So You Want To Learn More About Organic Dairy?
By Karen Hills, Crop and Soil Technician, University of Vermont Extension
There is a wealth of information in the field of organic dairy that can be accessed on the web, or by connecting with seasoned organic dairy farmers. However, for those in search of more directed educational opportunities, there are several options to choose from including university programs, workshops, and internships. Before considering your options, ask yourself the following questions. What do you want out of this experience? A college degree? Practical knowledge that will allow you to better manage your existing organic herd? A career as an agricultural service provider? The knowledge to go into business for yourself? How much time and money do you plan to spend? Are you willing to relocate?
The following is a summary of the results of a search for educational opportunities in the field of organic dairy in the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain. Included are universities with an organic dairy on campus and/or an organic dairy component of their curriculum. Some universities have a conventional dairy herd, but have academic programs in organic agriculture or extension programs related to organic dairy. Since the field of organic dairy is not well established as a topic of study at universities, resourceful students can round out their education by pulling together relevant coursework, become involved with organic dairy extension or certification programs, and find practical hands-on experiences. Remember to always be a discerning customer. Do your research on a program before you sign up!
Alfred State SUNY College of Technology (Alfred, NY)
All agriculture students participate in the Professional Practice Program, which includes hands-on experience working with the crops, plants, animals, facilities, and equipment. Alfred State has recently established a Center for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture and a new facility will house New York’s first on-campus organic dairy herd. Associates Degrees in Agricultural Business, Ag Technology, Ag Science, Animal Science, Veterinary Technology are offered.
California State University—Chico (Chico, CA)
Offers bachelor’s degrees in agricultural business, agriscience and education, animal science, environmental studies, as well as crops, horticulture and land resource management. The campus has an organic dairy farm.
Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO)
Offers Interdisciplinary Studies Program in Organic Agriculture, and includes coursework in ecology, soils, crop production, entomology, business management, and an internship. Participating students are enrolled at Colorado State University and receive their Bachelor’s degree from their home department (Agricultural and Resource Economics; Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management; Horticulture and Landscape Architecture; or Soil and Crop Sciences), with completion of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program recorded on their transcripts.
Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)
Cornell’s College of Agriculture offers 24 major fields of study, including Animal Science, Plant Sciences, Natural and Environmental Sytems, among others. Cornell has a large conventional dairy research farm. Cornell Extension organizes the New York Organic Dairy Initiative (www.organic.cornell.edu). A 30-acre farm dedicated to organic crop production, and Cornell offers a Summer Sustainable Agriculture Scholar program where students study biology of organic cropping systems.
Aberystwyth University (Aberystwyth, England)
The Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) offers undergraduate programs in Organic Agriculture and Animal Science. Opportunities are available for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in research on agriculture and the environment.
Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI)
Offers a one-year Organic Farming Certificate Program. While it does have a horticulture focus, the program’s goal is to prepare students to operate their own farm and helps participants connect with the greater sustainable and organic community.
Nova Scotia Agricultural College (Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada)
Offers a Certificate of Specialization in Organic Agriculture to participants who successfully complete four distance courses. Courses to choose from include: Transition to Organic Agriculture, Composting and Compost Use, Principles of Organic Horticulture, Organic Field Crop Management, and Organic Livestock Production.
University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
The Horticultural Sciences Department offers a Bachelor’s degree in Organic Crop Production. They also offer an Organic and Sustainable Crop Production minor open to all UF students.
www.hos.ufl.edu, 352-392-4711 ext. 224
(Dr. Rebecca Darnett)
University of Guelph (Guelph, Ontario, Canada)
Guelph offers an Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs in organic agriculture. French speaking students may specialize in organic agriculture within a 2-year diploma program at the Alfred campus, while the undergraduate students at the main campus in Guelph can major in Organic Agriculture. Interdisciplinary research programs approaching questions ranging from composting and nutrient management, to crop breeding, weed control, and marketing. Research positions are available to undergraduate as well as graduate students.
www.uoguelph.ca/organics, 519-824-4120 ext. 52508
(Dr. Ann Clark)
University of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
Offers undergraduate programs in Animal Science at the St. Paul campus. UMN has recently committed to converting the 70-cow dairy herd at UM-Morris to organic, along with 110 acres of land at the site. Currently, research has focused on intensive rotational grazing, crossbreeding, and out-wintering. In addition, the UMN Organic Ecology program offers education opportunities for college students interested in learning about agroecology and organic farming systems, and partners with the MN Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. UMN’s Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton leads an extensive program dedicated to exploring agriculture alternatives and the science of organic systems.
University of New Hampshire (Durham, NH)
Offers a bachelor’s degree program in dairy management. This is the first land grant university to start an organic dairy farm with plans to include teaching and research on: profitability, health-promoting properties of milk, evaluation of alternative health therapies, innovative husbandry practices, alternate cropping systems, grazing, soil health, and weed management.
University of Vermont (Burlington, VT)
Bachelor’s degree in Ecological Agriculture in the Department of Plant and Soil Science. Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science. The UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture and NOFA-VT offer resources and training related to organic dairy production, although no courses in organic animal management are currently available at UVM.
University of Wisconsin—Madison (Madison, WI)
Bachelor’s degree in dairy science. Also home to the Babcock Institute, which conducts international dairy research and development, and the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
www.cals.wisc.edu, 608-263-3495 (Dr. Pamela Ruegg)
Washington State University (Puyallup, WA)
WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources offers an Organic Agriculture Systems major (Bachelor’s degree within Agricultural and Food Systems) as well as an academic certificate program in organic agriculture for undergraduates and non-degree students. On-line courses as well as on-site internships are offered.
University of Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers
The school offers a short course focused on pasture-based dairy and livestock farming through traditional classroom activities, hands-on internships, and farm tours of pasture-based farms managed by successful graduates and mentors. Classroom instruction at the school runs from the middle of November through the end of March and students typically participate in internships from April through July.
Provides a service to connect apprentices/interns with farms in the US and Canada. Terms of internships vary. The site lists individual farms and other organizations that offer internships.
Dairy and creamery internships, apprenticeships and jobs with small-scale operations.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF)
Connects those interested in volunteering on farms to those farms looking for help – both within the US and international. Room and board is provided by farm. www.wwoof.org
Northeast Workers On Organic Farms
NEWOOF is a regional Farm Apprenticeship Placement Service. Sponsored by the New England Small Farm Institute, and coordinated from their offices in Massachusetts, NEWOOF annually publishes an annotated list of farms (generally in the Northeast) seeking apprentices. The list is made available to interested workers who are responsible for contacting the farm(s) of their choice, and directly arranging for interviews.
Regional Organic Certification Agencies
(NOFA, Oregon Tilth, Soil Association (UK))
Many certification agencies and/or organic farming associations keep lists of farms who are seeking interns and/or offer internship programs. In the Northeast, these include the following.
Northeast Organic Farming Association: www.nofa.org.
Of the NOFAs, NOFA-VT (www.nofavt.org) and NOFA-MA (www.nofamass.org) offer more formal apprentice programs. The other NOFAs offer listings of farming opportunities.
Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Program: www.mofga.org
(MOFGA) offers farm apprenticeship and journeyperson programs.
You may find additional programs on the Growing New Farmers website at www.growingnewfarmers.org. And don’t forget to check the NODPA website for farming opportunities as well!