An Illinois community college has launched two new initiatives to provide training for those who want to meet demand for local food, manage agritourism venues, and create and fill other area job opportunities in agriculture.

“We have a close proximity to Chicago,” said Sheri Doyel, director of the initiatives launched over the last year at McHenry County College (MCC). “We feel like we will be educating people in a realistic way.”

Located between Crystal Lake and Woodstock, the community college first created a Center for Agrarian Learning to serve as a resource hub to connect existing and prospective farmers with what it calls “food economy leaders.” Since its start in early 2020, the center has held seminars on topics, such as “A Toolkit for Women Farmers,” “Farm Law” and “Regenerative Agriculture: A Profitable Journey.”

“We’re bringing farmers in to do a lot of the education, said Doyel. “Connecting with a network of farmers, being able to ask directly from farmers is a really powerful way to learn.”

MCC also created a new associate degree in entrepreneurial agriculture. It offers hands-on experience and business skills training for students who want to be part of agriculture in and around the Chicagoland metropolitan area. It recommends full-time students take courses that include plant science, business, marketing and an agricultural internship.

“It’s very unique because we’ve combined foundational business classes with foundational food production,” says Doyel. “Those people will come out of that program possibly poised to launch a farm business especially if they have maturity on their side so, they have some life experience. If they don’t, it’s likely that they’ll be a good candidate for a management position on a diversified vegetable farm, they could become a produce buyer for a grocery store.”

VIDEO: Learn more about McHenry County College’s two new agriculture initiatives.

“I have learned I have a lot to learn when it comes to growing plants,” said Amanda Story, a student from Algonquin enrolled in the program. “I’ve also learned just how connected everything is as far as plants, people and agriculture.” Story wants to own and operate a Community Supported Agriculture farm.

MCC student Israel Sandoval already has his eyes on two, 10- to 15-acre parcels within the county. The mid-career learner retired from jobs as a land surveyor with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other companies and has turned his attention toward farming.

“I want to get an education on how to do this correctly instead of like going waste deep and not knowing how to get myself out,” said Sandoval of Carpentersville. “This has been key to part of my dream to get my education in farm management.”

Kitt Garmisch of Crystal Lake, who’s in the MCC entrepreneurial agriculture degree program, said projections of an increasing global population in part resulted in his enrollment.

“I can’t sit around and not at least try, right?” said Garmisch. “It kind of feels like I’m looking up a mountain and I’m just slowly going up foothills. I want to start a regenerative agriculture system that is comparable in profit to a similar-sized farm that maybe I could write a book on and help share that information with other farmers.”

Prior to launching the new ag-related initiatives, MCC’s Doyel said the school conducted a needs assessment in 2018 that included interviews with the region’s farmers, Farm Bureau, Extension, restaurateurs and others. The school hopes to have at least 50 students enrolled in its ag-focused coursework and graduating at least 20 annually from the new degree program.