One Tiny College’s Lessons For Higher Education

Jordan Motzkin graduated from the College of the Atlantic in 2010 with a passion for growing lettuce. It's not what you think. Given the groovy reputation of a place like COA—a college founded in 1969, where students sport dreadlocks, natural fibers, and outdoorsy attire—you might assume that Mr. Motzkin wound up as an organic farmer somewhere in Maine. So many past graduates have done something like that.

Instead, Mr. Motzkin, dressed in business casual, meets me at his office in an architecture firm in New York City's garment district. His venture—started through COA's latest pedagogical experiment, an entrepreneurship program called the Hatchery—could turn industrial agriculture on its head: growing crops hydroponically in warehouse spaces near food-distribution centers, cutting down on the land, chemicals, and fuel needed to put romaine on people's plates. He already has formed a partnership with the nation's third-largest food distributor and has entertained offers in the millions from venture-capital firms.

"The thrust behind the business is, how do we disrupt or change the massive agribusiness system and create a form of industrialized agriculture that is actually smarter?" he says.

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