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Vermont Colleges to share resources in creating food systems degree


by John Herrick,

A consortium of Vermont colleges launched a plan Thursday to make the state “the destination for agricultural education.”

The colleges announced an agreement to share the state as a “campus” for undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees in food systems.

The first-of-its-kind, cross-institutional food systems program, the Vermont Higher Education Food Systems Consortium, encourages schools to share courses, internships, land, faculty and annual symposia, according to the consortium’s memorandum of understanding.

Degrees in food systems will range from agricultural production and sustainability to diet and nutrition-related curricula.

Leaders of Green Mountain College, Sterling College, the University of Vermont, Vermont Law School, Vermont Technical College and the Vermont State Colleges signed the consortium at a Statehouse news conference Thursday.

Phil Conroy, president of Vermont Technical College, said the collaboration will combine applied studies of agriculture from the state’s technical schools, research focus from the University of Vermont and a postsecondary education in public policy component at Vermont Law School.

“Our goal is to make Vermont the destination for agricultural education here in the country and around the world,” Conroy said. “There isn’t a combination of institutions in the country that can claim the strength that we have here in Vermont in agricultural education.”

Conroy said the partnership will begin “organically” — and almost immediately.

Paul Costello is executive director for the Vermont Council on Rural Development, which founded the partnership. He said the agreement will make the state the premier location to study food systems.

“With Vermont as the classroom, [Vermont’s higher education institutions] will offer rich learning opportunities and place-based experiences in food systems development by working together,” Costello said.

Students will pay tuition for the institution in which they are enrolled; more details will be worked out during an upcoming meeting, he said.

“There’s some complexities yet to be worked out,” Costello said. “It’s really crucial to know we are at the beginning of something that’s an ongoing process of development.”

Tom Sullivan, president of the University of Vermont, said the partnership offers a new meaning of interdisciplinary education.

He said the collaboration aligns with Gov. Peter Shumlin’s 2012 report to encourage collaboration between higher education institutions, particularly closer collaboration between UVM and the state college system.

Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding, who spoke with the governor prior to the news conference Thursday, restated Shumlin’s support for the consortium.

“He goes, you know, ‘tell them Jeb, I like silos when we need them, but I don’t when we don’t,’” Spaulding said.