Delaware Valley University's Organic Farming Certificate Program provides a unique opportunity for students to earn 36 college credits plus a certificate in organic farming in just one year. The credits can be applied toward a bachelor's degree in sustainable agriculture systems.
The program teaches students how to produce healthy food by being gentle on the environment while positively influencing the surrounding community. It is based on DelVal's pillar of experiential learning. The program provides students with hands-on education that enables them to be successful in an organic operation.
The Organic Farming Certificate Program is a 36-credit program focused on the rapidly expanding organic farming field. Two semesters are spent at DelVal and a summer term is required at Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Rodale Institute is the global leader of regenerative organic agriculture and has a 100 percent certified organic farm.
"It's been an excellent partnership," said Dr. Jacqueline Ricotta, professor of plant science, of the work DelVal students have done with Rodale Institute.
The Organic Farming Certificate Program requires students to participate in a farm practicum each semester. Students choose an organic farm of their choice based on their interests; some have worked on animal farms while others choose herb or vegetable farms.
"Students have the opportunity to choose where they want to be and what experience they want to have," Ricotta said.
Farm practicums are structured similarly to activities in DelVal's Experience360 Program, the school's experiential learning program. The practicum is coupled with reflection activities and is a specialized form of experiential learning.
The courses in the program put students out in the field while giving them an education in a variety of topics. Commercial vegetable production provides students with their own space to raise crops, track them, harvest, and pest scout. Organic food and fiber is a course that uses certified organic ground at the Roth Center for Sustainable Agriculture, DelVal's living laboratory space for sustainable agriculture. Students walk through the farm with an organic inspector from Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) to learn what it takes to be a certified organic farmer. Marketing of horticultural products requires students to create a farm-based business and the marketing tools to go along with it. The program also offers one of the only organic livestock management courses in the country.
Thanks to two USDA grants, the Organic Farming Certificate Program has been able to offer students many resources to help them succeed in the program and their farming careers. Students have free access to incubator farms to start farming through Seed Farm in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, and Common Ground Farm in Kempton, Pennsylvania. Job placement and business plan assistance are also available to students to help them pursue farming as a career.
Since the program's start in 2012, more than 60 students have received their organic farming certificates. More than half of these students have gone on to become farmers. Ages vary from 20 all the way to 68 years old.
The program is a great option not only for people who have always been interested in agriculture, but also for people hoping for a career change. Joseph Grato, a past student in the program, had no farming experience prior to the program. After deciding he wanted to learn how to grow his own food without pesticides, he decided to start the Organic Farming Certification Program and has since moved on to become the program's coordinator.
"Organic farming shows you how to make your soil grow quality food," Grato said.
Besides career changes, the program is a great option for a gap year. High school graduates who don't have a career path established would have the opportunity to earn their organic farming certificate in a year, and then continue onto college with 36 transferable credits and with a clearer idea of what they would like to pursue.
Important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended this program can be found at DelVal.edu/organicGE.