Training Tomorrow's Trainers - A Conference for Students of Sustainable Agriculture

Final Report for ENC01-057

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2001: $52,928.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Chad Kruger
Consortium for Sustainable Agriculture Research &
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Project Information


Our future Extension educators, NRCS conservationists and leaders are the Agriculture and natural resource college students across the North Central Region. These students expressed an interest in learning about sustainable agriculture concepts and what campus organizations have done to increase the awareness of sustainable agriculture.

A North Central Region Conference for students interested in sustainable agriculture was planned and organized by students from the North Central Region. The conference provided an opportunity for students to learn about sustainable agriculture concepts, experience on-farm research, and learn from each other.

Project Objectives:

1. Two hundred graduate and undergraduate students will participate in a North Central Region Students of Sustainable Agriculture Conference.

2. A resource guide and conference proceedings will be developed for use by students attending the conference, and will be available to others.

3. A website will be developed to link college students and organizations across the North Central Region.

Short Term Outcomes:
1. Graduate and undergraduate students will become aware of the viability of sustainable agriculture and importance of farmer-based knowledge.

2. Graduate and undergraduate students will become more knowledgeable of the sustainable agriculture concepts and principles.

3. Students will learn from each other how to:
-strengthen sustainable agriculture curricula on their campuses
-develop projects, events, lectures, etc. that lead to greater awareness by others.
-establish gardens, demonstrations, and farms on their campuses

Intermediate Outcomes
1. Students will develop plans on their campuses to build greater awareness of sustainable agriculture.

2. Students will initiate demonstrations, research projects, and events on their campuses.

Long-term Outcomes
1. Students will develop regional networks for communication and sharing of information.

2. As future Extension educators, NRCS employees and leaders, these students will incorporate the concepts of sustainability in their recommendations and actions.


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  • Thomas Parslow

Education & Outreach Initiatives




September 2001 - Hired a project assistant .33 FTE for 1 1/3 years.

October 2001 – Project assistant contacted State PDP Coordinators to begin organizing project.

November 2001 – State PDP Coordinators identified student campus organizations and primary contacts in the North Central Region. Serving on the planning committee were: Ohio State University: Rachel Garrett, Rhonda Gruber, Dave Barker, and Shoshanah Inwood; Iowa State University: Parker Forsell; University of Missouri – Columbia: Erin Feinaur-Whiting and Jose Garcia: Michigan State University: Andy Fogiel and Ann Zerial; University of Wisconsin – Madison: Bill Bland, Jim Lyne, Bridget Holcomb, and Caroline Brock.

November 2002 – Conducted planning committee teleconference of students and advisors serving on planning committee.

December 2001 - January 2002 – Conducted a needs assessment to determine student concerns, interest, level of knowledge, and baseline data on present student activities, events, etc. on campuses.

February 2002 – A face-to-face meeting of planning committee was held to brainstorm ideas, organize committee, and set subgroup chairs.

March – September 2002 – Held three audio conferences for planning.

March – September 2002 – Held three audio conferences for coordination.

April 2002 – A website was developed and used to announce the conference, receive proposals, and handle conference registration.

May 2002 – Call for proposals for exhibits and displays was announced.

May 2002 – Identified Fred Kirschenmann of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture as the keynote speaker. Other presenters for workshops and panels were identified.

March – September 2002 – Obtained support from NRCS for tour buses, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute for breaks, UW-Extension and Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems for tote bags and Midwest Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Education Service for a break. Total support: $3,900.

June – August 2002 – Identified and confirmed local farms and establishments for tours.

September – October 2002 – Promoted and conducted registration for the conference.

September 2002 – Developed conference manual and proceedings. The manual and proceedings had information on sustainable agriculture, and descriptions of breakout sessions, tours, student projects, posters and displays.

October 25 – 27, 2002 - Students of Sustainable Agriculture Conference was held with 172 registered students, faculty, and presenters. Regional student committee was formed.

December 2002 – Student Committee held a conference call to follow up and evaluate the conference, development of a website for students and faculty to exchange ideas and continue dialog, and develop plans for the future. Students begin gathering materials in preparation for a website.

February 2003 – Student Committee members, Planning Committee members, and Project Coordinator contribute articles about the conference experience to be published in the winter issue of Inquiry in Action.

June 6-8 2003 – Student Committee and faculty advisors meet in Ames, Iowa to strategize about future conferences, student networking, website and communications, a name, mission statement and objects for the student network and council. The North Central Network of Sustainable Agriculture Students is adopted as the name of the network.

The Student Council asks Jerry DeWitt to communicate with the North Central Region SARE Administrative Council about the potential for appointing a student representative to the Administrative Council.

June – August 2003 – Student Council members, faculty advisors and PDP Coordinators are interviewed to learn about initiatives and activities that were initiated or enhanced by the conference.

July – August 2003 – The Student Council begins to gather content and design the website, negotiate an institutional home for the website, develop the framework of a proposal for funding a follow up conference and student coordinator position, and contact State PDP Coordinators encouraging them to direct some of the State PDP funds to student learning and activities related to sustainable agriculture research and education.

August 2003 – Student Council members, faculty advisors and the Project Coordinator submitted articles discussing the impact of the conference on their campuses, the June Council meeting, and future plans and strategies of the NCNSAS (the student network) for publication in the Summer Issue of Inquiry in Action.

August 2003 – The Final Report is submitted to the NCR SARE.

Outreach and Publications

The Conference Program contains a section on activities, programs, and efforts at campuses that are related to student learning and experience in sustainable agriculture research and education. It is currently available online at (under the North Central Network of Sustainable Agriculture Students link), and will be migrated to a clearinghouse web page when the NCNSAS finalizes an agreement for hosting and maintaining a website.

Articles related to the conference, conference evaluation, the student council, and future plans have been published in the winter 2003 and summer 2003 issues of Inquiry in Action, available at

Kruger, Chad. 2003. “training tomorrow’s trainers: a conference for students of sustainable agriculture.” Inquiry in Action, Winter 2003.

Forsell, Parker, et. al. 2003. “Reflections on the training tomorrow’s trainers conference.” Inquiry in Action, Winter 2003.

Stadler, Joe, and Kruger, Chad. 2003. “North central network of sustainable agriculture students: the student council.” Inquiry in Action, Winter 2003.

Garcia, Jose, Chisholm, Joy and Kruger, Chad. 2003. “The sustainable agriculture student council of the north central region: reflections on the June council meeting.” Inquiry in Action, Summer 2003.

Kruger, Chad, 2003. “Activities spawned or advanced by the training tomorrow’s trainers conference.” Inquiry in Action, Summer 2003.

Larson, Andy, 2003. “Reflections from the student council.” Inquiry in Action, Summer 2003.

Outcomes and impacts:

Training Tomorrow’s Trainers conference for students of sustainable agriculture conference was held October 25 – 27, 2002 at the Lowell Center in Madison, Wisconsin. The conference drew undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and presenters for a total attendance of 172.

The conference attendees had many different backgrounds. A conference evaluation returned by 64 participants indicated their areas of study as: 67% agriculture, 22% environment, 3% international studies, 9% rural sociology, 9% natural resources, and 36% other.

Respondents to the evaluation indicated that the conference was more valuable to them personally (2.9 on a four point scale) then for their studies (2.4 on a four point scale). Respondents noted the following order of conference activities and events they learned most from:
2.Issue workshops
3.Meeting other students
4.Keynote speaker
5.Networking with other campus groups/organizations
6.Learning about other campus activities/organizations
7.Building our communities exercise

The Student Council formed at the conference and key faculty advisors have accepted the responsibility for coordinating future student efforts in the region to develop and maintain a website linking students around the region, planning and holding future conferences, and strengthening the network of students between campuses in the region.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

I. The Student Council of the North Central Network of Sustainable Agriculture Students (NCNSAS) developed the following Mission Statement and Objectives:

Mission Statement

To provide a forum for students to share experiences and ideas about the future of agricultural stewardship, and to encourage action within our campuses and communities.


To provide an opportunity for students in the region to gather annually to share experiences, ideas, research, and learning about current issues, activities, and opportunities in agriculture.

To facilitate the communication of experiences, ideas, activities, opportunities, and research in sustainable agriculture between students in the region.

To facilitate interaction and collaboration between students on campuses throughout the region.

The Council is in the process of negotiating a home for the website they are developing, and they are drafting a proposal to fund a follow up conference and a regional student coordinator.

II. A number of activities on campuses throughout the region were initiated or advanced by students and faculty who participated in the conference. The following are examples of these activities:

University of Illinois – Urbana/Champagne

A faculty member in the department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences is trying to organize and give rise to a concentration with the College of Agriculture called the Ecology and Sustainability of Agricultural Systems. It would not be a full curriculum, just a rubric to shape major program, as well as a series of seminars used to introduce and discuss current events and issues in sustainable agriculture.

Dan Anderson, Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant's (State PDP Coordinator) on-campus counterpart, is working to get Professor John Masiunas' one-acre vegetable/flower/herb garden plot certified organic. This is the demonstration garden that is used in the teaching of our Horticulture 105 class (Home Vegetable Gardening). It is planted and maintained by students, but the produce is not sold so that it does not compete with local farmers.

Another organic development at the U of I. The Illinois Natural History survey has recently committed six acres of ground on the university farms to long-term organic research. A team of professors and researchers with specialties in weeds, soils, insects, etc. have taken on the responsibility of transition and research for the next couple of years. They are calling themselves WORT, the Windsor Organic Research Team because the site is on Windsor Ave. They are currently studying replicates of low-intensity transition into organic pasture and soybeans and high-intensity transition into organic tomatoes with wheat straw mulch. Here is a link to the Natural History Survey's spring newsletter featuring an article on this endeavor:

University of Missouri – Columbia

The Academic Dean in the College of Agriculture has directed a core group of faculty to develop an undergraduate major and minor in sustainable agriculture (see forthcoming fall issue of Inquiry in Action for more details).

The Missouri Farmer’s Union Student Chapter has been engaged by students who attended the conference and is demonstrating an interest in furthering their understanding of sustainable agriculture.

Truman State University - Missouri

Increased interest in sustainable agriculture and promoting it on campus among agriculture students.

Interest on the part of faculty and students in starting a student farm at the University Farm.

A group of students in an ag marketing class conducted interest surveys pertaining to a Student Farm to determine what products the university community would be interesting in getting from a student farm, etc.

Professors are fine-tuning changes to the ag curriculum that will require seniors to do a project in agriculture; some of these projects could be part of the student farm and help support it and increase awareness.

Support among students for hosting a future Training Tomorrow’s Trainers conference in Missouri.

University of Wisconsin – Madison

There have been three key developments on the Madison campus in support of students and sustainable agriculture since the Training Tomorrow’s Trainers Conference.

Three faculty have been hired as part of the cluster hire for the new graduate program in Agroecology (detailed in issue #35 of Inquiry in Action).

The F.H. King Students of Sustainable Agriculture have forged a stronger relationship with the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) and FH King leaders were invited to participate in the Center’s summer Advisory Council Meeting.

Through the new relationship with CIAS, F.H. King was successful in securing funding for a “Garden Internship” to hire a student to manage the organic garden and to work with the University food service to provide produce for the Fall Organic Dinner in one of the campus dining halls.

University of Wisconsin – River Falls

Students from River Falls were able to secure financial assistance from the State PDP Coordinator to attend the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference.

Faculty Member Bill Anderson (attended the Training Tomorrow’s Trainers Conference) is developing a class on sustainable agriculture.

There is more student awareness of sustainable agriculture and the seeds have been planted to establish a student organization related to sustainability.

Students are strategizing about the potential of getting space for a student farm at the new dairy facility.

Kansas State University

K-State students who participated in the conference have made a determined effort to “discover” what types of sustainable agriculture activities are happening at their campus and in their extension service. Previous to the conference, there was no student sustainable agriculture presence. Links between students and the sustainable agriculture research and extension activities of faculty and staff are being made.

The student agronomy club has had several guest speakers address sustainable agriculture in their club meetings. The regional student section of the American Society of Agronomy is very active, and offers great potential for students to engage in sustainable agriculture issues.

Students from K-State have had discussions about hosting a student conference in the future that could highlight sustainable agriculture research and extension activities in their state.

Michigan State University

The MSU Student Organic Farm is running a 26 member CSA that distributes 12-15 pounds of produce each week (enough to feed four adults). The CSA distributes 48 weeks of the year in three16 week periods. This is a farm entirely run by students, minus the grant writing aspect. Right now the farm manager is a grad student, but over the next few seasons we plan to move towards more undergrad control and decision making.

We are working with a residence group called RISE (Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment). This is a group of 30 people holding a class next term in conjunction with the SOF. They will be fulfilling individualized projects at the farm and in the classroom. In the fall, MSAN will again host a seminar series that meets once a week to discuss different aspects of sustainable agriculture.

Iowa State University

Iowa State University had the most established student sustainable agriculture activities before the conference, and students from Iowa State’s Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture played a key role in planning the Training Tomorrow’s Trainers Conference. There have been new developments as well:

Students have established a Sustainable Agriculture Community (SAC) to address issues in sustainable agriculture identified at the Training Tomorrow’s Trainers Conference.

Students invited the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Students Council to Ames in June of 2003 to meet, visit the student organic farm, and visit with students from the Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture.

Iowa State’s SARE PDP Coordinator has agreed to direct funds toward student activities and experiences in sustainable agriculture.

Mid-America Nazarene University - Kansas

Unfortunately, Mid-America Nazarene University has cut its Agriculture Program, effective at the end of the 03-04 academic year. However, a number of students in the program will graduate in that time and have developed a new appreciation for issues of sustainability.

Students from MANU who still desire to learn about sustainable agriculture are eligible to participate in the Ecological Agriculture courses offered by the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies in Michigan, Washington State, the Chesapeake Bay, India, and Kenya.

University of Minnesota

Students who attended the conference reported back to faculty at the University of Minnesota that more directed efforts by faculty to engage undergraduate students in sustainable agriculture are needed. There is a minor in sustainable agriculture “on paper,” but it is not well-used or promoted. Faculties are thinking about how to improve the curriculum.

There is a minor in sustainable agriculture for graduate students as well, which is better organized and utilized.

Students who attended the conference are hopeful that there will be follow up conferences and are already building support for student attendance at future conferences.

Oberlin College - Ohio

Students from Oberlin impressed everyone at the conference with substantial amount of student led activities in sustainable agriculture at the conference. The key effort for Oberlin students following the conference was to continue working with faculty members to institutionalize sustainable agriculture curriculum.


Potential Contributions

The Training Tomorrow’s Trainers Conference was very successful and addressed a pressing need to inform students about sustainable agriculture research and education efforts on campuses, and to link students together to further the educational experience of students throughout the region. Students left with a new appreciation for sustainable agriculture and with specific ideas for how to improve their educational experience in sustainable agriculture. They will be better prepared to be our future faculty, extension educators, NRCS employees and leaders in sustainable agriculture research and education.

The establishment of the faculty-supported Student Council, and ultimately a formal student network in the region, will be the key to institutionalizing the successful learning and networking initiated at the conference. Students are an important aspect of our research and education system, and frequently have been underestimated in their capacity to energize, transform and improve our agriculture and food systems.

Students are tomorrow’s leaders, but they are developing their professional convictions and future direction today. The Training Tomorrow’s Trainers conference was a key leveraging point for influencing the direction of agricultural research and education for the next 50 years.

Future Recommendations

With appropriate guidance from faculty advisors, the Student Council has recognized the value of the investment NCR-SARE made in them for this conference, and appreciates the importance of maintaining a close connection to NCR-SARE in the future. Because students are transient by definition (often not connected to their “professional” interest for more than one or two years before graduating), it is important that the Student Council and NCR-SARE work quickly to solidify and institutionalize a long-term relationship that can continue to provide a mutually beneficial experience for students and training opportunity for our future agricultural leaders.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.