At Heartland College, regenerative agriculture students combine theory and practice

PHYLLIS COULTER Illinois Farmer Today

DOWNS — Ariana McCann, a California native studying fine art and illustration, said she is now on the path to the career she wants as an agriculture student at Heartland Community College.

On September 12, his class was in the fields, hoops and specialty buildings of the farm of Ken Myszka, a regenerative farmer and restorer with the Epiphany Farms Hospitality Group in central Illinois.


“I eat everything,” McCann said on the tour, which was part of the college’s regenerative agriculture class.

John White, who was auditing the class, is already an active farmer. He grows corn and soybeans and is in the second year of transitioning some of his land near New Holland, Illinois to organic farming.

“We are learning a lot about local food systems,” he said.

White’s own operation in Logan County includes cattle and pasture. He listened with interest as Myszka walked the group through the fields and explained how pigs, chickens and other livestock are integrated into vegetables and other food crops.

Caleb Phillips, who runs the Sunnyside Community Garden in West Bloomington, explains how a lack of cooking knowledge can keep people from eating fresh produce.

“It’s wonderfully diverse, it’s hard work,” said Talon Becker, a business educator at the University of Illinois.

Becker said he was impressed with Myszka’s knowledge of the food and agricultural industries. The farm also includes an event venue, accommodation for weddings and other overnight guests, a store and food processing facilities.

“This semester, we are focusing more on the importance of community – and the role of the farm in it – and even more on resilience, such as increasing diversity as a way to cope with the increasing stresses of the climate change and other challenges that are straining our farms and our food. today,” said Dave Bishop, the regenerative agriculture professor leading the tour.

Bishop’s family is also involved in agriculture in the area, PrairiErth Farm in Atlanta, where they have been using regenerative techniques for years.

Heartland Community College was the first college in Illinois to offer a certificate program in regenerative agriculture, he said. The class went on other field trips this year, such as Sunnyside Community Garden in Bloomington. The program has also helped organize events at Heartland, such as a March visit by local food expert Ken Meter.

The first graduates of the new regenerative agriculture certificate program graduated in 2021, said Miranda Buss, HCC agriculture program coordinator and community college professor.

Epiphany Farms Chicken

Chickens are part of the diversity at Epiphany Farms in Downs.


Regenerative agriculture is one of four agricultural certificates at the college, including agricultural business, agronomy and precision agriculture, and more are on the way, she said.

The college’s agricultural programs are expanding alongside the planned new $23.5 million agricultural complex to be built at the Normal, Illinois campus. The complex is expected to include indoor and outdoor classrooms and social spaces, as well as trial plots and a classroom large enough for agricultural equipment.

The college hopes to begin holding classes at the new complex in the spring of 2024.

Bishop said he also sees increased interest in regenerative agriculture at other colleges and universities, such as the Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative at the University of Illinois and the Diverse Corn Project. Belt in progress at Purdue University in Indiana, the University of Illinois and Iowa State University. .

“All of them are very encouraging from my perspective,” Bishop said.

Connor Wood of the Pantagraph contributed to this report.

Sharon D. Cole