In an effort to support local agricultural interests and provide skilled workers for one of the region’s primary economic drivers, the University of Maine at Presque Isle has established a new Sustainable Agriculture concentration within the Environmental Science and Sustainability program. This is the only agricultural-related bachelor’s degree program being offered north of Orono.
“We’re very excited to be offering our new Sustainable Agriculture concentration and to provide a close-to-home option for area residents and high school graduates who want to focus on agri-business,” Dr. Jason Johnston, Chair of the College of Arts and Sciences, said. “The feedback we’ve received from people in the agriculture community is that this is something we should be doing and they would have liked to see us do it even sooner.”
Johnston and science faculty have designed a diversified, interdisciplinary concentration that looks at agriculture from an environmental science and sustainability perspective. Based around the concept that sustainability is environmental, social, and economic, students who take the concentration will complete a core of agriculture-focused courses and a complement of other science, climate, energy, business, and GIS courses.
The program provides not only the agricultural science students need, but also the skills they need to lead a viable business as a member of the local agriculture community, explained Barb Blackstone, Chair of the College of Professional Programs and Education, speaking on behalf of the Business Program. This line of study prepares graduates for many different types of agriculture-related ventures, from large commercial farms to small, diversified farms to other agri-businesses.
The concentration kicked off this fall with a Soil Science course being offered by Dr. David Lambert, emeritus plant pathologist from the University of Maine. Officials are working to spread awareness for the program this year and are hoping to bring a new slate of students on board in the spring.
The Environmental Science and Sustainability Program has been developing connections with local agricultural entities and local schools to provide the most robust offerings possible to students. They have an agreement with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension to have two of their faculty members at the Presque Isle farm collaborate with UMPI faculty and contribute course materials. Officials also are working with area schools to ensure their students know about the concentration and to explore opportunities for collaboration.
The concentration additionally has received support from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Maine Farm Bureau, and the Maine Farmland Trust.
As the concentration develops, UMPI officials would like to conduct summer activities on a small portion of the 150 acres that make up the campus in order to give students hands-on, practical experience in growing things. The University hopes to collaborate with businesses and organizations in the region to make these educational opportunities possible. For example, the Aroostook Research Farm has committed equipment to help the University plant and harvest its student garden and the program already has an agreement with ARAMARK to buy and use the items grown from those activities.
Johnston said the hope for the concentration is to get students from communities all over Aroostook County interested and on board.
“Especially with developments like the farm-to-table movement we’re seeing across the country and with new USDA data showing growth in local farming in our state, UMPI wants to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to help support the agricultural community here,” Johnston said. “This is where the land is and where it can be done pretty cost-effectively. We look forward to the ways our new concentration can help.”
For more information about the new Sustainable Agriculture concentration, please contact Dr. Johnston at 207.768.9652.