NORFOLK, Neb. – A Northeast Community College agriculture program has been featured in a national publication.
Irrigation Leader spoke with Dr. Trentee Bush, horticulture and agriculture instructor, Richard Wright, adjunct horticulture instructor, and Jill Heemstra, agriculture program director, on the program’s curriculum and goals for a recent issue.
Northeast offers a two year Associate of Science degree in General Horticulture. Bush shared the horticulture program has gone through several revisions since it was established in 1986. In the last two-to-three years, it has been developed into a general program.
“Our intention is to give students a broad background so that they can work in any area of horticulture,” she said. “Horticulture students rarely go on to a four year program because there are so many job opportunities for people with a two year degree. Most of them would rather work.”
Northeast’s program has three classes on turf as well as classes on irrigation, nurseries and greenhouses, plant identification, landscape design, and landscape management. Students also learn basic horticulture science and soil science as well as writing, math, and interpersonal skills.
“In addition to our traditional horticulture program, a year ago we started a program called Urban Agriculture,” Bush said. “The COVID 19 pandemic showed us that many people do not know how to grow their own food. We wanted to capitalize on that and also get back to the basics.”
As part of the new program, Northeast will have a 10 acre demonstration urban farm near the College’s main campus in Norfolk. It will include an outdoor classroom, beehives, raised beds, and the creation of a low-flow irrigation system to teach growers how to water carefully. Bush also hopes they can eventually grow grapes, orchard trees, hops, as well as create a community garden.
“We want it to be an edible landscape with lots of perennials in it. We are still in phase one, but we have big dreams.”
Wright spoke of his work with students on residential and the College’s irrigation systems as well as their time working on golf course systems. He said the use of natural systems to capture and treating runoff is also addressed in the program.
“We’ve been fortunate in this state to have abundant water, but the supply is not endless,” Wright said. “We’re in the early stages of education on water reclamation and helping people understand that we can’t just use a million gallons when it only takes one. We need to start talking more about conservation and recapturing our usage.”
“In agriculture, we’ve seen a push toward the use of low-flow sprinkler heads and water sensors,” Heemstra said. “It’s interesting to see the conserve-and-reuse approach being promoted in urban and residential areas as well. There’s been a shift in mindset over the 20 years during which I’ve been in Nebraska.”
Heemstra said Bush engages with industry leaders to make sure that Northeast is being responsive to industry needs and that students have the skills they need to fill jobs.
“We find out what the emergent issues are and build instruction on them into our programs. Northeast is also very student centered, and it works hard to ensure that the program is focused on their interests, their future, and what they can do with what they learn here.”
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