The Program: Greenville Tech’s Culinary Institute of the Carolinas
Greenville Tech’s Culinary Institute of the Carolinas has been high on my list for several years. I love any excuse to visit the campus to learn what’s new in their world. (Because that somehow sounds better than me wishing for samples.)
On my recent visit I had the pleasure of chatting with Chef Alan Scheidhauer, Department Head. It was hard not to get distracted by the plethora of awards adorning his walls. His favorite? Ironically, it’s the “Innovator of the Year”, which he won in 2013 for his partnership with Greenville County School District overhauling the menus in local cafeterias. Chef Alan says this partnership is what planted the seed for the new Sustainable Agriculture Certificate Program set to launch in the spring.
Chef Alan jokes that “a lot of classic cooking isn’t nutritious cooking.” The new school menus emphasized nutrition, fresh local products and “from scratch” cooking, creating a greater appreciation for the produce used. That appreciation grew until an organic garden was added to campus, implementing lesser-known techniques like hugulkultur and permaculture. The kitchen already utilized a 55-gallon in-vessel composter that produces the finest dirt you’ve ever seen. It only made sense to find a good home for the dirt.
To ensure the Sustainable Agriculture Certificate Program reached its full potential, Greenville Tech brought in Rebecca McKinney. Rebecca is a wealth of knowledge and a true leader in the sustainability movement in the Upstate, but she also has a business background and was even a professor before she decided she wanted dirt under her nails to be a permanent fashion statement. Program courses boast technical farming skills like soil science, integrated pest management and animal science, beautifully interwoven with practical business and marketing classes. The farming business is changing, and farms don’t usually fail due to inability to produce a crop. According to Rebecca, it has more to do with a lack of business acumen or failure to incorporate diversified revenue streams, like culinary events.
This program is the only one of its kind in the state. While there is growing interest from high school students, the Sustainable Agriculture program is expecting to draw non-traditional students: older, second career, former military types. They anticipate that most students will start farms of their own. The goal is to “build a community of sustainable farmers, not just people who need jobs,” according to Rebecca.
Their appetite for innovation seems insatiable. The Culinary Institute is one of the most aggressive departments on campus, which is evidenced by their long list of recent additions including an impressive aquaponics system in a former storage closet. On the radar are courses focusing on value-added products, event planning, retail and wholesale markets, service and beverage management, and mixology. The farm is expected to grow in terms of food production and hopefully a three and a half acre barn lab, set to include goats and chickens.