Curriculum in Organic Agriculture for Agents and Teachers

Final Report for ES03-068

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2003: $70,810.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Alice Rolls
Georgia Organics
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Project Information

Abstract:

Georgia Organics has produced a dynamic, basic curriculum on organic agriculture. The curriculum explores the basis of organic growing: soils, soil biology and soil management, as well as plant biology, crop management and composting. Marketing and certification are addressed, as well as detailed instructions on setting up an organic demonstration bed. Videos, lab exercises, student activities and power point presentations provide tools to facilitate student interaction and learning. Real life experiences are offered by the opportunity to visit organic farms and have organic farmers as speakers. The electronic format of the curriculum promotes accessibility and flexibility and is structured so that individual units and activities can be taught separately, used as a supplement, or taught as a semester-long course. The curriculum has been widely distributed to every agriculture teacher, Master Gardener Coordinator, and cooperative extension office in Georgia.

Project Objectives:
  1. 1. Improve the ability and motivation of agricultural professionals to educate others on organic growing by equipping them with curriculum and supporting materials.
    2. Develop curriculum package, including supporting materials, which are adaptable to the audiences of agriculture teachers and extension agents.
    3. Provide organic grower expertise and farm or garden tours to supplement the curriculum package.
    4. Provide information and grower expertise to agricultural professionals who wish to start or improve demonstration gardens or on-farm organic plots as learning resources.

Introduction:

Organic commodities have been under-served by federal and state programs. Despite this neglect the organic industry has grown an average of 20 percent annually for the last twelve years. The southeastern region of the US, however, is not seeing as much growth as local markets warrant. Atlanta is the biggest market in the region for organic products and demand is strong throughout Georgia’s cities for locally grown, organic products. At the present, demand exceeds the supply of locally grown, organic products. Farmers in Georgia are still relatively uninformed of these opportunities.

The average age of the farming population is increasing nationwide primarily because young people are not entering farming. Young people need to learn that new and alternative opportunities do exist in agriculture. Growing organically for local markets is among them. Agriculture teachers are critical to reaching those with the most potential to approach agriculture differently. The most efficient way to reach farmers and youth is through the agricultural professionals who cover the state.

The agriculture professionals have asked for materials to use in training students, Master Gardeners and farmers interested in growing organically. It has not existed in a format that was complete and useable. This curriculum will meet the needs of those who are engaged in introducing both high school students and adults to the principles of organic farming and gardening.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

A curriculum design team met with the curriculum writers to determine the content and depth of the materials. The primary curriculum writer, Alexander McGregor took the ideas and suggestions of the design team and produced an outline that the design team approved. The design team decided that the curriculum should have an electronic format to increase the flexibility and allow the inclusion of more dynamic elements such as videos and power point presentations. This format would also allow units to be easily pulled out to develop a workshop. Most public school teachers are now using this technology in their classrooms every day.

Due to changes in personnel at the Georgia Organics office, the project fell behind schedule and many of the design team members moved on to other projects. Georgia Organics requested, and was granted a year extension to finish the project. As the project got back on track, agriculture teachers and Master Gardeners were also recruited to give feedback and suggestions. An agreement was reached with the Georgia Department of Education to include the curriculum on the agriculture curriculum DVD that is sent to each agriculture teacher in Georgia. Health problems by the primary curriculum writer continued to delay the production of the text material, on which the other components were built.

As each chapter was written, it was sent to volunteers to edit and give feedback. Objectives, summaries, lesson plans, lab activities, teacher demonstrations and student activities were added by the project coordinator. The Agriculture Department of the Georgia Department of Education provided access to all their curriculum materials to be used as needed in the curriculum. Many of the power point presentations in the curriculum are from the department’s CD. Georgia Organics had previously produced a series of marketing video profiles of Georgia organic farmers and these were included to weave the importance of marketing throughout the curriculum. A list of Georgia farmers willing to serve as farm hosts or speakers was developed and included with contact information in the curriculum. These farmers are willing to be a resource for the teachers of the curriculum and provide real life examples of working in the field. Detailed instructions on developing an organic demonstration plot in a small area were written by Jerald Larson, CEA, Fort Valley State University Extension Program (Emanuel, Burke, and Jefferson Counties). The curriculum encourages the development of an organic demonstration plot to extend the classroom learning to hands on experiences.

Teachers gave concentrated attention to the curriculum and feedback at the three day Organic Curriculum Workshop sponsored by the Agriculture Education department of the Department of Education in June 2005 in Athens, GA. Additional feedback and suggestions came from teachers and Master Gardeners in an in-depth workshop in February 2006 at the Georgia Organics conference at the Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center in Mansfield, GA.

A feedback form is included in the curriculum and all users of the curriculum are asked to fill it out and e-mail it back to Georgia Organics. Teachers have been recruited to teach parts of the curriculum in pilot sessions and will report their experience on the feedback form. The feedback from these users will guide revisions.

Outreach and Publications

Fundamentals of Organic Farming and Gardening has been produced on a CD and distributed to all the Georgia Master Gardener Coordinators and each cooperative extension office. It has also been included on the Georgia Agriculture Department curriculum DVD and distributed to every Georgia agriculture teacher. In addition, copies of the CD have been sent to many who have expressed an interest in the project, such as university and college professors, biology teachers, agriculture professionals, and sister organizations in other states. A poster focused on organic growing will be distributed to each agriculture teacher in Georgia at their August meeting.

The curriculum was presented to Georgia agriculture teachers on three different occasions (June 2005, January 2006 and February 2006), and most of the ag teachers of the state heard at least one of these presentations. The curriculum was also advertised to the Master Gardeners through their list serve and a number attended the in-depth workshop on the curriculum. The Georgia Organics newsletter for summer 2006 had an announcement of the completion and availability of the curriculum.

The curriculum was also sent to contacts across the United States that were made at the Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture: A Participatory National Conference on Post-Secondary Education and the Ecological Farming Conference. Plans are to make the curriculum available on the Georgia Organics web site and a link will be made from the national data base of organic curriculums maintained by the University of California, Santa Cruz. Additional copies of the CD will be available for the cost of duplication and handling. Plans are to present the curriculum at sustainable ag conferences this fall and winter.

Outcomes and impacts:

The outcome of the project is a curriculum focused on the basics of organic growing. Its electronic format allows for flexibility of use from a semester-long course to a couple hour workshop. Power point presentations, videos or individual activities can be downloaded and incorporated into a lesson, as well as being used as part of a longer course. There is also a poster that has been developed to promote the curriculum that will be sent to each agriculture teacher in Georgia.

Most of the agriculture teachers in Georgia have heard a presentation on the organic curriculum and all have received a copy of the curriculum on their department’s DVD. About 40 of the teachers have been to an in-depth workshop on the curriculum and many have said they will use the materials.

Master Gardeners have been made aware of the organic curriculum through their list serve and about 8 have received training at the in-depth workshop. Interest among these Master Gardeners has been high and many plan to use it in the workshops they present.

All the extension offices have received a copy of the curriculum and it has been publicized in the Georgia Organics newsletter. It will also be put on the Georgia Organics web site.

Contacts have been made with other people throughout the United States who are interested in organic curriculum and Georgia Organics is a part of the process to establish a national organization for sustainable curriculum producers. The organization would serve as a clearinghouse and connecting point for people to share their ideas and models of curriculum with each other.

Contacts have also been made with people in the southeast who are interested in developing an organic curriculum. Some of these people are Robin Kohanowich of Central Carolina Community College, Geoff Zehnder of Clemson University, Edwin Marty of Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham, AL and Casey McKissick of the The Youth Fresh Food Initiative at Buncombe Community School in North Carolina. Georgia Organics will share our curriculum with these people and provide any assistance needed to help them as they work to establish an organic curriculum in their states.

Finally, contact has been established with Dr. Mark Reiger of the Horticulture Department of the University of Georgia. Dr. Reiger has just had a grant approved to establish a certificate program in organic growing through the Agriculture school. Our curriculum will be shared with them and we will assist them in any way we can to get their program running.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Development of a useable, dynamic organic curriculum is the foremost accomplishment, but the partnerships we have developed during the process will be in place for the long-term. Of primary importance is the close and supportive partnership we have forged with the Agriculture Education department of the Department of Education. Dr. Teri Hamlin and her whole office have been outstanding in the generous support they have offered for this project. We also have formed partnerships with the Master Gardeners and are pleased to have a curriculum they can use. Though it is not our accomplishment, we are pleased to be a supporter of the UGA Department of Agriculture and Dr. Mark Reiger in the plan to develop a certificate program in organic agriculture. We will provide support and contacts for them as they develop their organic program. National contacts were made through attending the Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture: A Participatory National Conference on Post-Secondary Education and the Ecological Farming Conference that will provide opportunities for wider exposure of our curriculum.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

There are three important potential consequences of this curriculum project. The first is that Georgia agriculture students will incorporate organic and sustainable practices as they begin their farms or join existing farms. They may help to meet the demand in the state for locally grown, organic food. The second is that the Master Gardeners will adapt organic practices and share their knowledge of organic gardening with the many gardeners they contact. The third is that the curriculum will serve as a national model for teaching basic organic practices and that it will be expanded, integrated and used by other groups as they teach students about organic practices.

Future Recommendations

As we worked on the curriculum, new ideas and possibilities opened up all the time. We tried to stay focused on our main objective, but kept a list of ideas that would improve the curriculum and make it more user-friendly and engaging for the student. We hope to have the opportunity to pursue these ideas in a future revision of the curriculum. Below are listed some of the ideas we would like to incorporate into a revision of the curriculum.

1. A virtual farm strand to integrate throughout the curriculum, with worksheets/computer models for each chapter.
2. Index to the curriculum
3. List of SAE projects with brief explanation of how they could be carried out. Each ag student must complete a project each year, and having a list of organic options for projects would encourage student participation in organic growing.
4. Development of videos as a visual table of contents.
5. Develop a list of activist-type ideas for students who are interested in being involved in the organic movement. Attend the Georgia Science Teachers Conference and present the curriculum, as well as ideas for forming a club focused on the benefits of organic production.
6. Original illustrations to use throughout the curriculum.
7. Series of posters on organic approaches to:
Composting
Cover Crops
Pest control
Disease control
Weed control
Fertility
8. Build some custom skeletal presentations of commonly requested information, drawing information from curriculum, which could be easily used and modified by presenter.
9. Work with organizations such as garden clubs, community gardens, master gardeners, food banks, colleges, schools, FFA, 4-H, etc. to integrate curriculum into a summer gardening program for young people.
10. Work with Mark Rieger at UGA to coordinate field trips for students using organic curriculum to visit the organic farm at UGA , perhaps providing funds for field trips.

There were also some lessons learned along the way. The funding distribution was not really adequate for the people hours it took to put this curriculum together. A 50-65% project coordinator position was needed, rather than the 15% allotted by the budget. The materials costs were much lower because of the electronic format, which offset some of the higher personnel costs. The design team worked for the planning process, but was not effective at carrying out the actual work of designing elements for the curriculum. Georgia Organics staff took up the slack and did that work. A critical element in getting the project finished was the addition of a person with a background in curriculum development.

Participants

No participants
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.