Santa Rosa Junior College will become the first community college in the state next year to develop a certificate and degree program in the cultivation of hemp.
In spring 2020, students may take hemp-focused courses within SRJC's Sustainable Agriculture and Horticulture programs.
"One of our top priorities is ensuring our career education programs align with current industry trends," SRJC's Dean of Agriculture Benjamin Goldstein said.
"Hemp is a versatile plant at the center of a multi-billion dollar legal industry for medicine, fiber, oil, seeds, textiles and more. We are preparing our students with the knowledge and skills to be competitive in the workplace," Goldstein said.
SRJC's Shone Farm is growing a 0.8-acre test plot of hemp plants as part of the curriculum. The grow site is registered with the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner's Office and follows all federal, state and county legal and regulatory requirements.
Hemp, a genetically distinct biotype of cannabis sativa, is grown for fiber, seed and oil. It is used to produce food, beverages, cosmetics, nutritional supplements, fabrics, textiles and construction materials.
Hemp is legal at the state and federal levels because it does not contain significant levels of THC, the compound in marijuana that has psychoactive effects. It is increasingly used as a pain-relieving cannabidiol (CBD) that has enormous promise in medical applications, hemp proponents say.
George Sellu, who teaches plant science and horticultural classes at SRJC, said he is thrilled to utilize hemp as an educational tool.
"Hemp is a dynamic crop with myriad uses," Sellu said. "It is ideal for teaching plant science and plant propagation techniques in indoor and outdoor environments while addressing the tenets of agro-ecological sustainability."
Students who want to enroll in the hemp program next spring can register for specific classes in the Environmental Horticulture or Sustainable Agricultural programs.
SRJC has an existing certificate and degree program in Environmental Horticulture such as Nursery Management, and faculty are revising that program to focus on hemp agriculture. The classes taken in spring 2020 will count for the revised certificate and degree in Hemp Agriculture in the fall of 2020.
Students in the Hemp Agriculture program are free to focus their knowledge and skills in the hemp or marijuana industries. SRJC officials said they do not take a stance on the industry students choose to apply their knowledge.