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 vegetable production.
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
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,
A new hobby, a new career, or a new way of life
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 science background."
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
"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. Gupton said.
"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
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."
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."