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In The News

College of Marin’s Novato garden gets $233K grant

Will help next generation of organic farmers

The California Community College chancellor’s office has awarded a $233,000 grant to the College of Marin Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden which, combined with more than $201,950 in matching grants, will expand the regional organic farming training laboratory and make it a sustainable enterprise in the next 20 months.

“This will help us develop the next generation of skilled organic farmers,” said Nanda Schorske, dean of Workforce Development and College-Community Partnerships at the college. “There is a great need to provide support to the fast-growing industry of sustainable local agriculture.”

The grant recognizes the value of the regional collaboration that has gone into making the 5.8-acre farm on the Novato campus and its overflowing classes a reality.

College of Marin, Conservation Corps North Bay (formerly the Marin Conservation Corps), the University of California Cooperative Extension and Marin Master Gardeners have worked with a long list of committed partners that include 25 local farmers, the Workforce Investment Board of Marin, the Marin Economic Forum, the Marin County Board of Supervisors and just about every other countywide organization workforce and economic organization in Marin.

“We have established this education farm in response to strong demand in our community and region for a highly trained workforce in organic farming and gardening,” said Dr. David Wain Coon, superintendent-president of the college. “We believe this is crucial to the economic and physical health and sustainability of the greater Bay Area.”

The Industry-Driven Regional Collaborative grant was awarded by the Chancellor’s Economic and Workforce Development Division. It will help develop a regional teaching farm laboratory and launch a self-sustaining, expanded farm-production operation in less than two years. Students will also be exposed to an expanded core curriculum and a certificate program linking to baccalaureate granting university standards.

“This validates CCNB’s investment in the last three years to establish and bring the farm to this point,” said Marilee Eckert, chief executive officer at Conservation Corps North Bay. The CCNB is responsible for year-round farm operations. “Achieving a self-sustaining production level is paramount to assure that Marin and the entire North Bay can continue to lead in promoting local food systems.”

Earlier this year, the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards partnered with College of Marin and Fresh Run Farm to offer a first-of-its-kind apprenticeship program for organic farming. Students learn progressive, responsible farming practices, including landscape ecology, composting and fertility management, as well as the business side of farming, with coursework in marketing and organic certifications.

“Our local farmers and partners have helped put Marin County on the map to achieve the state’s new plan for sustainable agriculture,” Schorske said.

California, an international trendsetter in agricultural industry, is leading the way by integrating an expanded role for organic practices into a sustainable food system. In 2009, the California Department of Food and Agriculture announced AgVision 2030, a strategic plan to build a sustainable agriculture program. The challenges of obesity, diet-related diseases, deteriorating soil, dwindling water supplies, rising energy costs and climate change are all part of that plan.

AgVision 2030 acknowledges the burgeoning organics industry, now powered by companies as diverse as Whole Foods and Wal-Mart,” Schorske said.

The Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden represents the values of Marin County because it “promotes a healthy environment, a strong local economy, and helps achieve social equity through education,” Coon said.

In the last five years, the Novato campus has more than doubled in enrollment. In addition to offering a full complement of general education classes for working adults and accelerated high school students, the campus continues to expand its economic development workforce programs.

“We are committed to investing all the resources we have available for assuring the economic sustainability of the farm,” Coon said. “It has already achieved national recognition for its innovative partnerships contributing to the economic well-being of our county. The College of Marin will continue investing in and promoting the role of the farm as a flagship program for the district. It continues to play a key role in the revitalization of IVC.”c 

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