A new degree program being developed at SUNY-Cobleskill will blend the expertise of those in the agriculture business management field with those in culinary arts and draw from the experience of those working on farms.
The college is creating a new bachelor’s degree program in food systems and technology with the help of a $140,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Details are being developed, but if all goes as planned, the three-year project will lead to individual courses in the spring of 2014 and a new bachelor’s degree by 2015, said Jason Evans, Ph.D., assistant professor of agricultural business management.
Evans said the effort will include a focus on local product development, bringing students together with local farmers who want to explore packaging their own products like milk and cheese.
“We want to provide a real-world product development exercise for students,” Evans said.
Evans sees the initiative as way to seize onto a growing emphasis on the importance — and economic sense — that local food systems make compared with those that bring locally available produce from thousands of miles away.
“Regional and local systems can have broad appeal. I think it can be a new economic paradigm. Local sourcing makes more sense than long-haul transport from South America and California,” Evans said.
Students studying food systems, agricultural business and culinary arts could benefit from a concentration on creating value-added products from raw commodities, as could local farmers, he said.
“Farmers really say ‘we’re good to go on production. We need assistance with marketing and product development and distribution,’ ” Evans said.
Students and farmers are already making progress through the college’s online farmers market, schohariefresh.com, which has drawn 35 producers and thousands of dollars of food orders over the past year.
That platform, which provides a menu of offerings, an online ordering form and a single pickup location, can be expanded to include larger orders for bulk purchases.
“We can utilize that site to facilitate wholesale-type relationships,” Evans said.
The grant doesn’t provide money for “bricks and mortar,” Evans said, so some value-added goals for the program will have to be ironed out — including a retail store Evans envisions for the college.
A store would serve as an outlet for products developed through the program, giving students and farmers ideas on what sells and what doesn’t.
The college recently secured milk processing equipment from the state, Evans said, and the hope is that gear can be used as part of product development as well.
The entire project aims to create 14 new classes, including seven lectures and five laboratories to be designed as part of the new degree program.
Some studies will bring students out to local farms, while others will bring farmers to the college.
Courses to be developed will also include fee-based sessions for farmers with topics including government regulations so farmers can learn how to go about legally packaging their own goods and selling them.
They would also include a value-added marketing course to concentrate on marketing strategies and developing relationships with retailers and restaurants, and an industry-specific Spanish language training course to improve communication with the agricultural workforce.
The push to promote New York’s yogurt and other agriculture-based industries gives the college an opportunity to train students for today’s jobs, Evans said.
“We’re a also looking to produce students who can go into existing operations.”