The global indoor agriculture market is expected to grow to more than $27 billion by 2020, fueled by consumer demand for fresh, local produce, a growing population, an ability to produce food in otherwise unfarmable locations, and heavy investment. But that growth is all speculation unless there are actually growers to grow the food and fill those jobs of the future. With this in mind, several universities and experienced growers have begun offering an array of programs and short courses designed to get the growing class of controlled environment farmers up and running.
Housed under the university’s Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering and the School of Plant Sciences, CEAC is a hub for indoor ag education, research, and networking. The center includes a 5,200 square ft. training greenhouse, labs for plant physiology and engineering, a hydroponic growth chamber, and a “smart classroom” kitted out with technology that incorporates live data from the greenhouses into the classroom and shares lessons and visiting lecturers with distance learners. Through its own extension services and public curriculum, the CEAC also engages the public with opportunities for people not enrolled in the university to gain crop-specific hydroponic production experience, along with training on greenhouse management and design.
Cornell University is a land-grant university known for its conventional agriculture programs, but since the late 90s, the school has also been working on research, education, and production of soil-less, indoor ag systems. The school’s Center of Excellence for Controlled Environment Agriculture Technology Transfer, Education, and Applicable Research (CEA Center) offers hydroponic training for teachers teaching at all levels of education, training for professional hydroponic growers, and workshops for the general public. The CEA Center also manages its own hydroponic lettuce production facility designed to produce up to 1,245 lettuce heads each day.
With all the buzz around indoor ag, there are plenty of inexperienced but interested folks from far outside the world of agriculture looking for agricultural skills. Upstart University caters to that interest from the everyman with a tightly packaged, self-directed program of courses on hydroponics, aquaponics, lighting systems, vertical farming, and system design that’s aimed at getting prospective farmers educated and launched in as short a timeframe as the farmer’s interest and schedule will allow. The program also offers courses on more traditional but important farm topics like farm planning, pest and disease management, and market access. To make the courses accessible to as many people as possible, students pay for the courses on a subscription basis, rather than per course, allowing students to work through as much of the course catalog as they’d like, on their own schedule. When the membership expires after one month or one year, students can renew and continue their studies. With memberships as cheap as $9.99 per month and a bundle of additional resources that include farm planning software and private tutoring, Upstart University provides a highly accessible entry point into non-traditional ag for self-starters.
Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (AISA) at Cal Poly Pomona
Known for its six and 12 week organic farming courses, Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (AISA) recently launched a new two-day intensive course focused on small-scale hydroponic greenhouse systems. The $487 course combines the technical knowledge of greenhouse production, lighting systems, and greenhouse design with farm business planning and marketing considerations.
Aquaponic farmers and consultants Rebecca Nelson and John Pade offer a three-day course designed to provide complete curriculum for current or aspiring aquaponic producers. The course is based on Nelson and Pade’s 20 years of experience in the aquaponics business and additional greenhouse production experience and is taught in the company’s 14,000 square ft. greenhouse facility. Instruction includes lectures and presentations, but also hands-on work in the greenhouse. The course runs five times per year in Montello, WI, at a cost of $995 per person. Participants also have an option to take the course for undergraduate or graduate credit at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
This three-day, farmer-designed course focuses on nose to tail technology training for aspiring aquaponic growers. By appealing to students, folks looking for a career change, professors, concerned parents, the program looks to pull in just about anyone off the street and turn them into a successful aquaponic grower based on an educational formula that emphasizes cheap and easy startup, simplified technical training, and profitability. The course is given at locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California and costs $995, which includes the class, a printed manual, copies of all the videos used in the course, and lifetime technical support.
Though not an actual course or program in and of itself, Ohio State’s GIRM is a decentralized collaboration between extension educators from Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, Kansas State, and greenhouse industry professionals focused on disseminating best practices for controlled environment agriculture. The group holds regular conversations about the latest developments in greenhouse research and technology, then posts information about those developments on the GIRM website and uses it as the basis for seminars and workshops held throughout the Midwest by each of the extension partners in their local communities.
The Dutch university HAS offers a 50 hour online certificate course for experienced horticulturists interested in learning more about indoor growing. The “Growing Without Daylight” course is broken down into 10 modules, each of which includes lectures, coursework, and live interaction with an instructor and fellow students. In addition to academic focuses on nutrient management, temperature control, and plant biology, the program gives students the chance to co-design light recipes for plants being grown in the HAS Climate Chamber in The Netherlands and track the results of each recipe. The course costs $560.50.
Stonebridge College in Cornwall, England offers two distance-learning introductions to hydroponics, focusing less on the commercial farming aspect of hydroponics and more on the basics of what hydroponics is and the biology of how it works. The 9 lesson course can be taken as a correspondence course with paper materials sent through the mail or online for just under $240.
For those confident about pursuing aquaponics as a career from a young age, Dakota College offers a two-year degree program in Aquaponics Production and Management. The program is designed to prepare students for jobs in the growing CEA field, including all the basic topics specific to aquaponics, as well as supporting coursework in chemistry, produce marketing, and entrepreneurship. For students without the time or money to commit to a two year program, the school also offers a three semester certificate course containing a selection of 15 courses pulled from the broader curriculum.