Innovative Degree Program Keeps Best and Brightest’ in Agriculture
ENOSBURG FALLS, Vt. — Jesse Woods was in college, bootlace-deep in Vermont’s FARMS 2+2 program, when he first heard the question from a conference speaker: “What’s the difference between a dairy farmer and a dairyman?”
Answer: “The dairy farmer drives the tractor. The dairyman milks the cows.”
“He was absolutely right,” Woods said recently, while seated in his office at Bates Farm Home & Garden, a busy northwestern Vermont supply store.
Woods, 29, and his friend, Josh Bates, 24, co-manage Bates Farm Home & Garden for Josh’s father, Tim, who opened the business in Enosburg, a farm-rich community near Canada, in 1989.
Woods and Josh Bates started working at Bates Farm Home & Garden while still in high school and have since stuck to their original plan: Bates will eventually own the store and run it with Woods. They both spent their formative years on their grandparents’ dairy farms and discovered they wanted to be farmers, not dairymen.
“I loved farming. I was in the barn in a stroller,” Woods said. Bates was, too. “I loved the aspect of farming. But in today’s day and age, you have to milk cows to survive. And I didn’t want to milk cows.”
Neither did Bates, who thought he needed more than life experience on a dairy farm to have a successful future at his father’s store.
“Coming right from the farm, I wouldn’t have been ready to do this,” he said. “I needed four years of college first.”
FARMS (Farm and Agricultural Resource Management Stewards) 2+2 is a 13-year-old initiative, funded by the Vermont Legislature, that aims to “retain the best and brightest agriculture students in Vermont and train them to be the future leaders on agricultural issues,” said Josie Davis, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Vermont (UVM).
UVM and Vermont Technical College (VTC) are the key components of 2+2, which works like this: Students spend their first two years at VTC and earn an associate degree in dairy farm management technology. They then spend two years in the animal science or community entrepreneurship major at UVM and earn a bachelor’s degree.
2+2 students spend the spring semester of junior year at W.H. Miner Institute in Chazy, N.Y., a hands-on, full-immersion research facility. Students also start their “capstone project,” a yearlong effort designed to show proficiency in their concentration, during their junior year.
All 2+2 candidates must be Vermont residents and have a minimum combined verbal/math SAT score of 1100, high school chemistry and algebra, and two years of a foreign language.
“We require them to be leaders while they are here,” said Chris Dutton, associate professor of agriculture at VTC and the school’s contact for 2+2. Davis is the point person at UVM and teaches for 2+2 with Bob Parsons, of UVM Extension.
Student expectations are high, because, for the most part, 2+2 is free. Only a handful of students enter the program each year — down recently, due to budget cuts — because the state picks up tuition. The 2+2 budget changes annually, too, depending on in-state tuition costs at each school.
“There are no additional dollars assigned to the program,” Davis said. “Each institution provides money for its part of the program,” including instructors, travel, student conference expenses and administrative obligations.
Nonetheless, and nearly 50 graduates later, 2+2 persists. Dutton gives Vermont lawmakers annual updates.
“This is the best investment the state makes in agriculture,” he said. “All of our graduates are in the industry, making things happen.”
For example, Woods and Bates were already working at Bates Farm Home & Garden while earning their bachelor’s degrees through 2+2. Their schoolwork — and Tim Bates’ invaluable in-house advice — made them realize the store needed more items for organic, hobby and backyard farmers.
“And I probably wouldn’t have learned as much about the nutritional aspects of farming without 2+2,” Woods said. “So, now, I’m not just selling a bag of feed. When someone wants a bag of horse feed, I can talk fluently about it.”
Bates didn’t think 2+2 would accept him, because managing his father’s store, not a dairy farm, was the plan he described in his application essay.
“But they liked it and saw why it was important,” he said. “This program is a great tool for farm families that can’t afford to send their kids to school.”
In 2000, noting enrollment declines in dairy-related programs in Vermont and throughout New England, UVM and VTC officials, along with agriculture reps, successfully asked the Vermont General Assembly to fund 2+2.
2+2 graduates now work in all sectors of agriculture throughout Vermont, and the program is more important than ever, its leaders say, as the total number of dairy farms in the state dips to below 1,000 — the lowest ever.
“I tell people that I preserve Vermont by doing what I do,” Dutton said. “It is really gratifying to drive around the state and be able to stop at almost any farm and make a connection to 2+2. I look forward to reading about our graduates’ accomplishments for the rest of my life.”<\c>
Photo courtesy Vermont Technical College
Christopher Dutton, associate professor of agriculture at Vermont Technical College.
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