In Press: CASNR program puts students on a path to farm-to-table careers
By: Norman Martin
Recently, Blanco-based writer Sheryl Smith-Rodgers featured a top-flight professor with Texas Tech University's Department of Plant and Soil Science in the latest issue of Texas Co-op Power online magazine. Here's part of the conversation on Tech's Local Food & Wine Production Systems program.
Eric Hequet grew up eating fresh-picked tomatoes bought at farmers markets near his home in Paris, France. To this day, he can still taste their juicy goodness, topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a dab of salt. Fast forward to where he lives now, and shopping for vegetables at big-box grocers makes him grimace.
"Many tomatoes today don't have a true tomato flavor," said Hequet, chair of Texas Tech's Department of Plant and Soil Science. "They're round and red like tomatoes, but they're tasteless because they've been bred to be hamburger-friendly. Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables with little to no taste are common in the marketplace."
To change that, Hequet, an internationally-recognized researcher in cotton fiber quality, led efforts to establish a new undergraduate degree specialization at Texas Tech for 2018. The new program allows students to focus on local food and wine production systems.
This study concentration, the first of its kind in Texas, will prepare students for farm-to-table careers, such as an urban farmer, orchard manager, crop consultant, winery cellar master, or fruit and vegetable marketing specialist.
Ed Hellman, a Texas Tech professor of viticulture and enology based in Fredericksburg, added that an entrepreneurial, production-oriented graduate could start their own operation. And given the program's emphasis on small and urban operations, it wouldn't take a massive investment in land and equipment to get started.
Others, he said, may be plugged into existing operations, be they greenhouses, high-tunnel fruit and vegetable production or wineries, which often have small gardens of their own to promote biodiversity and supply their in-house kitchens for hospitality events.
"There's a need – just like there is in the wine industry – for trained professionals," Hellman said.
Such forward thinking has kept Texas Tech at the cutting edge of agriculture education. In 2010, motivated by the rapidly growing wine industry in Texas, the university established the state's first viticulture and enology degree program.
"Cotton production is very important around Lubbock," Hequet said. "However, a young person lacking an ag background or family in the business can't spend millions of dollars to get started in growing cotton. It's impossible. However, they could buy a few acres and grow high-quality vegetables for sale to restaurants and high-end stores in the city."
CONTACT: Eric Hequet, Chair, Department of Plant and Soil Science, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2838 or firstname.lastname@example.org
0704NM19 / Editor's Note: For more information on Texas Tech Department of Plant and Soil Science's Local Food and Wine Production Systems, click here
- Agricultural & Applied Economics
- Agricultural Education & Communications
- Animal & Food Sciences
- Landscape Architecture
- Natural Resources Management
- Plant & Soil Science
- Veterinary Science
Editor: Norman Martin
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