Ten years ago, Evan Lucas would wander around Baltimore, noticing the blighted and obsolete buildings. With his background in construction and property development, he would think about how those buildings could be refurbished and put to use in different ways instead of being demolished and rebuilt, all on the taxpayer’s dime.
Now a professor at Northern Michigan University in the state’s Upper Peninsula, Lucas has combined his family’s farming background with his desire to see old buildings converted to new uses by spearheading the launch of the university’s new Indoor Agriculture program, a two-year associate’s degree focused on indoor cannabis and food production.
Partnering with professors Kim Smith and Donna Becker from the school’s Biology department, Lucas, who works in the school’s Technology and Occupational Sciences department, “created this sort of interdisciplinary approach because we think that there’s also some connections that need to be made between what we teach in higher ed and what the industries need,” he tells Cannabis Business Times. The program blends plant science, facility design, entrepreneurship and business management to prepare graduates for careers in various aspects of indoor agriculture.
NMU has been at the forefront of cannabis education at universities, being one of the first accredited institutions to launch a Medicinal Plant Chemistry degree that looks at the chemical makeup of medicinal plants, including cannabis, and their potential applications in healthcare. The Indoor Agriculture program differs in that it focuses on “plant physiology, the chemical makeup of nutrients within these specific plants and the systems involved to grow these different types of plants indoors,” Lucas explains.
Students won’t be practicing on growing cannabis (at least for now), and instead will learn how to grow food in indoor environments, with the idea that the theories and practices they learn growing food will translate effectively to cannabis production.
To increase the experiential learning opportunities, the school is converting an aviation lab into an indoor agriculture lab. The conversion will tee up the program as those involved with the project can use that experience to teach students what it takes to retrofit existing spaces for agriculture. For example, the future indoor agriculture lab is across the hall from an auto maintenance lab so special attention has to be paid to air flow and filtration, just like in a real-life indoor cannabis environment, Lucas says.
“Those are things that are good lessons for students to understand how you can control the environment, which is a big part of why we all thought the inner collaboration of these different building systems plus plant growth is so important to understand so that you can retrofit different types of spaces.”
As part of the two-year program, students will learn how to develop and manage hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic systems, HVAC systems and sustainability, among other topics.
NMU does not anticipate any COVID-19 related delays in launching the program and expects to start its first semester in the Fall, Lucas says. “NMU will be commencing with face-to-face classes in August, and we are in the process of purchasing the equipment for the lab renovation,” he says.
NMU also is partnering with Greenflower, an online cannabis education platform, to offer cannabis certifications based on Greenflower’s educational curriculum.
“Essentially, it’s a partnership where the school is offering the accreditation in terms of you get a certificate from NMU,” explains Greenflower CEO Max Simon. “You get the credibility that comes from being a part of the NMU alumni. But it’s Greenflower content and technology that’s powering the curriculums and our instructors that are leading the programs.”
There are four certificates being offered as part of this partnership:
- The Business of Cannabis
- Cannabis Agriculture & Horticulture
- Cannabis Law & Policy
- Cannabis Healthcare & Medicine
“There’s a very legitimate shortage of specialized workers that need to fill important roles throughout the cannabis supply chain,” Simon says. “It’s the role of higher education to prepare people for high paying in demand jobs… I think it’s a very exciting time because it’s the start a new era in my mind where higher education really takes the cannabis industry seriously and provides the necessary education and training that’s needed to fill the cannabis ecosystem with well-trained workers.”
Each certification includes three courses, Cannabis 101 and two additional curricula that relate directly to the field of study. Each course lasts eight weeks and can be built upon by completing the courses for each certificate program. The cost for each certification is $2,950.