sustainable agriculture. Accredited universities will offer classes and programs, but there are also live-in immersion schools where one will become a skilled organic farmer. While the programs where one has to physically attend will take up a lot of one’s time, they are great in helping preparing for success.
The Organic Farm School is one of the immersion schools where, when one is through, one will have learned to successfully start and manage a small scale commercial organic farm. One will learn everything from field tasks of tillage, planting and harvesting to office tasks such as crop planning, marketing and financial management. During the school year the students work and manage the farms. The hands-on learning include planning, planting, selling and involves all field and office tasks. Once the basic skills are learned, students get to practice leadership while executively managing a small portion of the farm. The hands-on learning account for 30 hours a week. Ten more hours a week are set out for theoretical classes and discussions on topics such as production, business, and ecological social concepts that lie behind the work. The students also get to enjoy plenty of field trips to operating organic farms.
Free Training Resources
Some online platforms are offering free online courses in organic farming such as Coursera.com or class-central.com. There, one can take the classes and enjoy the learning. If one wants college credits though, there is a fee.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a website that offer free advice, tips and tools for getting started in farming and can be a valuable asset. One can also use an internship as free hands-on learning, although one pays with the work being done. Another option for a free resource can be to ask to shadow a current organic producer to learn a little bit more about the production.
It’s critical to have some knowledge of farming before diving in. Another reason to consider getting an education first is it can make it easier to get a loan. Nothing will give the bank more confidence about loaning you money to start a farm then a proper education.