Trade associate update – Valencia College

Trade associate member update

Preparing tomorrow’s produce farmers at Valencia College

Valencia College is on a mission to create the next generation of growers.

Its Landscape and Horticulture Technology program soon will become the Plant Science and Agriculture Technology program. The college is keeping its present curriculum but adding new courses to prepare the fruit and vegetable farmers of the future.

“We’re going to offer a new specialization in Sustainable Agriculture,” said Dr. Javier Garces, professor and program director for the Landscape and Horticulture Technology Program. “There’s a strong demand for more local food production – and not just from small farms, but the larger farms as well. There’s a need for people who are trained to grow fruits and vegetables. We realized that with the current model we have, we are not able to provide that type of training for our students.”

The new program’s main focus will be on teaching production agriculture, Garces said, whether in the context of a large-scale operation with traditional production methods or small-scale organic farming. “We want to try to train individuals to farm in different systems, so to speak,” he said.

In addition to the Associate in Science degree program, students can pursue several technical certificates that can stand alone. In other words, students can earn one, two or three certificates, which count if they decide to earn the AS degree.

“For example, the first one is 12 credits. The second one is 18 credits. So after you have the first one, you take two more courses and you now have the second one. The third one is 30 credits, which is basically halfway to the AS degree. You can use those credits toward your degree,” Garces said.

While the plan is in place, the content of the curriculum is not. Garces says that core courses used in the existing program will be incorporated into the new one, but he’s looking for input for the new agriculture content. The department has a good relationship with the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association, which advises it on that part of the industry, but Garces wants to reach out to fruit and vegetable growers to see what they think should be covered.

“I don’t have a lot of contacts with the fruit and vegetable portion of the industry. So that’s where I’m asking FFVA for help,” said Garces, a graduate of the University of Florida’s Doctor of Plant Medicine Program. “We’d love to have some industry feedback. If anyone from the larger companies or the smaller companies would like to have a say in the training I’d love to hear from them. At this point we have a rough outline, but we need specifics.”

Garces said that the need for expansion has been growing for several years. His program enrolled 60 students in 2009, but that has grown to 150 this year. Some students go on to enroll in four-year programs, while others stop with the associate’s degree or certificate. Some students are hobbyists and some are already working but looking to improve their skills.

Garces said he hopes to have the program up and running within a year.

Producers or other industry members who are interested in sharing their thoughts and expertise may contact Garces at 407-582-1820 or via email at jgarces3@valenciacollege.edu.

“We already have courses in plant pathology, entomology, soil science and fertilizers, greenhouse operations and management. So now we would like to develop newer courses – for example, courses in hydroponics and aquaponics – produce-oriented courses. We’re not going into livestock,” Garces said. “We would be very grateful to hear from the people who know this business.”

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