Indoor farming and education are gradually intertwining as growers and industry experts partner with school systems and educators to share the ins and outs of the industry with the next generation. Schools, universities, and private programs are bringing indoor agriculture to the forefront through comprehensive program implementation, indoor/vertical campus farms, career-readiness programs, and home grow kits .
Contain Inc. content creator Janesha Anthony explored the topic and spoke with Charlie Shultz, Academic Director of Controlled Environment Agriculture, to take a closer look at the evolution and growth of education within industry.
Key Elements Required for a Strong Indoor Agriculture Program
The first key element of a good indoor agriculture curriculum is industry involvement, as Charlie notes. A new indoor agriculture program must be connected to academic and industrial players. These actors should steer the curriculum provided. A strong academic advisory board will help create and validate the program. Regular meetings will ensure that the program curriculum remains up to date with industry advancements.
Second, to expose students to various culture systems that can be found in the industry. Having examples of hydroponics, including aquaponics, and using all types of hydroponics exposes students to any design they might encounter once they enter the workforce.
“Additionally, programs like mine that focus on workforce development and building a pool of highly skilled labor should have systems at scale that represent what can be found in industry. Large systems that run continuously will ensure that students have been exposed to all aspects of factory production in a staggered production method,” notes Charlie.
Photo credits: Zipgrow
A recently implemented CEA program
Zipgrow’s latest partnership offers a CEA program that will be available for students from September 12 to November 4, 2022. The partnership facilitates employment readiness in the agricultural technology sector regarding greenhouses, indoor farms, food supply , pharmaceuticals and alternative crops.
As the industry grows and becomes key to the future of the food supply, it becomes increasingly crucial to share knowledge and opportunity with the next generation of the workforce. Another indoor farming company, AmHydro, has also been at the forefront of offering learning through its introductory seminar on growing hydroponics through hands-on experiences.
The next generation represents an exciting agricultural transition
Charlie thinks this new generation of farmers represents an exciting transition for the careers of the younger generation of producers. The technology is attractive because the next generation of growers have all grown up with cutting-edge technologies.
“Rather than seeing agriculture as the return of warm fields, they see opportunities to use their skills in wireless technologies and the Internet of Things. Advances in lighting, for example, have opened up potentials that didn’t exist before light recipes, flashing to extend duration, energy savings, and more.”
Photo credits: Cornell University
Do you believe that the number of career opportunities in the sector corresponds to the interest of the industry?
“I think it’s like the chicken and egg scenario. This year alone, over $1 billion has been invested in indoor farming. Many, for example, have received over $400 million dollars from Walmart in 2022. Jobs are opening up but lack of training is creating a workforce vacuum.Without schools dedicated to workforce development, the industry will lack the skilled personnel that ‘she’s looking for,’ Charlie says.
According to him, some growth skills can be learned on the job, but the in-depth knowledge required to manage CEA facilities will require a highly skilled workforce. Curricula will continue to develop to meet this need, but experienced teachers and trainers can be a barrier to curriculum development.
Charlie thinks hydroponics may be the better approach for an indoor farming program than aquaponics. Hydroponic systems are great for classrooms, can start and stop easily, and are basically cookie-cutter recipes to follow. While aquaponic systems require experience and advanced training in aquaculture and horticulture. This specialty is difficult to find, and it is difficult to find potential educators with experience in this field.
Photo credits: Rooted
Spreading the Benefits of Indoor Farming
While career development is a huge space for indoor farming and education, it’s certainly not the only way the two join forces. This summer, Contain Inc’s corporate wellness platform Rooted expanded to reach universities, with the goal of bringing the mental health benefits of indoor farming directly to young adults across the country in an exciting and rewarding way.
The platform thrives on the new digital age of remote working coupled with the flexibility and convenience of indoor cultivation. Remote learning has been and will continue to be a catalyst for education in the world of indoor farming. The Indoor Agriculture program also allows students to delve into a variety of topics related to food supply, the environment, and technology.
Additionally, schools can host indoor farms on campus and create real hands-on programs and experiences despite the climate and with the benefits of reduced resources to sustain it. A high school in Broadmeadows is installing a litter-free indoor farm in its canteen, following the trend of edible gardens popping up in schools across the country.
The CEA Student Association, an initiative of the CEA Center at the University of Arizona
The future of indoor farming
Charlie is currently working on increasing the pipelines. As he says, we will definitely see more high school programs to introduce students to CEA education. Including more dual-credit classes that give students college credit while in high school. According to him, pipelines from high school to community and technology colleges will increase.
“Most indoor agriculture students want and need hands-on opportunities, so schools offering indoor agriculture programs need to invest in large-scale facilities and systems. Articulation agreements will be developed between technical schools and 4-year universities to steer students toward careers in indoor agriculture.The industry will also be moving toward micro-credentials for beginning growers.Rather than college degrees, these micro-credentials, or badges, focus on the specific job skills needed and can be obtained in a short time. These badges could include lighting, crop production, nutrient management, etc.,” notes Charlie.
Companies can require these credentials and can help their employees earn them while working. The indoor farming community will need to validate the program for these micro-certificates and standardize it across the United States.
“Overall, Gen Z and Millennials are spearheading the next generation of sustainable eating and are increasingly interested in the topic. Supporting their initiatives through programs and opportunities to learning more about how they can be part of this change through education is key.”
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