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Hartnell College Launches Agriculture Institute and Fundraising Effort

Hartnell College announced the official launch of its Agricultural Business and Technology Institute and a major fundraising effort involving a broad base of support from the agriculture community at a press conference Thursday morning.

"Hartnell College is committed to meeting the industry’s need for a highly qualified and trained workforce,” said Hartnell College President Dr. Edward J. Valeau. “Hartnell leaders are working with industry to meet both current and future needs of our students and our community."

The new institute, which will begin operation this fall, is the result of a comprehensive year-long planning effort by major leaders in the agricultural industry of the Salinas Valley working in partnership with Hartnell College. The group, chaired by Bob Martin of Rio Farms and Jim Bogart of the Grower-Shipper Association, first surveyed the industry and then met with officials from the leading agriculture programs of Reedley, Santa Rosa, Modesto and Consumnes colleges to develop Hartnell’s program.

The resulting plan calls for new and modified programs in several areas: agricultural business, production, and marketing; precision agriculture; wine studies and viticulture; equine science; post-harvest technology and food safety; agricultural diesel, mechanics, and fabrication; and forestry.

These programs will allow students to earn certificates in key areas, become immediately eligible for highly-coveted jobs in the industry, or to transfer to four-year colleges and universities for further study.

"The agriculture industry in and around the Central Coast depends on a formidable labor force to enable businesses to function efficiently and stay competitive,” said ag leader David Gill, a member of Hartnell’s Ag Steering Committee. “The level of technology and skill needed by workers has elevated dramatically in recent years with new electronic technology and GPS systems. The increased regulation and concern for food and worker safety also dictates a highly trained workforce."

Long-time agriculture instructor Neil Ledford has been named the institute’s first program leader. This fall the program will accept students into courses in ag law, ag economics, precision ag, and ag business taught by Ledford and by new part-time instructors from the local industry, including Bob Perkins from the Farm Bureau, who will teach Ag Law.

"This is exactly the level of involvement and partnership that this community needs,” said Margaret D’Arrigo Martin, one of the first community leaders on board with this program. “The industry needs to play a number of key roles for this new program to be successful, including providing scholarships and internships for students, funding for the program to augment state support, helping to recruit students, including current employees, identifying and providing instructors and guest speakers, advising on current needs of the industry to insure the relevance of the curriculum and course offerings, and, ultimately, hiring Hartnell ag graduates in their companies."

The program will move to the 140-acre Alisal Campus where state and local bond money will fund a new 30-40,000 square-foot applied technology building designed to accommodate agriculture and the college’s nursing and health science programs. In addition, 15 -20 acres will be set aside to create a farm lab for students to have hands-on experience with agriculture. That building is planned for completion in 2010.

Since October, the Hartnell College Foundation, through its Ag Steering Committee, has raised $1.23 million toward the $1.9 million needed for the first three years of the program. Bruce Taylor of Taylor Farms made the first gift of $100,000. That gift was significant in showing the community that this effort was worth supporting. This was followed by gifts from D’Arrigo Brothers and Tanimura Family Foundation, Driscoll Strawberry Associates, Growers Express, the California Farm Labor Contractors Alliance, Soilserv, Snow Seed and King City Young Farmers.

In the last two weeks, the Foundation has received two more extraordinary gifts: a gift of $200,000 from Fresh Express and a $500,000 challenge grant approved by The Harden Foundation. This challenge grant will help the program raise new monies to reach its goals.

"A vital, relevant agricultural program at Hartnell College will meet the needs of the Salinas Valley agricultural industry," said Bob Martin, co-chair of the Ag Steering Committee. "The availability of a local, highly-trained workforce in our number one industry is a compelling reason to be involved in this important initiative."