Hartnell College, Salinas, Calif., is putting down deeper roots to support the agricultural industry through expanded agricultural facilities and curriculums.

The college broke ground in May on the new Center for Applied Technology as part of its growing commitment to provide students with the education for careers in agriculture and construction.

The new 40,000-square-foot, $23 million facility will house Hartnell's career and technical education programs including the Agricultural Business and Technology Institute, new sustainable construction programs, plus other service programs.

“We need to make sure that in addition to the world's biggest fresh garden that we are the world's freshest laboratory,” said Dennis Donohue, Salinas mayor, at the groundbreaking. “That will take place here.”

The new facility illustrates Hartnell's commitment to the fact that agriculture is the economic backbone of the community, said Jim Bogart, co-chair of Hartnell College's ag steering committee.

“We are committing resources and industry expertise into the facility and its agricultural curriculum because there's a future in agriculture,” Bogart said.

Bogart also serves as president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, Salinas.

Hartnell's current agricultural curriculum includes certificate and degree programs in agricultural business, agricultural production, plus diesel technology and welding. Additional agricultural curriculums are planned.

“We'll roll out programs next year in precision agriculture. Other future programs will focus on food safety and post-harvest technology,” said Neil Ledford, program director of the ag business and technology institute. Also planned are programs in viticulture and pest management.

The new building will include space for diesel and post-harvest mechanics, welding, plus a food safety laboratory, Ledford said.

Some classroom studies will focus on soils and plants. A meeting room with a capacity of 100 people will be available for industry meetings and short-term training. The building is scheduled to open in 2010.

About 340 of Hartnell's 7,500 students currently study agriculture-based curriculums. “We're looking to increase the number to 800 students within the next five years,” Ledford said. “There is a big need in the produce industry for students with important entry level skills to get positions in salad companies and related shops.”

Bogart said, “I believe fervently in educating, developing, and training our young people. They are the future of the agricultural industry.”