University offers sustainable agriculture certificate

The Washington State University (WSU) Graduate School is offering a new certificate in sustainable agriculture to graduate students. The certificate is a post-bachelor’s program that requires only three courses (for a total of nine credits) to complete: two courses are required in the core program and one elective course chosen from specific university departments. 

The application process is unusual in that it is open to anyone with a bachelor’s degree (with at least a 3.0 average), making WSU the only university in the United States to offer a sustainable agriculture certificate across disciplines.

Students who are accepted into the Sustainable Agriculture Certificate program will learn about a broad spectrum of topics in environmental health, as well as the processes and policies of using sustainable agriculture practices, said Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, biologically intensive agriculture and organic farming coordinator and contributor to the development of the program. The goal is for students to become well-versed in the current practices and issues in sustainable agriculture, along with the hard science that makes it work.

“Our philosophy is that sustainability is more than resource efficiency,” said Carpenter-Boggs. “Sustainable methods or systems must be economically viable, environmentally sound and socially responsible. Whenever possible, improvements in sustainability will improve two or all of these components. At the least, whenever one ‘leg’ is improved, the others must remain viable.”

This certificate is valuable for all students interested in sustainable agriculture—from the graduate student coming out with a degree in, say, soil science, to a student with a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, such as education, who is interested in learning more about sustainable agriculture. Students who earn the certificate may take sustainable agriculture knowledge and skills learned into all industries and agencies involved in the food chain, from production, processing and delivery to policy, regulation and education.

“We created the certificate program because we had a lot of requests from graduate students from soil and crop sciences and other disciplines who wanted more programs in sustainable agriculture,” said Carpenter-Boggs. However, the earliest interest in a sustainable agriculture certificate program, she noted, came from the university’s education department and those graduate students who were interested in working in nonprofit organizations. 

“This shows that the strong interest in sustainable agriculture comes not only from growers with the interest in its philosophy and efficient way of producing crops, but it is very much a social movement,” said Carpenter-Boggs. “We wanted to provide a certificate that addresses students who approach sustainable agriculture from both these angles.”

Courses can be taken at the Pullman, Wash., campus or online, with the exception of a one-week field analysis of sustainable food systems on various farms throughout Washington State. The university approved the certificate in early October 2007; both faculty and student groups supported the proposed certificate in an effort to improve the university’s agricultural program options.

The program costs $400 per credit, for a total of about $3,600 to obtain the certification; those students already enrolled in WSU’s postgraduate degree programs can obtain the certificate at no cost. The certificate can be completed in one year. The two courses required are:

  • Field Analysis of Sustainable Food Systems—an experiential course that takes students to farms, food processing and marketing facilities to develop an understanding of issues and relationships of sustainable food systems. Involves a one week in the field component.
  • Current Research in Organic and Sustainable Agriculture—a course that teaches students the philosophical, legal and practical definitions of U.S. organic and sustainable agriculture. Current popular and research issues are investigated through discussion and critique of scientific literature. Skills are developed to understand how physical, economic and social environments shape sustainable and organic agricultural systems and decision-making.

A third course must be chosen from a “Scientific Breadth Component” list of graduate classes from various departments, including Agriculture, Crops & Soil Sciences, Horticulture & Landscape Architecture, Entomology, Community & Rural Sociology, Animal Science or Plant Pathology.

For more information on WSU’s graduate certificate in sustainable agriculture, visit http://www.csanr.wsu.edu/EducationOpps/gradcert.htm.

The author is a freelance writer from Keene, N.H.