Agroecology from A to Z

Adventures in Agroecology and Food Systems


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SAEA 2012 Comparative agroecology at a liberal arts college: Assessing sustainability and comparing US & Chinese farming systems

David Hougen-Eitzman of Carlton College gave this talk at the 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Education Association conference in the session: Transformative food systems programs, coursework and curricula. His students have the amazing opportunity to tour, study and evaluate the sustainability of farming practices in China during a winter field course and compare those farms to others in the US. In the talk, David covers how he organizes the course in terms of small group student projects and the course readings and sustainability assessment tools he uses in the curriculum. I’m excited to incorporate similar sustainability assessment tools into my teaching and really enjoyed hearing about this course.

Carleton College

Carleton College students tour a farm in China
Photo from: http://apps.carleton.edu/curricular/ocs/winter_china/photos/

Carleton tea farm

Carleton College students tour a tea farm in China
Photo from: http://apps.carleton.edu/curricular/ocs/winter_china/photos/

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SAEA 2012 Gathering Together Farm, Philomath, OR

During the 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Education Association conference, we got to tour a regional farm, Gathering Together Farm in Philomath, OR. Not only do they produce wholesale vegetables, run an on-site farm stand and restaurant, sell at 9 farmers’ markets, run a 350 family CSA, but they also operate a seed business. Join us as we cover topics like organic soil nutrient management in unique soils with naturally high magnesium, how the Willamette Valley became the global hub for vegetable seed production, regionally adapted seed production and season extension.

Many folks, especially those who grew up in urban and suburban areas, haven’t heard of or seen a grange. Does the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry ring a bell? No? Years ago, I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at the Live Oak (#503) grange in Santa Cruz, CA by the organization that was funding my research at the time, the Organic Farming Research Foundation. I learned about the history of the populist grange movement and a modern movement to revitalize many of the US’s dying grange halls with a sustainable agriculture twist.

Gift for the grangers / J. Hale Powers & Co. Fraternity & Fine Art Publishers, Cin'ti. ; Strobridge & Co. Lith. Cincinnati, O. Promotional print for Grange members showing scenes of farming and farm life. Source: Wikipedia

Gift for the grangers / J. Hale Powers & Co. Fraternity & Fine Art Publishers, Cin’ti. ; Strobridge & Co. Lith. Cincinnati, O. Promotional print for Grange members showing scenes of farming and farm life. Source: Wikipedia

Back in the Willamette Valley, Mary’s River Grange #685 hosted conference goers for an amazing local food dinner catered by Gathering Together Farms and shared their efforts to organize green granges in Oregon, “The Green Grangers“.

Game hens and eggplant. I don't usually post photos of food, but this meal was so amazing, and to eat it in a Green Grange, was quite a treat!

Game hens and eggplant. I don’t usually post photos of food, but this meal was so amazing, and to eat it in a Green Grange, was quite a treat!


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SAEA 2012 Transformative food systems education in a land-grant college of agriculture: The importance of learner-centered techniques

Ryan Galt from UC Davis gave a talk at the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association (SAEA’s) 2012 conference on the importance of learner-centered inquiries in food systems education. I found a frank discussion on how to motivate and empower students to create positive changes in the food system without completely depressing them very helpful for my teaching. I’m not sure how well I did, though! At the end of each class I taught Fall 2012 I would check in with my students about our reading and discussion for that day and ask them where they were on the scale of empowered/ inspired to depressed/powerless. Apparently most of our readings were pretty depressing. While some issues in the food system can seem insurmountable, it is our challenge as educators to be honest about the current situation while providing tools for students to be constructively involved in creating solutions in line with their academic and personal interests.

Ryan is now a member representative on the SAEA steering council and we’re excited to have him and the other new members involved.

Here are some related publications from Ryan and his SAEA and non-SAEA collaborators.

Transformative food systems education in a land-grant college of agriculture: the importance of learner-centered inquiries

Facilitating competency development in sustainable agriculture and food systems education: a self-assessment approach

Engaging Values in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Education: Toward an Explicitly Values-Based Pedagogical Approach

You might also want to check out the special issue of JAFSCD on higher education and food systems.


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SAEA 2012 Integrating concepts of sustainable agriculture in the academic, co-curricular, physical and personal lives of students through the Summer Institute in Sustainable Agriculture at Willamette University’s Zena Farm

One of the talks in the Transformative Food System Programs, Coursework, and Curricula track at the 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Education Association conference was from Jennifer Johns and was titled: “Integrating concepts of sustainable agriculture in the academic, co-curricular, physical and personal lives of students through the Summer Institute in Sustainable Agriculture at Willamette University’s Zena Farm”. You can see the full talk here.

Here’s the student-produced video about the educational programs at Willamette University’s  Zena Farm that Jennifer screened during her talk.

Based on Jennifer’s presentation and her program’s focus on the development of a personal food ethic, I was inspired to incorporate a food values based assignment in my Fall 2012 Security, Equality and Ecology of Global Food Production Class. The reflection I assigned for the first day of class asked students to draft a personal food values statement based on their experiences to date as a member of a food system. And for the last week of class, I asked students to read their original personal food values statement and then reflect on if and how their personal food values had changed over the course of the class. It made for a great in-class discussion and I’m looking forward to doing this assignment again and incorporating something similar into different courses. If you teach sustainable agriculture and/or food systems at the post-secondary level, the SAEA annual/semi-annual conferences provide a unique professional development opportunity.

[Full disclosure, I’ve been involved in conference planning and committee work with the SAEA since the group’s formation in 2007 so my endorsement of the organization is not without bias :-).]

Note: Another great resource for supporting the links between learning about food systems and reflecting on personal values and action is the Northwest Earth Institute’s discussion courses. I took three of these discussion courses with colleagues while I was an AmeriCorps volunteer in the 2000s and really enjoyed them, so much that I started an informal sustainable reading group at Cornell with students and community members when I started grad school. These courses are fun to do on your own with friends and colleagues like a book group and the NWEI is working with higher education institutions to incorporate the discussion courses into food systems courses.

Food systems related discussion courses from the NWEI:

Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability

Menu for the Future


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SAEA 2012 Camas Country Mill, Willamette Valley, OR

During the 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Education Association meeting, we got to tour a local grain mill. They serve bakeries in Portland and Seattle with regionally grown grain flours including wheat, teff and rye. The family that started the mill was in the grass seed business, which is huge in the Willamette Valley. With the 2008 recession, the grass seed business took a hit everywhere and the family worked on transitioning their business to focus on: food for humans (grains), food for animals (forage) and food for the soil (cover crops).

Apologies for the background noise, the mill was running!


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SAEA 2012 plenary: “The Campus Food System: A Learning Laboratory”

As a college student, if you want to learn how to be an effective agent of positive change in the global food system, a good place to start is in your own backyard. Campus food systems are microcosms of the national and global food system and offer amazing formal and informal educational opportunities to students.

The video below is from the plenary session at the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association’s 2012 conference in Corvallis, OR.

I learned a lot about the Real Food Challenge at this conference and was impressed with the campus food related projects students all over the country were engaged in, especially the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive, or CoFED.

I had a great experience during my two years of AmeriCorps*VISTA service in Portland, OR. So I would encourage seniors and recent graduates to check out the new food-related AmeriCorps program, FoodCorps.


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SAEA 2012 Cultivating Community, working with refugee and immigrant farmers in Portland, ME

Here’s another video from the Outreach and Community Engagement session at the recent Sustainable Agriculture Education Association Conference. Daniel Uniger works with immigrant and refugee farmers at the non-profit, Cultivating Community. His talk covers the challenges and inspirations involved in working with limited resource growers, many of whom have been farming their entire lives, who find themselves in a new environment.