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FVCC Gears Up for New Agriculture Program
Students to start two-year agriculture and food systems program this fall
Heather Estrada clips back Thai basil at a “mini test farm” on Flathead Valley Community College property near Hutton Ranch Plaza last year. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
Flathead Valley Community College is preparing to launch its new two-year Integrated Agriculture and Food Systems program this fall. According to director Heather Estrada, the program just needs final approval from the Montana Board of Regents next month.

FVCC created the new program in response to the growing local food movement across Montana and the Flathead Valley. Estrada says students in the program can earn an associate of applied science degree in two years or start at FVCC and eventually transfer to Montana State University.

“There is a demand, both nationally and locally, for skilled agricultural workers,” she said.

FVCC started laying the groundwork for the program last year, when it hired Estrada to do a needs assessment to find how agricultural studies would fit into the school’s curriculum. Estrada earned a doctorate in crops sciences from the University of Alberta and worked at the Northwest Agricultural Research Center in Creston. The United States Department of Agriculture provided a $121,000 grant to complete the needs assessment.

The new program will feature a variety of classes in crop, food and animal science, as well as business and marketing courses. Students will also be able to take classes at FVCC and then transfer into MSU’s Agribusiness Management or Farm and Ranch Management programs as a junior.

Estrada says the FVCC program will be unique in that it caters to students interested in sustainable and local food practices. She says it will be the only program like it in western Montana.

“I think this is a great opportunity to capitalize on the local food and sustainable movement, by helping people run their own small farm,” she said.

This summer, FVCC will break ground on a new greenhouse and farm area. Although the new farm, located on school property near the Stillwater River, won’t produce anything this year, students and staff will be busy getting it ready for next year.

Last May, Estrada planted a 3,000-square-foot test garden on campus and by mid-summer it was producing vegetables that were sold at a small farm stand. Estrada says fruit and vegetables that come out of the new garden will be used by the school’s food services and culinary program.

“(Students) will get to experience an entire food system,” she said. “What’s unique about our program is how hands-on it will be.”

Students will also be required to have two internships, one on campus and one off campus at a local farm or business. FVCC spokesperson Tara Roth says the new program will have benefits for the surrounding community.

“One of our biggest goals here at FVCC is to support our community and this is an amazing way we can help,” she said. “It’ll also be easy for students to stay in state and that is a great thing for Montana as a whole.”

For more information, contact Heather Estrada (406) 756-4182 or hestrada@fvcc.edu.
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