Wilmington College adds sustainable agriculture minor

Monte Anderson, professor of agriculture, works with students in his horticulture class. The new minor, Sustainability, features a core curriculum of several agriculture courses, including horticulture, along with a number of electives that match students' career interests.

The world is looking to American agriculture to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050 and American agriculture is counting on college students to bear a significant burden of the brainpower needed to meet that challenge.

Wilmington College has established a new minor, Sustainability, that will officially debut in fall 2013. It features an interdisciplinary curriculum with 12 hours in agriculture courses and a dozen hours of electives, from across the academic spectrum, designed to dovetail with a student’s career interests.

“It takes students on different paths,” said Monte Anderson, professor of agriculture. “This will be a minor that complements a lot of different majors.

“We have a great agriculture program at Wilmington College,” he added. “Our graduates understand horticulture, soil science and crop and animal science, but, with sustainability, it’s not all about agriculture — there’s a political and societal side to the subject.”

Michael Snarr, professor of social and political studies, teaches one of the electives, the Global Politics of Food course. He said the challenge of feeding a planet of 9 billion people over the next 40 years involves much more than what has traditionally been considered as within the realm of farming.

“Agriculture is a modern miracle in its ability to feed 7 million people, but modern agriculture is based on oil and oil is a finite resource,” he said, noting one must also take into consideration “several impending crises” relating to farming and climate change.

He said much of the world is already experiencing a water crisis, and there is a scarcity of arable land and a poor global food distribution system in which the “average bite of food” comes from 1,500 miles away.

Factor in that much of the Third World subsists on a diet of rice and beans.

“The emerging world will demand meat and a American/European-like diet,” he said. “Somehow we must double the output of food using far less land, water, fertilizer, etc.”

 Technology, hybrid seeds and modern farming practices have combined to increase corn yield grown on the College Farm from 150 bushels-per-acre 20 years ago — which was a good yield — to 200 bushels-an-acre today.

Anderson added that sustainability requires participation of the population and informed choices.

“McDonald’s has salads now because it responded to popular demand; it’s the same with Kroger, in which 20 percent of its produce is organically grown,” he said.

In addition to a core curriculum of soil science, horticulture and two courses in crop and animal science, elective courses in the Sustainability minor include several optional agriculture classes: Agriculture Policy, Organic Farming, Local Food Systems and Ecological Challenges in Agriculture Systems.

Non-agriculture electives include Snarr’s Global Politics of Food course, as well as Comparative Economic Systems, Rural Sociology, Environmental Sociology and Communications, The Politics of Globalization, the literature course Rural Life and the Environment, sustainability internships and a study/service experience.

Lee Hieronymus, a retired 1969 alumnus, farm owner and member of WC’s President’s Advisory Committee, said the sustainability minor is a “great example” of agriculture and other academic areas working together.

“This kind of cooperation really makes Wilmington work,” he said. “We have to keep this edge of being progressive — and you’re doing it.”

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