Modern Farmer's 2018 Guide to Ag Schools - Modern Farmer

Modern Farmer’s 2018 Guide to Ag Schools

Looking to further your food education? Four-year degrees, advanced education, apprenticeships and more - here are 15 of the top alternative ag programs across the country.

Whether you're looking for a traditional, four-year degree, going back to school, or want an immersive, hands-on apprenticeships, one of these top alternative ag programs might be just what you're looking for.
Photography By Who is Danny /

While the trend reflects a throbbing interest among millennials to play a part in building a healthier and more holistic food system, anyone who furthers their ag education can rest assured knowing that they’ll likely have jobs waiting for them on the other side: The agricultural sector, broadly speaking, has 1.7 jobs available for every agricultural graduate, according to a 2015 report. And the demand for local, organic food continues to outstrip supply.

The nation’s colleges and universities offer more than just majors and master’s degrees to those looking to advance their knowledge of cover crops or integrated pest management. Beyond standard degree programs, the USDA lists another 140 sustainable agriculture learning opportunities at colleges and universities – online courses, adult education classes (everything from how to shear a sheep to brewing your own beer), and campus farms that offer hands-on learning. The latter are conveniently listed in map format here by the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association.

The USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Education and Training Directory provides an exhaustive list of alternative ag programs. But if you just want to get a sense of your options, below are some of the top programs, organized according to academic interest.

Adult Education, SUNY Cobleskill, Cobleskill, NY

Program: Lifestyle Farming Conference

Format: Biannual event (the next session is in November, 2018)

Tailored to: Homesteaders, organic gardeners, and small-scale farmers and food purveyors

What You Will Learn: More than two dozen short classes are offered on topics such as seed saving; cheesemaking; poultry processing; goat care; farm equipment maintenance; how to make beer, wine, and cider; etc.

Perks: Where else can you take classes in root cellar construction and the fundamentals of charcuterie all in one day?

Tuition: $60 for the one-day conference (includes up to 5 short classes)

Hands-On Apprenticeship UCSC Farm and Garden, Santa Cruz, CA

Program: Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture

Format: Six-month residential apprenticeship

Tailored to: Aspiring organic farmers

What You Will Learn: Practical matters like orchard management and IPM, plus how to deconstruct the oppressive forces of racism, sexism, and other -isms at play in the food system

Perks: Perfect California weather, surfing nearby, plus you can live on-site at no extra charge (think tent cabins, solar showers, and communal meals)

Tuition: $6,000 (scholarships available)

The Fundamentals of Sustainable Food, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

Program: Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems major

Format: 4-year bachelor of science degree

Tailored To: students who want a well-rounded education in the field, but are not sure if they want to work as a farmer, or elsewhere in the food system

What You Will Learn: The basics of soil science, ecology, and organic horticulture

Perks: Together with the NC Department of Agriculture, NCSU operates the 2,000-acre Center for Environmental Farming Systems, one of the largest facilities of its kind, where students can gain exposure to cutting-edge organic research

Tuition*: In-state: $9,058; out-of-state: $27,406

Advanced Study, Iowa State University, Ames, IA

Program: Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture

Format: 3-year master of science and 5-year PhD degrees are offered

Tailored To: Students who wish to specialize in an area of sustainable agriculture science or policy in order to take a leadership position in the field

What You Will Learn: Pursue virtually any topic under the umbrella of sustainable agriculture in this self-directed program

Perks: The Leopold Center on the Iowa State campus has been a major funder of advanced research in sustainable agriculture for the last 30 years

Tuition*: in-state: $10,078; out-of-state: $23,790

Post-Doc Research, UC-Davis, Davis, CA

Program: Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility

Format: 300-acre research farm

Tailored To: Graduates looking to conduct independent research

What You Will Learn: Dozens of research projects are carried out here simultaneously, on everything from conservation tillage to greenhouse gas emissions, with a special emphasis on Mediterranean agriculture

Perks: Russell Ranch is home to the Century Experiment, a long-term study on numerous aspects of sustainable agriculture; 23 years of data have been collected so far – a gold mine for researchers

Tuition: Researchers typically apply for grants to support their work here

Feminist Ag Education, Smith College, Northhampton, MA

Program: Concentration in Sustainable Food

Format: 4-year bachelor of arts degree (the concentration can be completed as part of any environmental degree)

Tailored To: Students seeking to transform the food system through a feminist lens (this is one of the only programs of its kind at a women-only college)

What You Will Learn: This program is less about the practical aspects of farming, and more about food distribution systems, agricultural policy, and the socioeconomic dimensions of food production

Perks: The school is located in western Massachusetts, one of the top spots for small-scale organic farming in the country

Tuition*: in-state: $47,620; out-of-state: $47,620

African-American Ag Education, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL

Program: Plant and Soil Science (with a specialization in organic farming)

Format: 2-year master of science

Tailored To: Students looking to take a deep dive in the science of sustainable farming

What You Will Learn: Everything from soil science to entomology and breeding techniques; hands-on work focuses on crops suitable to the Deep South

Perks: This historically black university is home to the Carver Integrative Sustainability Center (named for the pioneering plantsman – and Tuskegee alum – George Washington Carver), a hotspot for organic farming enthusiasts on campus

Tuition*: in-state: $19,210; out-of-state: $19,210

Hydroponics Focus, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

Program: Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (part of the sustainable plant systems major)

Format: 4-year bachelor of science degree

Tailored To: Students who don’t like to get their hands dirty

What You Will Learn: Hydroponics, aquaponics, vertical farming, and other forms of indoor agriculture – among the fastest growing sectors in the sustainable food industry – are the sole focus here

Perks: Among the 20+ greenhouses on-site is a facility for researching how to grow plants in outer space

Tuition*: in-state: $12,200; out-of-state: $35,700

Cold Climate Focus, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska

Program: Minor in Sustainable Agriculture (part of the natural resources program)

Format: 4-year bachelor of science degree

Tailored To: Students who want to make a contribution to food security in northern communities

What You Will Learn: Animal husbandry, crop production, and agroecology theory – all as it pertains to high latitude agriculture

Perks: The Matanuska Experiment Farm, a 1000-acre facility just north of Anchorage, is an opportunity for hands-on experience

Tuition*: In-state: $7,520; out-of-state: $23,526

Tropical Focus, University of Hawaii, Kapolei, HI

Program: Concentration in Sustainable Community Food Systems

Format: 2-year bachelor of applied science degree (you must already have a 2-year associate’s degree)

Tailored To: Students that want to work in the tropical food and agriculture industry

What You Will Learn: A mix of practical growing techniques and managerial and administrative skills pertaining to tropical food systems

Perks: The campus is minutes from the beach in West Oahu! Need we say more?

Tuition*: In-state: $7,200; out-of-state: $20,160

Livestock Focus, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT

Program: Sustainable Livestock Production (a track within the sustainable food and bioenergy systems degree)

Format: 4-year bachelor of science degree

Tailored To: Aspiring pasture-based livestock farmers

What You Will Learn: Everything from grazing management to the manure management

Perks: Spending four years in the majestic Rocky Mountains

Tuition*: In-state: $7,080; out-of-state: $24,070

Viticulture Focus, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

Program: Viticulture and Enology (a track within the horticulture degree)

Format: 4-year bachelor of science degree

Tailored To: Students aspiring to work for an eco-friendly winery, or start their own

What You Will Learn: The basics of sustainable horticulture, plus all the secrets of viticulture – including how to make top-notch organic wine

Perks: There are very few viticulture degree programs in the country, even fewer that focus on sustainable methods

Tuition*: In-state: $10,797; out-of-state: $29,457

Old-School Techniques, Sterling College, Craftsbury Common, VT

Program: Draft Horse Management (offered as a minor in the sustainable agriculture program)

Format: 4-year bachelor of arts degree

Tailored To: Students who want to farm with animal power

What You Will Learn: How to hitch up a team of draft horses and use them for a variety of farm tasks, from plowing fields to hauling logs in the school woodlot

Perks: Sterling, founded nearly 50 years ago to focus exclusively on environmental stewardship, is also home to the Wendell Berry Farming Program

Tuition*: In-state: $33,570; out-of-state: $33,570

International Focus, University of Georgia/University of Padova, Athens, GA/Padova, Italy

Program: Crop and Soil Science (UGA)/Sustainable Agriculture (UNIPD)

Format: 2-year master of science dual degree

Tailored To: Serious sustainable agriculture students with a penchant for living abroad

What You Will Learn: Agricultural science from a sustainability perspective, with an emphasis on using technology to achieve sustainability goals

Perks: One year of the program is spent at the University of Padova, one of the oldest universities in the world, which is located outside of Venice, Italy

Tuition*: In-state: $8,704; out-of-state: $24,692

Online Organic Studies, Washington State University, Anywhere in The World

Program: Organic Agriculture Certificate

Format: 18-credit online course (can be taken for credit towards a college degree, or solely for personal enrichment)

Tailored To: Anyone who has a bit of hands-on horticulture or farming experience and is looking to bone up on book knowledge

What You Will Learn: Everything you need to know to start a small organic farm, from production skills to food processing and regulatory matters

Perks: This 10-year-old program was the first of its kind in the nation and is taught by faculty from the WSU organic agriculture major

Tuition*: In-state: $9,000; out-of-state: $10,206


*annual academic fees, not including room, board, books, and other fees.

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