Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stefan Seiter Aims to Make Agriculture Program a National Leader

What does it take to become a sustainable farmer? How do we grow biofuels for a sustainable future? And just what do these two things really mean?

Ask agriculture instructor Stefan Seiter. In his eighth year of instruction at the college, Seiter is working to teach students all they need to know about sustainability in agriculture, and he’s doing it in a big way.

Last year, Seiter began a nine-month professional leave of absence that would take him to some of the most innovative ecological farming education programs in the world, bringing back the best of the best ideas from college and intensive training programs across the United States, Germany, England, Denmark and Costa Rica.

His goal: To gather as many ideas as possible about teaching sustainable agriculture and ecological practices, and to integrate those ideas into a long-term vision for LBCC’s programs to help make the college a national leader in the field.

With those ideas in hand, Seiter is developing a new sustainable food systems option for LBCC’s agriculture and horticulture programs, possibly in combination with an intensive small-farms training program.

“The University of California, Santa Cruz has the closest training program in the Pacific Northwest,” said Seiter. “Currently, students who to participate in a sustainable farming program in a college setting may have to travel as far away as North Carolina.”

The success of the “buy local” food movement creates new challenges as well, and Seiter points out that farmers and agriculture workers need to develop a variety of skills to reach out to customers and be successful. Courses on how to market farm products, how to start a Community Supported Agriculture business, or CSA, and how to set up and operate a farmers market stand are a must.

“Small farmers need entrepreneurial skills to help them run their business,” said Seiter. “My hope is to develop a Farm to Table type of program that incorporates the many skills students will need to be successful.”

Besides helping students to become good entrepreneurs, Seiter learned that other institutions are teaching various practical skills such as how to run a tractor and tractor-drawn implements, or how to do small repairs on the farm, and even how to construct small farm buildings.

“These skills have a real world value for our students,” said Seiter. “I would like to see our program go beyond production and soils and really focus on how our food system works as a whole, including how to connect with customers and the community these farmers serve.”

Along with those skills, Seiter would like to include courses that teach students and growers how to add value to the food they produce, such as basic food processing and preservation. Not only does this knowledge provide additional avenues for selling the farm products, but it also provides training in marketing and sales.

“These are skills that agriculture students and small scale sustainable farmers need to develop, but which we have not taught in our programs so far,” said Seiter. “Although only about 10 percent of the students in many agriculture training programs become full-time farmers, most stay connected to the food system in their careers through jobs in agricultural production support and food and farming education, as well as food processing, distribution and marketing.”

For more information on LBCC’s agriculture and horticulture programs, contact Stefan Seiter, faculty and program advisor, agricultural sciences, at 541-917-4765 or at Stefan.seiter@linnbenton.edu.

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