Students in the East Central College Culinary Arts Program won’t just learn how to prepare and cook food, but they will soon learn how to grow it as well.

That’s thanks to a $70,000 grant from the USDA Rural Development Program, a greenhouse will be constructed on the Union campus.

“This greenhouse will strengthen the Culinary Arts curriculum,” said Program Director Mike Palazzola. “Students will learn more about sustainability and farm-to-table competencies. The program will be more comprehensive and desirable to potential students and the area workforce.”

The USDA Rural Business Development Grant Program is a competitive grant designed to support targeted technical assistance, training and other activities leading to the development or expansion of small and emerging private businesses in rural areas.

“This grant better positions the college to expand an existing program and create innovative solutions to address the regional skills gap,” said Joel Doepker, Vice President of External Relations, “For the past three years the College has received USDA funding and we appreciate their investment in our programs.”

East Central College was awarded the grant based on evidence showing job creation at local businesses, economic need in the area to be served and consistency with local economic development priorities. During the grant application process, East Central College received several letters of support for the project from local eateries.

“Currently, three-fourths of the staff for our kitchen has attended East Central College,” said Katie Geisert, owner of Farm To You Market. “We find that it is crucial that a quality education continues locally, one that includes practices in sustainability and appreciation of how food is grown and used locally.”

The new greenhouse will also benefit the community.

“We want this to serve as a community-outreach project as well,” said Palazzola. “With the amount of food we will be able to produce, we should be able to provide a constant stream of fresh, healthy produce to local food banks.”

East Central College also hopes to use the greenhouse to help educate area high school students as well as create Community Education class opportunities.

Construction of the greenhouse, which will be located behind the East Central College Training Center, should begin this fall. The project is to be completed no later than September 2019.