Certificate Program – Gwinnett Tech: Sustainable Urban Agriculture Technician

Gwinnett Tech launches a new certificate program

It started as a student project in 1999, but now the student is the program director and the plan is coming to life. That student was Aaron Poulsen. He had an idea to develop an edible garden at Gwinnett Technical College so students could learn about food production, nutrition, security, and safety. In 2012, the Technical College System of Georgia agreed with his fully developed plan and approved the addition of a Sustainable Urban Agriculture Technician certificate program at Gwinnett Tech.

Program description

The program prepares the student for a career in sustainable, small scale food production that integrates economic profitability and environmental stewardship. Courses provide hands-on experience in the fundamentals of plant production and marketing, giving the student a complete knowledge of the sustainable farmer’s market system.

Course of study

First semester: 9 hours

  • Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture
    • Industry overview, history, and foundation of sustainable practices, management, and fertility of soils, pest management, economic and marketing theory and practices
  • Horticulture Business Management
    • Strategic planning, financial management, marketing strategies, human resource management, operations, administration
  • Soils
    • Physical, chemical and biological characteristics, soil fertility and productivity, soil management and conservation practices

Second semester: 9 hours

  • Pest Management
    • Insects, weeds, plant pathogens, nematodes,  vertebrates, integrated pest management, pest identification and control, pesticide application
  • Small Scale Food Production
    • Farm safety, farm design and development, propagation, production, harvesting, packaging, marketing
  • Horticulture Elective

Employment opportunities

Potential careers include market farmer, agri-tourism farmer, farmer’s market director, community garden manager/organizer, kitchen garden designer/specialist, CSA operator/farmer, and eco-landscaper (sustainable/organic landscape specialist).

Designed for the real world

The curriculum prepares students to enter the career field but also gives them a head start in furthering their development, with preparation for PLANET certification and UGA turfgrass professional certification if they choose to pursue them. In addition, students are required to construct a manual for their “ideal garden,” with design and maintenance specifications they compile and can then use as a resource after they complete the program.

Growing strong

The seeds for the program have been planted and continue to grow: the bidding process has begun for an expansive garden space which will include 57 raised beds along with an outdoor pavilion and kitchen. While that is being completed, current students work with Gwinnett Tech’s culinary department to learn cooking methods that preserve the nutrition so carefully grown into the produce. When completed, the outdoor kitchen will allow culinary instructors to demonstrate the “farm to table” approach without leaving the garden.

The current temporary garden, called the Agrofoodforest, was designed by students. According to its mission:

The GTC Agrofoodforest supports the principle that following nature’s system of growing food is more productive and more sustainable.

Since planted the first week in April, the Agrofoodforest has produced over 500 lbs. of veggies. With the completion of the new garden space next year, farmer’s markets will be held weekly. Managed and operated by the students, these markets will give valuable hands-on exposure to food safety and marketing issues.

Moving the program to the public

Tony Gobert, horticulture faculty member, points out, “not everyone is looking for a career in food production, so we’re reaching out to the community, too.” They’re currently looking for faculty to offer continuing education courses on these topics but in the meantime, Gobert has been taking his passion for sustainable food production on the road with local master gardeners and community groups. Also, the Agrofoodforest is available to visitors and school field trips, so adults and children alike can connect with these principles.

Off and running

Since the program began in August 2013, four students have completed the certification requirements; twelve new students are scheduled to begin the program in Fall 2014.

“We have had a tremendous amount of interest in growing food. Whether it is actual food production or incorporating food-producing plants into ornamental landscapes, this is the area where I receive the most inquires. Everyone has an interest in horticulture to some degree, but when food is mentioned eyes light up, heads turn, and the work begins.”

~ Aaron Poulsen

For more information about the program, call 678.226.4566.

Image credit: Frank Reddy