Diverse local agriculture provides career options for students

Scott Barnes

Staff Writer

 

Photo by Billi Jo Hart/Prospectus News Above is a view of an Autumn Olive branch, used by Autumn Berry Inspired to make products such as jams and fruit leather. Autumn Berry Inspired was one of the many booths open at Urbana’s Market at the Square on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014.

Photo by Billi Jo Hart/Prospectus News
Above is a view of an Autumn Olive branch, used by Autumn Berry Inspired to make products such as jams and fruit leather. Autumn Berry Inspired was one of the many booths open at Urbana’s Market at the Square on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014.

Agriculture majors at Parkland have a large amount of possible career choices after completing their degree, including forging their own definition of local agriculture in Illinois.

Jon Titus, Crop Science/Animal Science major and newly elected President of Parkland’s Agriculture Club, is just one of these students. Because he had prior college credits, Titus did not qualify for the Pathway program to the University of Illinois, but Titus still intends to transfer to the University after he is finished with his courses at Parkland College.

For students like Titus, going into commercial farming is the most likely career path, but there are other options available. Professor Don Bergfield wants his students to be aware of the options available to them.

“We cover sustainability in theory,” Bergman explained. “I do this for my commercial Ag students because they need to understand that some of the practices that we have are not sustainable in the long term. They are sustainable in the short term, but we need to be thinking more long term.”

It is important for students to be aware of the multiple aspects of farming, and what the future of agriculture might look like. In addition to sustainability, Bergfield would also like his students to learn how to grow their own food sources at home.

“Students would leave my class not having any idea how to feed themselves,” Bergfield said. “That got to be kind of an issue for me; you should at least know how to feed yourself if you’re trying to feed the world.”

Bergfield teaches a crop science class in which students learn mostly about corn and soybeans, because those crops are easily grown locally, and that is where the jobs are at. In an effort to teach his students about more than just corn and soybeans, he requires his students to share reports on other crops, such as oats, blueberries, carrots and hemp. His hope is that these students will open their minds and learn about other food sources.

Local startup company Autumn Berry Inspired is a perfect example of students adopting a more comprehensive view on agriculture. Based on a sustainable organic farm in Urbana, the company uses berries from the autumn olive tree to create products such as jam and fruit leather.

According to the company’s website, the Autumn Olive tree is native to the mountains of Eastern Asia and was first introduced to North America as an ornamental shrub. The tree quickly began to grow out of control, and is now labeled as an invasive species. Therefore, a lot of commercial farmers want the trees removed from their land.

Founder of Autumn Berry Inspired, Dustin Kelly, saw the tree in a different way. He appreciates the berries these trees produce, and utilizes them to create unique products.

“I realized there was a business opportunity in utilizing this local, if not native, species,” Kelly explained. “I saw how the concept of invasive soured the experience of nature for many people.  They would say that they ‘hated’ this species and that one, calling them nasty and ugly, and the whole situation a ‘disaster’.”

Kelly hopes his business inspires other people to look at farming, and invasive species, in a different way. For him, starting the company was a way to show others the value of permaculture.

“Such an endeavor would be a boost to the economy by creating jobs, companies, and cooperatives,” Kelly said. “Finally, there was the opportunity for innovation and artistry, allowing craftspeople to create food and beverages from a new abundant local resource.”

There are many different majors available within the field of agriculture, as well as concentrations on topics such as sustainability or organic farming. If you are a student interested in the agriculture courses offered here at Parkland College, you should visit the Counseling and Advising Center.

Students interested in learning more about the Ag Club should visit Student Life in the new Student Union.