Lee County approves $100,000 in federal aid for Sauk ag program expansion

DIXON - Sauk Valley Community College is looking to expand its agriculture program, and the county approved giving $100,000 in COVID-19 aid toward that goal.

The Lee County Board on Thursday approved the college’s request for federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to help address unmet needs for the ag industry in the area, through SVCC.

“The college, as part of its mission, vision, goals and strategic plan, found a community unmet need focusing on job training for those within the agriculture industry,” according to the funding proposal. “Agriculture is the largest sector of our college district’s economy, and enhancing our existing agriculture classes will help provide additional job training for this sector.”

The funds would go toward building a greenhouse as well as implementing remote-learning opportunities in precision agriculture.

“Our ability to offer remote-learning capabilites and advanced precision agriculture will allow us to provide job training to help unemployed and underemployed workers find employment in our area,” according to the proposal.

The remote-based customized precision agriculture instruction for farmers, companies and other interested parties would provide flexibility beyond a traditional 16-week course.

The greenhouse would be fully automated and capable of being run remotely, and the funds would also pay for another horticulture instructor.

The total program expansion likely will cost about $300,000, and the college is working with other community partners for funding.

The expansion would help foster a “true farm-to-table entrepreneurship for students and help meet the demand for food insecurity caused in part by the pandemic,” according to the proposal.

Total project costs include GPS equipment, software, lab components for soil and water testing, greenhouse and supplies, and remote technology equipment.

Sauk also is in talks with Dixon officials to pay for a portion of the greenhouse where part would be used to grow the annual petunias to decorate the city’s bridges and downtown.

The County Board also approved ARPA funding requests for $22,000 for the Lee County Tourism Council and $120,000 to cover two years of health department permit fees for businesses negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as restaurants.

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers joined Sauk Valley Media in 2016 covering local government in Dixon and Lee County.