When Ivy Tech Community College Fort Wayne started its agriculture program about five years ago, officials were already pondering options for growing it.
Dreams of a greenhouse – a facility that could bridge the campus' agriculture and culinary programs – soon followed.
On Wednesday, Ivy Tech showed off its new greenhouse during a two-hour dedication event.
“This is really a community project,” said Chancellor Jerrilee Mosier, listing the numerous donors.
At more than 3,000 square feet, the facility cost about $498,000. It opened in January with hydroponics capabilities – growing plants with water and no soil.
“We want to train students on the same equipment they can expect to see with industry leaders today,” Kelli Kreider, agriculture program chair, said in a statement.
The greenhouse teemed with life Wednesday.
Tomatoes, carrots, hot peppers, sweet peas, kale, arugula, orange mint, pineapple sage, endive, spinach and basil were among the plants growing in the bright, roomy space.
At the dedication, Kreider noted she grew up as a soil farmer and credited Rob Eddy, an expert in hydroponics, as the mastermind behind the greenhouse.
The facility replicates a new trend in agriculture – vertical farming, Eddy said. It's a way to grow food locally in metropolitan areas, connecting consumers with fresher food.
Rebecca Marshall – one of the seven original agriculture students – attended the event, telling the crowd she's “very jealous” of the resources now available to students.
This year marked the program's largest graduating class – about 20 students. Enrollment for the fall has already surpassed 80, Kreider said, adding she's excited that enrollment continues to grow.
Agriculture education is important, Mosier said, sharing statistics about jobs available in agriculture.
Nationwide, nearly 58,000 job openings in food and agriculture are expected each year from 2015 to 2020, she said, but there's a shortage of graduates – about 35,000 annually.
Along with educating Ivy Tech students, the agriculture program is also benefiting Easterseals Arc students, who are taking classes this summer, college officials said.
Mosier said Ivy Tech takes the “community” in its name seriously.
“We need to be integrated and really support community efforts,” she said.