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Urban agriculture: New online certificate cultivates opportunity

An urban garden sits in the image foreground with plants in raised beds and elsewhere. A parking garage under construction with a crane is in the background. Urban agriculture online.

Urban community gardens such as this one are becoming more common. A recent USDA farm bill included funding for teaching and extension programs in urban agriculture.

Undergraduate program views food systems through a social justice lens

By Heidi Happonen
Sept. 25, 2020

When Gail Langellotto first started building an urban agriculture program at Oregon State University in 2016, it was in response to the College of Agricultural Sciences’ recognition of the important role urban agriculture plays in the development of a strong, viable, vibrant food system. An Urban and Community Horticulture professor with the College of Agricultural Sciences and the Extension Statewide Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Langellotto was eager to design a program that would eventually provide noncredit options for a broad audience as well as eventually a for-credit program.

This past July, Oregon State launched the first credit-based urban agriculture certificate program in the nation. It is delivered online by OSU Ecampus.

“I was so excited to see the program gain accreditation,” Langellotto said. “It is affirmation that there is growing professional interest in and a need for extensive skills building in urban ag.”

Some of the careers Langellotto noted would be typical of someone with accredited training in urban agriculture include indoor, vertical agriculture for leafy greens or industrial hemp production. But one of the main areas where she sees growing interest in the program is through the lens of social justice.

“We need a strong food system that is made up of both non-commercial and commercial production if we are to improve access to food and provide more niche products that meet the cultural and dietary needs of increasingly diverse audiences,” she added.

In addition to the strong foundational skills in plant science, entomology and soils that are required in the urban agriculture certificate curriculum, the program also requires a social justice course. With the understanding that social science is as critical as basic or applied science in our understanding of food equity, it was essential for Langellotto and the others involved in the development of the program to make that a core requirement.

“The first time someone tries to grow their own food, it always brings about an appreciation for the challenges of food production. Anytime we can deepen better understanding of people who have different backgrounds and interests, it’s a very good thing.”

She also recognizes that the development of urban agriculture in higher education is still relatively new. While the recent USDA farm bill included funding for teaching and extension programs in urban agriculture, the infrastructure is still being built.

“I think we are where organic was 20 or 25 years ago,” Langellotto added. “As the future of urban ag develops and we see new entrepreneurs, teachers and students connecting to this field, it will become more common.”

In the meanwhile, Langellotto also sees the benefits that urban agriculture education has on helping a broader cross section of people better understand how difficult it is to grow food at any kind of scale.

“The first time someone tries to grow their own food, it always brings about an appreciation for the challenges of food production. Anytime we can deepen better understanding of people who have different backgrounds and interests, it’s a very good thing.”


Learn more about serving communities through locally grown goods in Oregon State’s Undergraduate Certificate in Urban Agriculture.

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published online by Oregon’s Agricultural Progress magazine.

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