In the heart of central North Carolina,
there is a unique, two-year sustainable agriculture program
where students can practice farming on campus at the program's
land lab. Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) started
offering sustainable agriculture as an associate in applied
science degree program in 2002, and since then it has become
a harvest ground for future farmers interested in organic
At the Chatham County campus of CCCC, in Pittsboro, N.C.,
students in the sustainable agriculture program acquire the
skills and knowledge they need to manage a profitable, environmentally
sound, community-based small farm or agricultural business
for about $600 a semester.
Curriculum courses in the four-semester program teach students
the fundamentals of sustainable agriculture by focusing on
crop production and farm business management. Students receive
practical training on the campus land lab where they can farm
all year long. In the classroom, students complete a business
plan to help them prepare for entrepreneurial success. Each
student also learns about the field by doing an agricultural
internship in marketing and farming.
Program core courses at CCCC include: basic farm maintenance,
biological pest management, plant science, soil science and
a small business course. While many students who finish the
program begin their own farming business, graduates also qualify
for employment in sustainable agriculture fields like horticultural
and livestock operations, wholesale and retail management,
nursery operations and environmental and agricultural education.
One thing that makes the program so conducive to learning
is the on-campus land lab, managed by Doug Jones. Jones, who
spent 28 years farming vegetables before joining CCCC in 2002,
operates and manages the land lab as a working farm "so
students can experience something similar to a real farm."
Jones said when he was getting started as a
farmer he had to make things up as he went along. "I
wish this program had existed when I started out farming,"
Jones said. "I would have advanced much quicker if I
could have taken some of these classes. I was really excited
when I found out about the sustainable farming program."
According to Jones, a successful farmer must be familiar
with countless varieties of produce. Around 200 varieties
of vegetables are planted on the CCCC land lab. "We're
testing out a lot of stuff that originated in other parts
of the world—a lot of crops that are coming out of Asia,
eastern Europe, South America and Africa," Jones said.
"The gene pool is kind of moving all over the earth right
now and people are adopting crops from other areas."
Jones said having such a variety allows for a more diverse
diet. "People can feel more satisfied eating a local
diet as opposed to buying all of their food out of the supermarket."
At CCCC, sustainable agriculture students also experiment
with biological controls as organic alternatives to pesticides.
"That's a lot closer to the way things are balanced in
nature," Jones said. "Every organism has a predator
in nature; every organism has other organisms that it likes
to eat. We can utilize some of those natural food chains to
help control some of our pests here.
"There are not many programs in the whole country like
this," Jones said. "It's a combination of hands-on
learning and classroom-type learning and it's really a great
way to train people to become good, successful farmers."
A new hobby, a new career, or a new way
Shiloh Avery, a certificate graduate
of the program, runs her own small farm, Shiloh's Garden,
in White Cross, N.C. She agrees that CCCC provides the exact
combination of class and land work potential farmers need.
"It is the most practical thing you can do if you need
to build your skills and you want to farm," Avery said.
"Everything is very hands-on with a good dose of classroom
Avery believes CCCC was a better place for her to learn than
a university. "I knew that I didn't want to go to graduate
school where I would sit around in a classroom and talk about
farming, but that I wanted to actually farm," she said.
"A community college sounded like the perfect mix of
hands-on experience and classroom learning."
"I knew that I didn't want
to go to graduate school where I would sit around in
a classroom and talk about farming, but that I wanted
to actually farm."
- Shiloh Avery, graduate
Now that Avery is maintaining her own farm, where she grows
and sells chemical-free vegetables and flowers, she knows
her experience at CCCC was worthwhile. "Everything I
do agriculturally, I owe to the program," she said. "I
got my first small farm labor job through the school's apprenticeship
program where I learned everything else there was to know
about sustainable agriculture. I still ask questions to my
teachers from the program, and I still use all the resources
provided to me through the program. The fact that I am farming
now is all due to their program."
Not only did CCCC prepare Avery to succeed, it also prepared
her to do something she loves. "I love marketing something
that I absolutely believe in," she said. "I love
being able to look someone in the eye and tell them that what
I have to sell them is good for them and the earth."
Sustainable agriculture is good for the environment; that
is why so many nature-savvy students take the classes. Charles
and Linda Gupton, a married couple who decided to start their
own farm, took sustainable courses at CCCC and now feel more
connected to the earth in their new profession. "We love
being able to do work that keeps us in touch with the natural
environment on a daily basis," Linda Gupton said.
The Guptons now run their own farm, Shiloh Farm & Retreat,
in Franklin County near Louisburg, N.C. Applying the knowledge
they acquired at CCCC, the couple only sells produce grown
without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Both
husband and wife took courses in farm construction, vegetable
production, cut flower production, herb production and even
small engine/tractor repair at the college. "The classes
helped us explore different options for what we could grow
on our land and we've put all the info to use as we've grown
vegetables, flowers and a few herbs for our CSA [Community
Supported Agriculture] and farmers' market stand," Mrs.
"The program has played a significant part in the success
of our farm," she said. "Not only has the information
learned in class been valuable, but the networking with other
students, instructors and staff at CCCC has given us invaluable
contacts. There's always someone to call who's willing to
help when we have a question."
Linda Gupton says the CCCC staff is not only helpful, but
also committed to the sustainable farming cause. "Everyone
is passionate about reviving small-scale farms and taking
care of the natural resources we have," she said. "The
staff is always seeking feedback on how to make the program
better and constantly recruiting incredible instructors to
share their knowledge and experience."
The sustainable agriculture program is filled with students
like Avery and the Guptons, who believe in growing things organically.
Chris Stonehouse, a student in the certificate program, says
she loves it—even though she had no prior farming experience.
When Stonehouse and her husband moved into their first house,
she started gardening. The more time she spent in her new-found
hobby, the more interested she became in organic produce. Stonehouse
started doing some research on the subject and found out about
the sustainable agriculture program at CCCC. That's when she
decided to make a career move. "My hope is to have a small
market garden and do a small CSA subscription service where
people would agree to get a share of the produce."
Cheryl McNeill, also a certificate student, hopes to learn
from the program and start a self-sufficient farm for her
and her husband, Gil, who is also taking sustainable classes
at the college. "I'm learning everything about growing
food," she said. "It's becoming part of my real
bank of knowledge. It's not feeling like something I just
learned. It's starting to feel like something I just know."
Certificate student Amy Rouse agrees that taking CCCC sustainable
courses can be a life-changing experience. "When you
get closer to the earth on one level, you have to take it
to all areas of your life," she said. "I'm trying
to get away from industrial medicine, industrial food—the
whole thing. I'm trying to figure out what I can do to heal
and feed myself."