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New DCTC program focuses on sustainable food production

Matt Brooks spent a recent sabbatical learning about sustainable food programs and figuring out a way to start one at Dakota County Technical College. His work paid off, and starting in fall 2013, the DCTC Landscape Horticulture program will offer a sustainable food systems certificate.

Over the years, Brooks has fed a growing passion to understand food production and its impact on us all. After teaching a class about the topic, Brooks found that some his students shared his interest and he felt it was area that's underserved by higher education.

"It's something students are interested in and I felt it was time to offer it," said Brooks.

Fellow DCTC horticulture instructor Catherine Grant said younger students especially want to learn about sustainable and edible landscapes. One of the first in the state to offer such a program, Grant said DCTC is on the cutting edge of what she sees as a growing trend in the horticulture and landscape industry. The University of Minnesota also offers an organic food program.

"I'm super excited about this opportunity. Students want something new and programs that reflect their values," said Grant.

The 27-credit certificate will take a year to complete. The courses will focus on plant and soil science, pest management and sustainable landscape methods. Brooks said students will learn to design beautiful outdoor spaces that are productive. They will also visit local sustainable farming enterprises.

To provide hands-on experience, the school will build a demonstration garden. Students have already started work on the garden and it will serve as a lab area for demonstrating sustainable food production techniques. Brooks said the garden should be laid out this spring.

Students in other departments will also gain experience from the garden, said Brooks. So far students in the civil engineering department have help grade and prepare the land for the garden.

Construction of the garden was made possible through funds from the DCTC Landscape Horticulture Club's annual plant sale.

The garden will include vegetable, perennial and annual fruit crops, an orchard and more. Grant said the garden will offer students hands on opportunities to learn and really absorb the course material.

"I'm really kind of pumped. The lab component is key to making this a success," said Grant.

Brooks believes the garden can also serve as an outreach opportunity in the community. With the produce grown in the garden, Brooks said the school could start either a small farmers market or campus CSA. He also thinks DCTC could offer garden space to members of the community.

Grant and Brooks are excited to see what happens with the new program. Both said students seem enthusiastic and at least a few students have chosen to extend their tenure at DCTC for another year to complete the certificate.

For more information about the sustainable food systems program visit and go to the Landscape and Horticulture page.

Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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