Alt-ag goes to college

Washington State University has announced a new Major in Organic Agriculture, the first of its kind in the United States. It is not clear how closely the program will follow sustainable practices such as the ones promoted by WSU's Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources (CSANR), but it is clear that Wazzu's decision was influenced by consumer and corporate interest in organics.

The new Organic Agriculture Systems major is expected to appeal not only to aspiring organic farmers but also to people interested in related industries, such as global marketing, direct marketing or organic food....

"There's quite a bit of industry interest in the new degree, too," [Program Coordinator Cathy] Perillo said. "Large corporations increasingly are interested in meeting the nation's growing appetite for organic foods are seeking employees who understand organic agriculture systems, which are significantly different than conventional agriculture."

Can organic agriculture systems work on a scale large enough to provide for millions of people?

Organic and sustainable agriculture can provide for at least 11 million people, as CSANR documented in a tour of sustainable agriculture in Cuba. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba lost subsidies, petroleum for agriculture, and food imports as well as several trading partners. The island nation switched from pesticide-, fertilizer- and capital-intensive agriculture toward organic sustainable practices.

Cuban agricultural policy promotes ecologically sustainable production through soil conservation, organic soil inputs, biological pest control, and the reincorporation of rural and urban populations into agriculture.

This achievement was made with a population density (people per mile) three times that of the United States.

Can industrialized nations make a similar shift without suffering economic disaster? Experience with organic methods will help when such a shift becomes necessary.

Canada's University of Guelph also will offer a Major in Organic Agriculture. Let's hope that neither University Coug's it.

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