- Associated Press - Sunday, March 1, 2015

ALLENDALE, Mich. (AP) - Students in a new certificate program at Grand Valley State University will learn the ins and outs of the local food movement, sustainable farming, and what it takes to successfully market organic produce.

The 15-credit Sustainable Food Systems Certificate is geared toward students who want to work in agriculture or the restaurant industry and focus on organic and locally grown food, said Jim Penn, a professor in the university’s Department of Geography and Planning who designed the program.

“There’s a lot of students that want to get involved with an operation, especially a restaurant or business that works in organic and locally grown food,” Penn told The Grand Rapids Press (https://bit.ly/1a7r5KY ). “There’s a lot of interest there, and there’s a lot of job satisfaction in those jobs.”

Students pursuing the certificate have a host of courses to pick from, ranging from global agricultural sustainability, principles of soil science and the sociology of food, to name a few.

All must take introduction to environmental studies and sustainability, as well as a course in sustainable agriculture, in which students will grow, harvest, clean and market organically grown produce, Penn said. The course will be taught this summer at GVSU’s Sustainable Agriculture Project, a hands-on farming space, south of the university’s Allendale campus.

“Somebody coming in who really wants to do their own organic farming, they’re going to find out right away a lot of what you’re going to have to do, whether you like it or not,” he said.

Penn said the program is being added now, because more people are expressing an interest in the local food movement, in which customers strive to buy food that is grown organically and close to home, as opposed to being shipped from another part of the country or the world.

A lot of students, if they have the option, will “go to a farmers market or a restaurant that’s organic and uses local produce,” he said.

Kelly Parker, director of Environmental Studies, agreed, saying, “You can see this increasing interest in new restaurants that serve locally grown produce, the construction of the Grand Rapids Downtown Market and the popularity of farmers markets.”

The program is open to current GVSU students, but officials say the certificate could also appeal to older, non-traditional students who want to brush up on their skills in sustainable agriculture, but not earn a full degree.

Because the program just started, enrollment figures weren’t available, but Penn said he expects 30 to 40 students per year to earn the certificate.

“We think it’s going to be popular, based on the research we did,” he said.

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Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, https://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids

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