Sue Stafford and Brandon Seager

Heading up the Farm-to-Bistro program at TC3.

Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) is rolling out the Farm to Bistro (FtB) initiative with classes to begin in fall 2014. Plans to offer students two new degree granting programs in culinary arts and sustainable farming and food systems are underway, with the culinary arts program having received SUNY approval last fall. Program chair Sue Stafford, and Provost and Vice President John Connors, see the FtB as an opportunity to tap into and contribute to the region’s rich agricultural resources and thriving local foods movement. 

“This will be a very hands-on education,” said Stafford. “The Farm to Bistro initiative will create uniquely integrated curricula that utilize new, state-of-the-art facilities to provide hands-on experience that spans all the way across the agricultural and food systems—from planning, growing, marketing, and distributing to preparing and presenting. Graduates will have a strong understanding of the interrelationship of organic farming, local sourcing, delivery systems, and the use of food and beverage to create exceptional hospitality and service experiences.” 

A key part of the culinary arts program will be the creation of Coltivare, a restaurant in Ithaca that will provide state-of-the-art experiential lab facilities and job-ready training opportunities. “This will be crucial for preparing our graduates to meet various employment needs,” said Stafford. Plans for Coltivare are being finalized and include a much-needed event venue for the Ithaca area. 

“People are growing tired of food from a box,” said Stafford. “They want fresh and local, which means delicious. We’re fortunate in that our region is ideal for providing an interesting and educational culinary experience.  It is imperative to teach a program in preparing the best cuisines by using products indigenous and local to the area. Our community is dedicated to this.  There is no better place to do this.”

According to Stafford, Coltivare is a partnership with the TC3 Foundation, as well as many other community and industry partners. “We have a strong and active advisory committee made up of an array of professionals in the industry, and they help steer much of our development,” said Stafford. “We also have international culinary schools and university partners that are excited about providing collaborative programming and education as part of our Culinary Arts program. For instance, for the past several years we have offered a two-week, faculty-led trip to Tuscany with our partners, the University of Florence and the Apicius International School of Hospitality. Students experience what it is like to be an international traveler; they experience and take coursework related to the history, culture, cuisine, and wine of Italy.   This is an example of the kind of partnership we have enjoyed in the past and will continue, and expand, in the future.” 

“Likewise, our SUNY Partners, State and National industry associations and the New York Wine and Culinary Center, have been instrumental to our development and have made suggestions to us about coursework, workshops, and industry certification training we provide,” said Stafford.

Stafford credits TC3’s 40-year history of providing hospitality education as both benefitting from and contributing to the strong culture of sustainable food production and rich restaurant industry in the Finger Lakes. “The college is situated in a community where culinary, wine, and beverage production along with the cultivation of fresh wholesome produce are important aspects of the economy,” said Stafford. “Just look at the CSAs and the award-winning Ithaca Farmers Market for an example.  The area is also a destination for culinary tourism as outlined in the area’s Strategic Tourism Plan.  With many great restaurants featuring an array of cuisines, it is a natural fit for TC3 to provide a Culinary Arts program.  We need to grow professionals in this area to sustain our position.”

Stafford also credits the professionalization of culinary arts through media and celebrity chefs in recent years as creating a new demand for cuisine development and the rising costs of higher education—specifically the costs of culinary arts schools. These factors put TC3 in a unique position to provide a quality, affordable culinary arts education.  

“Developing any new program can be a long, arduous process,” said Connors. “Each new degree proposal must comply with the needs and requirements set by our own TC3 curriculum advisors, and then approved by the TC3 faculty, the TC3 Board of Trustees, the New York State Education Department, and, because we are a member of the State University of New York, it also must be approved by SUNY.”

As part of the years of research that went into creating the program, Stafford said students, potential students, and other members of the educational and business community were engaged in conversations about the kind of program that students and employers wanted to see. “Additionally, we consulted with our industry advisory committee, attended international industry conferences, and conferred with our International University Partners with strong culinary programs, all in an effort to put forth the best proposal possible,” said Stafford.

“Regardless of the discipline, all new academic programs have one thing in common: they all have dedicated faculty willing to push the proposal forward,” said Connors. “Without that hard work we would never be able to complete the necessary steps to get the new degree program approved that’s needed to create the program. We have that with Sue Stafford, the program chair, and Brandon Seager, who teaches in wine marketing and hospitality programs. They put in a tremendous amount of work to secure the approval of this program.”

What kind of student will succeed in TC3’s new program? “Student success will depend on an individual’s drive and passion for learning,” said Stafford. “It’s no secret that this industry demands hard work. Students who are willing to reach beyond the confines of the classroom and give back, who want to learn and practice hands-on skills, and who understand that it takes more than just being a good cook to become a professional in the hospitality industry will do very well.”

For more information on the Farm to Bistro initiative visit www.tc3.edu. •

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