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Jul 03, 2012

Delaware Valley College creates a new Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Delaware Valley College is opening a 124-acre center for sustainable agriculture in North Wales, Pa., this fall to prepare its students to serve as leaders in sustainable agriculture and provide a hub for community education, and partnerships.

At the core of The Roth Center for Sustainable Agriculture is a new specialization in Sustainable Agriculture Systems, which will prepare students for careers in sustainable agriculture. 

The specialization offers students the unique opportunity to learn about both plant and animal agriculture through classroom, lab, and farm experiences. Students from all majors will have the option of completing a minor in sustainable agriculture.

DelVal students will be prepared to lead the conversations around sustainable agriculture in an informed way,” said Dean of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Russell Redding. “Food and natural resource demands are growing, and we’ll have to do more with less water, land, and energy. Sustainable agriculture principles are important today and critical to our future.”

“There’s growing student and public interest around sustainable agriculture,” said Redding. “Students can now come to DelVal and look at organic, sustainable, and conventional practices, learn about the science, and gain the hands-on experience.”

The Center and the new specialization are part of the College’s commitment to educating students about the full spectrum of agriculture production options.

Through the Center, students and faculty will now have an area committed to sustainable agriculture where they can experiment with different production and management techniques to see sustainable principles in action. 

Having the Center available provides endless teaching and learning opportunities that include how to operate a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, community gardens, and possibly a charitable garden modeled after the “Hope of the Harvest” garden on DelVal’ s Doylestown campus.

To understand any agricultural system, you have to understand how it is different. You have to teach in the context of how other systems work,” said Redding.

DelVal’s Natural Resources and Biosystems Management Co-Chair Michael Fleischacker said the Center will look at ways of not only sustaining, but regenerating all of the systems that go into agriculture through research, study, and education.

Students will study systems such as: food, water, waste, habitats, microclimates, soils, economics, crops, and animal production systems.

Fleischacker wants students to understand how the systems they encounter are connected and how they can work together, feed off of, and regenerate each other.

Students will come up with solutions that best fit the site using this approach.

They will study crop rotation, ways to improve growing of crops to maximize yield, grazing practices for production animals, and more at the Center.

“Ultimately we’d love to figure out the way to get rid of the world waste,” said Fleischacker. “We’d like to make it so there’s no such thing as waste anymore. We’re looking at systems to manage that waste as a resource."

The Roth Farm also includes a museum. The college plans to keep the existing museum and expand community education opportunities.

Fleischacker said the college is looking to have community outreach workshops, lectures, and teaching venues to share what DelVal is doing on campus and at the Center. He hopes to bring  outside speakers to share some of the greatest and latest practices in sustainable agriculture.

He sees opportunities for students from a variety of majors to get involved, such as the business students looking at economic issues.

“The interesting thing is, it can cross all boundaries on campus and tie the different programs and schools on campus together under one roof,” said Fleischacker.

DelVal is also partnering with The Rodale Institute to offer an organic certification program for veterans at the new center. The one-year certification program is scheduled to begin in January and will teach veterans about organic production from the science of agriculture to marketing the products.

Dr. Pam Reed, chair of DelVal’ s animal science department, said the Center will allow students to learn about sustainable practices such as rotational grazing for sheep, goats, and cattle. The Center may also include poultry.

For sustainable animal agriculture systems she said marketing is crucial.

With consumers becoming more interested in where their food comes from and how it comes about, Dr. Reed said communicating that process becomes a key part of being economically viable.

She said organic farming has stricter limits on the types of treatment veterinarians can provide to keep animals healthy. Sustainable agriculture is in the middle, allowing for some treatments that organic wouldn’t.

“In sustainable agriculture we look at how can we use fewer antibiotics and still maximize growth and health,” said Dr. Reed. “I think it is a very interesting aspect to be able to offer our students.”

Redding said the College is in a unique position, with nearly 1,000 acres of land to use for living laboratories for students. He said the new plan for The Roth Center is part of DelVal’s work to make the best possible use of its resources for education.

"Our goal is to use the Center to help educate our students to be better farmers, consumers, and community leaders who understand the benefits of sustainable agriculture and are prepared to lead by example," said Redding.