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Spartanburg Community College’s School of Horticulture held a grand opening Tuesday for a project many months in the making. The horticulture faculty formally introduced their new Sustainable Agriculture program with a ribbon cutting for the program’s new outdoor classroom.
The classroom contains about a dozen gardening beds, several of them raised beds, a decorative silo, an archway trellis, a “barn” that has a large open area for events, indoor lectures and project workshops, as well as a kitchen area for cleaning and sorting produce.
“This is intensive agriculture in a small-scale footprint,” said Jason Bagwell, SCC Horticulture Programs department chairman.
The first three classes of the Sustainable Agriculture program were conducted in the outdoor classroom this summer, in a session that ran from May-July. Students in sustainable agriculture, permaculture and farm-to-market courses produced the first crops. The classes taught and implemented organic, sustainable approaches to grow the produce.
The garden is currently in transition for fall, according to horticulture instructor Jay Moore. And while they’ve chosen to keep some of their summer crops, like peas, black beans and peppers, they have swapped out others for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and beets.
“Our goal is to teach them as many different plants that they can grow in this area to make a business out of it or sustain themselves,” Bagwell said.
The produce from the summer semester was weighed and distributed among the faculty and staff at the college, the students in the class, and the downtown Miracle Hill mission.
“They said it was some of the best-quality produce that they’ve ever gotten,” Moore said. “So that was real good to see, to see people really excited about what we’ve produced.”
The outdoor classroom was made possible by a grant from the Mary Black Foundation.
“Our mission is to improve health and wellness in Spartanburg, and one of the ways that we do that is by increasing access to healthy foods and active living,” said Molly Talbot-Metz, president and CEO of the Mary Black Foundation. “So this was a great opportunity for us to provide some grant dollars to support the work happening here. We were really attracted by the relationship between the college and the community and the opportunity to give back.”
The program addresses interests and needs for those off campus as well as on, SCC president Henry Giles said.
“We had one of the County Council members who was a student in the program this summer and left his regular work to come here to work in the afternoons and to learn what he could about gardening. It was a passion that he had and wanted to develop,” Giles said. “So we reach a lot of different people in this community through programs like this, because this is not a two-year landscape design (program), this one is designed where you could do that, but this would be an add-on or it could be standalone for a person who just wants to have a good garden and raise things for their families.”
Faculty said that the program’s first summer run was successful. Will Taylor, who graduated from SCC in May with a degree in horticulture and returned later the same month to begin a certificate in sustainable agriculture, said the class taught him about another side of agriculture.
“I enjoyed it, learned a good bit about how to do things without machinery as much,” Taylor said. “I hadn’t grown up on a full-blown agriculture place, but we used a tractor and a tiller and all that, and here you’re more of ‘what can we do without that?’ We used a whole bunch of tools, and a lot of teamwork was involved with everything around here.”
Taylor said that there was a huge difference in the way the outdoor classroom looks now from the way it looked a year ago, and according to Bagwell, the changes won’t be stopping any time soon.
“There are several phases we’re hoping will take place, maybe starting later this year,” Bagwell said. “First of all, we want a greenhouse put in because we’re starting two new courses on top of the three we started (during the summer). As far as other infrastructure goes, we’re hoping to have bees in the spring to really enhance pollination.”
The garden will become a mini-farm by the time all the additions are made. Bagwell said that courses in beekeeping would be coming, and the program hopes to bring in chickens and goats, both sustainable forms of income. Eventually, he hopes the barn will be solar powered.
“Education: That’s what we’re trying to do, as much as possible,” Bagwell said.