GARDNER — Mount Wachusett Community College has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the federal Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture in support of its project “Strengthening Sustainable Food Production Through Hands-on Instruction in Massachusetts”.
The “Strengthening Sustainable Food Production Education Through Hands-on Instruction” project aims to address the major problem of enrollment, retention, and experiential student learning in Mount Wachusett Community College’s Natural Resources degree program.
The project aims to serve 134 students, expanding hands-on learning experiences for students in the program. Additionally, the project will allow for the addition of courses in Sustainable Farming and Plant Pathology, seminars in Fruit Production, Plan Nutrients, and Integrated Pest Management, upgrading the curriculum in Botany, Plant Science, Horticulture, Environmental Chemistry, and Greenhouse Management.
The program also will address regional employer demand in sustainable farming, including the addition of a Sustainable Farming Certificate for students. According to the Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources, the commonwealth has 7,241 farms on 491,653 acres, with the agriculture industry directly providing employment to 25,920 individuals.
“Expanding our natural resources education program has a number of positive impacts,” said Professor and Project Director for the grant, George LoCasio. “Not only is food fresher and healthier, but it is also less costly, and benefits the environment by reducing reliance on transportation and increasing the available food for pollinators.”
“I have been thrilled to see the expansion in our horticultural program,” said President Jim Vander Hooven. “My office overlooks the greenhouse area, and seeing the new raised beds, plantings, orchard, and most importantly students and staff harvesting food has been a highlight of my summer.”
This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Secondary Education, Two-Year Postsecondary Education, and Agriculture in the K-12 Classroom Challenge Grants Program, award #2022-38414-37917.