Expanding career pathways and broadening visibility as a campus and community resource

College of Marin (COM) has been working with community partners for nearly 10 years to establish and grow the 5.8 acre Indian Valley Campus (IVC) Organic Farm and Garden. Spearheaded by the College, the Conservation Corps North Bay, UC Cooperative Extension, and others, the project was initially designed to provide education and training resources for a skilled, entrepreneurial workforce in the fields of organic agriculture and sustainable local food systems.

Now, the College is poised to take the IVC Organic Farm and Garden to new heights. A strategic planning effort involving the Farm’s primary partners, including The Cultural Conservancy, resulted in a revised mission statement and the College taking on primary management and coordination responsibilities. Passage of the Measure B facilities improvement bond, and the creation of an endowment from a generous estate gift at the same time, created the perfect combination of circumstances to expand and enhance the farm’s potential for residents of Marin County.

The farm’s footprint will increase by over 30 percent, which will accommodate additional crops and educational opportunities. Three new buildings, scheduled for completion in August 2018, will house classrooms, offices, and a demonstration kitchen. The new instructional spaces will allow students and community members to develop their culinary skills, work with value-added goods such as jams and preserves, and gain a greater understanding of the farm-to-table philosophy. Community Education courses and credit program courses will be expanded. The broadened offerings will range from sustainable agriculture and hospitality to entrepreneurship and opportunities for learning from local chefs and others.

Recent demolition of the former Maintenance and Operations Building makes way for extension of Parking Lot 6, increasing vehicle capacity near the farm and enhanced access to a new Farm Stand, where plants and produce will be sold. Other planned enhancements include ADA accessibility, dedicated restroom facilities, and improved drainage and irrigation.

A key part of the farm’s future involves a full-time farm manager. Hired by COM in August 2017 to manage the IVC Organic Farm and Garden, John Campbell sees incredible potential in the farm’s future. Campbell has worked for many years as a farmer, agricultural researcher, and agricultural educator, with the primary goal of helping people find and explore their passions related to food and agriculture.

“I have a lot of ideas but I realize that everything can’t be done all at once, so there are a couple of areas I would like to focus on first,” said Campbell. “One is expanding the pathways for students to transfer. I also want to broaden awareness of the farm to different student and community groups.”

Campbell doesn’t expect that everyone who steps foot on the farm will become a farmer. Instead he wants students and the community to experience the farm as a resource—what he sees as an outdoor instructional space that is highly conducive to learning. By reaching out to students who might not have seen the connection between the farm and their studies, he hopes to create more opportunities that develop the work ethic and skills required to be successful in a variety of different career fields.

Timing of the statewide effort currently underway by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to rebrand Career Technical Education (CTE) couldn’t be better. In February 2017, the Chancellor’s Office approved COM’s local Strong Workforce application, giving CTE programs grant funds to expand existing programs and launch new programs deemed as high-demand areas of employment in Marin. Curriculum expansion is currently planned for courses related to organic farming, agri-business, hospitality, entrepreneurship, and community education classes.

“The expansion of the farm, both in acreage and facilities allows us to diversify our educational offerings, deepen our partnerships with The Cultural Conservancy, Marin Master Gardeners, and others, and provide a community resource that really aligns with the values of Marin County,” said Senior Vice President of Student Learning and Student Services Jonathan Eldridge. “The classrooms, the kitchen, the expanded produce sales—it all fits perfectly with making the entire Indian Valley Campus a more active, robust hub of activity.”

The IVC Organic Farm and Garden is unique because it has the potential to serve the campus and community in various ways. Where some college farms might be physically isolated, and others might be on-campus but inaccessible to the community, the farm at IVC is accessible to both students and the community.

COM is taking the farm to new heights by expanding curriculum and career pathways, raising its visibility as an educational resource, and renewing partnerships with The Cultural Conservancy and Marin Master Gardeners/UC Cooperative Extension.

If you are interested in getting involved, buying farm-fresh produce, or learning more about the farm, contact Johnny Campbell at jccampbell@marin.edu.