U.S. Labor Secretary Tours Vt. Farm Job Training Program
10/02/12 5:50PM By Steve Zind  Download MP3
Mention the term ‘job training' and most of us think of the push to prepare people to fill high tech manufacturing jobs.
But there's something similar going on in agriculture.
The U.S. Labor Secretary was in Vermont Tuesday to highlight an education and training program designed to prepare people for the farm jobs of the future.
As she toured the farm at Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center Labor Secretary Hilda Solis heard about breeding heifers and managing herds.
For years the VTC farm has concentrated on milking cows and sending bulk milk off to market. Now, thanks to a $3.4 million grant announced by Solis that's all going to change.
VTC President Phil Conroy says the grant allows the school to broaden the focus and teach a range of applied farming skills necessary to make cheese, butter, yogurt and non-dairy products.
"This will allow us to develop our own specialty food products as part of our education program,". Conroy explains. "We have a closed food system so all the products that we produce will go back into our own food system. That allows us to teach going from production to market to consumer."
Teaching a broader range of farming skills means students like senior Rachel Arsenault of Fairfax will be able to get the foundation necessary to run the diversified farm operation she dreams of.
"It's hard to get an education in that because you can learn how to milk the cows or you can learn the retail end of selling milk," says Arsenault. " It's hard to learn the in-between process."
The shift from teaching ag students about producing milk as a commodity to making value-added products is an effort to create a more stable farm economy - one less subject to volatile price changes in the fluid milk market.
Labor Secretary Solis says the grant is about the fact that farming involves a broader range of disciplines than in the past - from energy production to new environmental technologies.
According to Solis, "It's a whole new adventure in terms of looking at agriculture, conservation, renewable energy, waste management and conservation, but also knowing there's a market to create new products."
The grant will support VTC's Applied Agriculture And Food Systems Institute, which offers degree and certification programs in everything from meat cutting to soil conservation.