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PCC gears up to offer robust lineup of agriculture courses and programs

From left, Wayne, Noah and Heather Houk sell sugar snap peas at the Tilted Earth Farms booth in Durango. Heather Houk is the coordinator for Pueblo Community College’s agriculture program.
Coordinator Heather Houk consults with regional ranchers and farmers

Pueblo Community College’s agriculture program might be in its beginning stages, but it already has much to offer the Four Corners.

Agriculture coordinator Heather Houk was hired in March 2021 to head up PCC’s agriculture program, and she has hit the ground running to create programs that benefit the community whether the student is in high school or a veteran farmer or rancher.

“I was charged with figuring out what are the needs of our community, what agriculture program would support the workforce for agriculture and what our current farmers and ranchers need,” Houk said.

To gain knowledge about what kind of agriculture programs and certifications were needed in the area, she created and distributed a group of surveys. Some of the questions she asked were, “What do you want from an agriculture program? What skills do workers need? What can we do to enhance current knowledge and skills?”

With the survey results and the insight of her advisory board of long-term farmers and ranchers, educators, students, industry professionals and tribal members, Houk began creating agriculture courses for PCC.

It was important to Houk that the courses and certifications reflected the “strong and long history of agriculture in our region” and the experience and knowledge of farmers in the area. “They’re helping me shape the direction of the programs,” she said. “I rely on them.”

She hopes the programs will incorporate tried and true agricultural knowledge with new techniques and skills.

“We can all still learn something,” she said. “If we can teach people the different methods of irrigation and the different methods of caring for soil and building soil microbiology and helping improve these landscapes, they’ll have healthier animals and crop production.”

PCC is in the final stages of finalizing an associate of science program in crop and soil production, which will be available for students after its completion. Over the next few years, Houk hopes to add even more associate programs in agriculture at PCC’s campus.

“We’re starting slowly and moving purposefully,” she said. Some other courses she is hoping to add to the roster soon include horticulture and greenhouse management, along with an animal science program that would provide an associate degree as a veterinary technician.

Another program requested by those surveyed was for regenerative agriculture and dryland farming, which would include coursework centered on irrigation, soil management, ranchland management and more.

“I’m really excited these are things people want, things that I can be working toward getting approved so that we can really build a robust program that meets the needs in our community,” Houk said.

The courses aren’t limited to college-age individuals. Houk noted that PCC classes are available to high school students, many of whom can take the classes in high school and begin earning college credit for free.

Students can complete or nearly complete their associates degree while in high school and can take more courses at PCC if they choose to do so or transfer their credits to another college or university to complete a bachelor’s degree. Houk said he wants to make that transition as seamless as possible and eliminate any “hurdles or hiccups” that would make the transferring process difficult.

Additionally, Houk has been working to ensure all students who wish to attend classes at PCC can attend whether they can afford it or not. She has been partnering with local entities to create scholarships to help students achieve their goals.

“We wanted it to be equitable as quickly as possible for everyone,” she said.

She strives to continue building relationships and collaborations with CSU and other Colorado colleges to help students who wish to get their bachelor’s degree but don’t want to leave the area or cannot afford to do so. She is planning on continuing to strengthen these relationships to provide local students the ability to get their degrees locally.

Those who are looking for more information on PCC’s current agriculture courses can learn more by visiting the school’s website https://pueblocc.edu/programs/agr.