San Diego City College has planted the seeds to meet a growing demand for sustainable agriculture, thanks to a burgeoning program that is preparing the next generation of farmers.
At the core of the Sustainable Urban Agriculture program is Seeds@City Urban Farm, which comprises three plots totaling about an acre on which everything from sunflowers and Swiss chard to basil and green onions are grown. Students manage the planting, harvesting, advertising, and pricing of the produce.
“This is not backyard gardening,” said Dr. Minou Spradley, Dean, Engineering and Technologies, Mathematics, Sciences, and Nursing. “The farms are our outdoor classrooms in a program developed to train students for jobs in the agricultural industry, which is one of the biggest employers in the state of California.”
The program, which offers three certificates and one Associate of Science degree, is undergoing unprecedented growth and may soon expand. Erin McConnell, a City College Assistant Professor of Agriculture and the Sustainable Agriculture Program Manager, was recently hired as the program’s first full-time faculty member. Courses are becoming more rigorous, and administrators are developing a “transfer model curriculum” to provide graduates of the City College program priority in applying to California State University campuses that offer bachelor’s degrees in agriculture.
“This is a pretty exciting time for us in the program,” McConnell said. “There’s a
whole shift in the way people see food right now, and that’s led to a resurgent interest
Some produce is sold to students, faculty, staff, and community members at a farm stand near 16th and C streets. Dean Spradley said the program is also working toward providing a portion of the harvest to the campus food pantry.
“It’s really among the finest fresh produce you’ll find in San Diego,” said Paul Sommers, a City College adjunct professor who teaches a direct marketing class.
City College student Kris Monterroso spent a recent afternoon bunching fresh-picked greens from the main farm near the Saville Theatre. “This is an incredible program,” said the former Navy corpsman, who plans to transfer to San Diego State University before starting a career in the field of sustainable agriculture. “It’s all hands-on.”
The program evolved when a group of City College professors decided to create a farm on campus in the heart of San Diego’s East Village for the purpose of supporting the campus community, as well as an apprenticeship program. In 2010, the Sustainable Urban Agriculture program was launched, with Seeds@City Urban Farm as the outdoor classroom. The Sustainable Urban Agriculture program was later moved to the Department of Life Sciences, and significant upgrades were made to the curriculum to boost scientific rigor, improve job readiness for students, and prepare students for transfer to four-year university programs.
“It’s amazing how far this program has come since we first started so many years ago,” Dean Spradley said.