Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Imagining at UNH Operational Farms

TEAM Organic, A call for creative thinking and learning
By: Chris Dorich
TEAM Organic offers a very unique opportunity to students at the university and is a learning style more professors should utilize. Not every school has operational farms on them, and the opportunities that these farms can provide to students are endless. In order to understand what a sustainable agriculture system is you need to experience it. When I was at home last winter break I volunteered to go and talk at my high school's
college forum answering questions for seniors and telling them what I’ve taken from college and what to look at when they apply to a college. I didn’t realize it when I applied to and then accepted to come to UNH, but this school has the programs and facilities. That is, in part, what has earned UNH the rank of 5th highest impact institution in environment/ecology based on literature citations according to sciencewatch.com. UNH is full of amazing programs and even better educators, and given the right opportunity students will excel.  No length of studying textbooks or being tested by professors will get you that knowledge you gain from hands on experience.

If you are in any natural resources class you have probably heard the fact that 40% of farmers in the US are 55 years of age or older according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. America is going to need more farmers, and the only way that is going to happen is if they have the proper education and opportunities. Ask any farmer and they will tell you it is a difficult business, especially when it comes to finances. That is why it is so
essential for universities to have farms where students can utilize the grounds, the technology, equipment and most importantly the staff in order to learn. Without a safe backdrop to learn against the new farmers of  America are less likely to succeed. TEAM organic provides that opportunity to students, where students have taken care of the feeding and maintenance of steers born on the farm, built fencing, learned about pasture management, animal safety and handling, as well as working four milking sessions and much more. And yes, two of these milkings had to be done during the morning milking which starts at 3 AM. But that, like  everything in the class is designed to give students an authentic real experience like no other. Students aren’t simply taking a class, they are learning the ins and outs of a farm and determining what is best to make an
enterprise succeed.
  The culmination of TEAM Organic is the design of and implementation of an entrepreneurial value added venture that can be done on the farm. While this was specifically designed for the farm setting this is a
skill that can be used anywhere and by anyone who is looking to start a business or add something to a business. This resulted in two projects this year: pastured chicken broilers and pastured pigs and steers. Students worked through the whole process of researching, budgeting, building, marketing, and are currently selling the products created from these projects. You are not going to learn how to add value to a farm and create a new revenue stream by simply writing a report or taking a test. Being out at the farm has given students the opportunity to build the brooder box for chicks, the chicken tractor that will roam the pasture allowing the chickens to feed, the fencing and facilities for the pigs and cows and to write and present a  business plan to members of the  COLSA office. These projects were designed for learning purposes but still small profits are expected from each of these new ventures. That is something that not only students should take to the books but the university as well. For just one example, imagine a UNH where the chicken, beef, and pork at our dining halls came from animals raised by our very own students who are trying to gain skills in marketing, business, sustainability, hospitality, or agriculture. The facilities and opportunities at UNH are endless for new profitable ventures or for more importantly great learning experiences, and all it takes is that dream from assignment one.

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