Michigan Envirothon

Final Report for YENC08-007

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2008: $1,707.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Manager:
Svenja Drebes
Michigan Association of Conservation Districts
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Project Information

Summary:

The Michigan Envirothon (ME) is a state wide environmental education competition for high school kids. Each year, students from around the state form teams to study seven different environmental subject areas. In addition they develop a Community Outreach Project, all in preparation for annual regional and state-wide competition events. Agriculture is one of the seven ME subject areas. At the ME competition agricultural experts, as well as experts in the other subject areas, such as professors, farmers and scientists, conduct training sessions and write the tests for the teams. Teams were tested on their knowledge in the seven topic areas in an outdoor, hands-on setting. The 2009 state competition was taking place at the Michigan State University (MSU). Students had the unique opportunity to be on the MSU Student Organic Farm for the agricultural portion of this year’s competition, which focuses on sustainable agriculture as all agriculture should be sustainable.
Prior to the competition events teams received resource packets that include study material for each subject area. The teams use the study material to prepare for the competition. Our goal is to have students learn not only form reading materials but also from hands-on exercises and experiences.

Through the program, students developed an understanding of sustainable agriculture. The studied material, training sessions and the test questions are based on the following agriculture learning objectives:

• Look at food and fiber production in Michigan. Obtain an understanding of the essential human needs we obtain from our natural resources.

• Understand the importance of agriculture in Michigan as a major land use.

• Look at land use trends, the importance of agricultural lands to other natural components of Michigan, and look at the impact of land use policies on land use for agriculture.

• Understand the basic glossary of agricultural terms and agricultural land use practices.

• Look at the trend in agriculture small farms to industrial farming to a sustainable agriculture movement.

• Sustainable agriculture relies upon four parts. Understand these parts: a) agricultural product profitability, b) agricultural practices compatible with the environment, c) energy efficiency in agricultural practices, and d) a system which is supportive of rural and urban communities.

• Understand examples of sustainable agriculture practices and methods: maintenance and improvement of soil / prevention of erosion, rotational grazing, composting, crop rotation, manure spreading, organic farming, cover crop use, integrated pest management, and value added production.

The funding from the NCR Youth Educator Sustainable Agriculture Grant helped alleviate the financial pressure of taking 24 teams and volunteers to the MSU Student Organic Farm (a considerable drive from the main MSU campus) and helped us to build a hands-on activity kit designed for sustainable agriculture education (plant a mini heirloom garden) and enable presenters to encourage the advisors and students to take home their mini gardens and start a school garden. About 100 students and 5 teachers participated in hands-on activities to plant a mini heirloom garden and received low cost compact fluorescent growing light bulb for their classrooms to help the plants live until they can be planted in a garden. The activities took place at the following locations: Southfield High School (Southfield, MI), Beecher High School (Flint, MI), and Clinton River Watershed Council Stream Leaders Student Congress (Clinton Township, MI).

BACKGROUND:

Michigan Envirothon is taking place since 1994 and sustainable agriculture training was added as part of the program in 1998. Since 1998 Michigan Envirothon works with agriculture experts such as professors, farmers and scientists, who conduct training sessions and write the regional and state competition tests for the teams.
Each spring, six regional Michigan Envirothon competition events are being held in the regions indicated in the map on the right.

SAMPLE SCHEDULE OF A REGIONAL ENVIROTHON EVENT:
8:30 – 9:00 AM Registration & Welcome
9:00 – 11:45 AM Subject Training Sessions (Agriculture, Aquatic Ecology, Energy)
11:45 – 12:15 PM Lunch
12:20 – 2:15 PM Subject Training Sessions (Forestry, Soils/Geology, Wildlife, Current Environmental Issue)
2:15 – 2:45 PM Test
2:45 – 3:15 PM Community Outreach Project Presentations
3:15 – 3:30 PM Awards and safe travel home!
In May, twenty-four teams from around the state move on and gather for the two-day state competition. The location of the state competition rotates throughout the state each year to exposure participating students to a variety of nature and environment Michigan has to offer. The team that wins 1st place overall at the Michigan Envirothon state competition goes on to represent Michigan at the Canon Envirothon. Canon Envirothon is North America’s largest environmental education competition for high school students.

SAMPLE SCHEDULE OF THE MICHIGAN ENVIROTHON STATE COMPETITION:
Wednesday, May 12th
5:00 – 9:00 pm Team & Volunteer Registration & Volunteer Training
6:00 – 7:00 pm DINNER
8:00 – 10:00 pm Community Outreach Project Presentations
Thursday, May 13th
7:30 – 8:30 pm BREAKFAST
8:00 – 12:00 pm Team & Volunteer Registration
8:00 – 8:45 am Community Outreach Project Presentations
8:45 – 10:15 am Team Orientation & Current Issue Presentation
10:15 – 10:30 am Leaving to Review Sessions
10:30 – 11:15 am Training Session 1
10:30 am – 12:30 pm Community Outreach Project Presentations
11:30 am – 12:15 pm Training Session 2
12:30 – 1:30 pm LUNCH
1:30 – 2:45 pm Community Outreach Project Presentations
1:45 – 2:30 pm Training Session 3
3:00 – 4:20 pm Travel to & Test at Testing Station #1
3:30 – 4:30 pm Team Advisor Instruction & Q/A Session
4:20 – 5:40 pm Travel to & Test at Testing Station #2
6:00 – 7:00 pm DINNER
7:00 – 9:00 pm Community Outreach Project Presentations
7:00 – 9:00 pm Recreation Activities
9:00 – 10:00 pm Ice Cream Social & Community Outreach Project Reception
FRIDAY, MAY 14TH
7:00 – 8:00 am BREAKFAST
8:15 AM Team Instruction & Travel to Testing Station
8:30 – 10:00 Test at Testing Station #3
8:30 – 10:30 Team Advisor Meeting & Discussion
10:00 – 11:30 am Travel to & Test at Testing Station #4
12:00 – 1:00 pm LUNCH
1:30 – 2:30 pm Awards Ceremony

GOALS:

The unique hands-on, outdoor learning format of the ME provides agricultural educational opportunities that are not found in a typical classroom setting. No other state-wide
Environmental education program, offered as a team-based competition, exists for Michigan’s high school students. By participating in ME, students and advisors gain realistic and current knowledge of agricultural issues.
Each team must undertake a Community Outreach Project to address an environmental/natural resource issue in their community. That impact can be made through community education, hands-on problem solving, other creative methods, or all three. Students develop their own environmental empowerment model for their future involvement in environmental issues. Each year ME teams choose agricultural topics to develop their community project.

Innovative projects from past ME competitions:
• Utilized the MAEAP’s (Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program) Crop-A-Syst tool to address environmental risk at the Branch Area Career Centers Land Lab.
• Increasing use of biodiesel in Tuscola County, a farming region in Michigan
• Creation of a bee-friendly garden to help support the declining honeybee population
• Urban roof-top garden
The effectiveness of the program in providing Michigan students with greater agricultural knowledge is a tremendous value to all, Michigan students, teachers and ME volunteers.

PROCESS:

Taking 24 teams and volunteers to the MSU Student Organic Farm for the sustainable agricluture test during the 2009 Michigan Envirothon state competition: Having the unique opportunity to be on the MSU Student Organic Farm for the agricultural portion of this year’s competition, the Michigan Envirothon Coordinator and the Testing, Training and Resources Committee scheduled a site visit with the agriculture experts that conducted training sessions and wrote the tests for the teams to secure that the training and testing is as hands-on as possible. Michigan Envirothon worked with MSU Professors and the MSU Student Organic Farm Manager to make the learning experience for the Michigan Envirothon teams successful.
Sample test – 2009 Michigan Envirothon state competition (MSU Student Organic Farm Testing Site:

1. Find the mobile chicken coop at the MSU Student Organic Farm. Which of the following is not a potential benefit for crop production?
A. Chicken manure is spread throughout fallow fields.
B. ENHANCED PROTECTION FROM AERIAL PREDATORS.
C. Weed seeds are consumed by chickens.
D. Pest insects are eaten by chickens.

2. What parameter would primarily be tested to determine if water running off the free-range chicken field was contributing to water quality issues or concerns?
A. Chlorophyll-a
B. Dissolved oxygen
C. FECAL COLIFORM BACTERIA
D. Total Suspended Solids (TSS)

3. Enter the Teaching House hoophouse at the MSU Student Organic Farm. Which of the following are correct statements for growing plants in passive solar hoophouses?
A. The growing season is extended.
B. WEED SEEDS GERMINATE POORLY IN HOOPHOUSE.
C. Plants are protected from excess wind and rain.
D. Moisture and temperature can be more easily controlled.

4. This soil compost offers the following benefits. (Mark all that apply.)
A. IT BUILDS ORGANIC MATTER IMPORTANT FOR SOIL STRUCTURE.
B. It requires petroleum for production.
C. IT HELPS THE SOIL RETAIN WATER IN THE SOIL.
D. IT INCREASES THE BENEFICIAL MICROORGANISMS IN THE SOIL.
E. It is likely to lose nutrients in runoff.

5. What Best Management Practices (BMPs) would be useful in reducing contaminated runoff from the compost pile?
A. A CONCRETE SLAB FOR THE COMPOST PILE TO SIT ON WITH NATIVE GRASSES PLANTED AROUND IT.
B. A shallow water area dug next to the compost area to capture runoff water
C. A tarp placed on top of the compost pile when it is not in use to keep water from entering the compost pile.
D. rock riprap placed around the compost pile to filter water that comes off the pile

6. Even though this is an organic farm, what threats are present to water quality?
A. Atrazine residues in runoff water
B. Nitrates leaching into groundwater
C. Runoff containing phosphorous from fertilizers
D. Sediment in runoff water from eroding soils and other debris
E. ALL OF THE ABOVE
F. None of the above since there are no defined streams within 500 feet of this farm

7. How does the adjacent woodlot help buffer any water quality and quantity problems that may emanate from the farm? Choose the best answer from those provided below.
A. Deciduous trees drop their leaves and provide nutrients for plant growth.
B. The trees increase the amount of shad for plant reproduction.
C. THE TREES TAKE UP A LOT OF NUTRIENTS AND TRANSPIRE A LOT OF WATER INTO THE ATMOSPHERE.
D. The trees provide winter cover for native wildlife species.

8. Pollinators such as bees are necessary for the success of many horticultural crops. Which of the following is a feature that helps to maintain pollinators in the environment?
A. A single crop for pollen.
B. Chemical pest treatments.
C. Compost amendments.
D. NEARBY FORESTS OR NATURAL AREAS.
E. Season extension methods like greenhouses.

9. When properly placed, farm windbreaks can provide which of the following benefits?
A. Increase irrigation efficiency.
B. Increase wildlife habitat.
C. Reduce Soil Erosion.
D. Snow Management.
E. ALL OF THE ABOVE.

10. Visit the soil pit at this site. Use the soil pit and the following key to answer question SG-26 and SG-27 below:
A. COARSE (SAND)
B. MODERATELY COARSE (LOAMY SAND, SANDY LOAM)
C. MEDIUM (LOAM, SILT LOAM)
D. FINE (CLAY LOAM, SILTY CLAY LOAM, SANDY CLAY LOAM, CLAY, SILTY CLAY, SANDY CLAY)
E. ORGANIC (MUCK, PEAT)

The texture of the SURFANCE layer is ________ (Write the letter in the space provided below).
The texture of the MARKED layer is __________ (Write the letter in the space provided below).

11. Which of the following best describes why the surface looks like it does?
A. Addition of organic matter to the surface of the soil.
B. Amount of average annual rainfall for the area.
C. Historically area was covered with continuous grasslands.

D. HUMAN DISTURBANCE HAS MIXED THE SURFACE LAYER.

12. List two practices that could be implemented on this farm to help provide habitat for wild turkey.
1) PLANT A SMALL WOODLOT FOR FAVORED FOODS AND COVER
2) PROVIDE AN OPEN AREA FOR FORAGING
3) LEAVE SOME CROPS STANDING THROUGH THE WINTER TO PROVIDE FORAGING AND COVER.

Hands-on activity kit designed for sustainable agriculture education (plant a mini heirloom garden): The activity kit was designed to recruit new Michigan Envirothon high school teams. The Michigan Envirothon Coordinator and the Training, Testing and Resources Committee created the hands-on activity kit. The activity kit helped students learn in a more exciting non-formal educational setting. With the activity kit we reached a higher level of a motivating practice-orientated, learning environment that teaches the following:
Why are we planting heirloom seeds?
Heirlooms are varieties of seeds that are openly-pollinated (by insects, birds, wind, or other natural mechanisms). Heirloom yielding plants and vegetables are of superior quality and taste when compared to their hybrid-seed counterparts. They are consistent with the natural, small-scale principles of production associated with sustainable agriculture.
Why are we supporting sustainable agriculture and locally grown food?
Sustainable agriculture is a localized system of food production emphasizing techniques that are fair, natural, environmentally-conscious and self-sustaining. Supporting locally grown food benefits the entire community – from farmers and consumers, to animals and the environment – by promoting a humane, economically viable and socially just mode of production.

GROWING YOUR OWN VEGETABLES AND HERBS INDOORS DURING THE WINTER

Light: Light is one of the basic needs plants have to live, grow and thrive. Winter’s outdoor levels of light are inadequate for the majority of plants to do anything more than survive so if you are growing indoors you will have to have supplemental light for about 6-8 hours a day.

Container: You can use anything for containers as long as it is big enough to allow the plant roots space to grow and you provide sufficient drainage. Avoid crowding the plants to close together in an attempt to increase your yield, the plants need air and this will help control pests and diseases.

Growing Medium: What you grow your plants in is extremely important, especially when you are growing in containers. A blend of sphagnum peat moss, composted bark fines and natural fertilizer holds moisture well, conducts nutrients well, keeps appropriate oxygen levels in the soil, if you do not drown it, and it drains well. Adding a soil inoculant is important as plant rely on symbiotic relationships with several types of soil born micro or organisms. Adding some bits of natural hard wood charcoal (not ashes) can enhance the growth of the beneficial fungi and bacteria.

Water: Over watering drives oxygen from the soil, kills beneficial micro organisms, encourages the growth of anaerobic bacteria (causing root rot) and leaches nutrients from the soil. Not enough water causes root damage. The best way to deal with watering is to keep the soil moist enough that you can see and feel it is not dry, but not so wet you could get anything from it with a paper towel. Misting with a hand mister, once a week, can help your garden to grow.

PEOPLE:

Partner list for the agriculture training sessions during the 2009 ME competition:
Susan Smalley – MSU, Dept. of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, Extension Specialist, Sustainable Food and Farming Systems
Catherine Badgley – U of M, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Associate Professor
USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service
Maria Davis – Olivet College, Natural and Physical Sciences Department, Chair
Michael Everett – MSU, Dept. of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, Specialist-Teacher
Russ LaRowe – Kalkaska Conservation District, Executive Director
Tomm Becker – MSU Student Organic Farm Manager
Jim Isleib – MSU Extension
Mark Seamon – MSU Extension
Jay Blair – USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

RESULTS

A total of 180 students from the schools listed below learnt about the following sustainable agriculture aspects during the 2009 Michigan Envirothon competition events:

1. Look at food and fiber production in Michigan and obtain an understanding of the essential human needs we obtain from our natural resources.

2. Understand the importance of agriculture in Michigan as a major land use.

3. Look at land use trends, the importance of agricultural lands to other natural components of Michigan, and look at the impact of land use policies on land use for agriculture.

4. Understand the basic glossary of agricultural terms and agricultural land use practices.

5. Look at the trend in agriculture – how we got to where we are today – small farms to industrial farming to a sustainable agriculture movement.

6. Sustainable agriculture relies upon four parts. Understand these four parts: a) agricultural product profitability, b) agricultural practices compatible with the environment, c) energy efficiency in agricultural practices, and d) a system which is supportive of rural and urban communities.

7. Understand examples of sustainable agriculture practices and methods: maintenance and improvement of soil / prevention of erosion, rotational grazing, composting, crop rotation, manure spreading, organic farming, cover crop use, integrated pest management, and value-added production.

The following schools participated in the 2009 Michigan Envirothon competiion:
Branch Area Careers Center
Calhoun Area Career Center
Caro High School
Glen Lake High School
Hart High School
Kingsford High School
Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center (KAMSC)
Lake Orion High School
Lawton High School
New Lothrop High School
Niles High School
Roscommon High School
South Lake High School
Sault Area High School
Webberville High School

About 100 students and 5 teachers participated in hands-on activities to plant a mini heirloom garden and received low cost compact fluorescent growing light bulb for their classrooms to help the plants live until they can be planted in a garden. The activities took place at the following locations: Southfield High School (Southfield, MI), Beecher High School (Flint, MI), and Clinton River Watershed Council Stream Leaders Student Congress (Clinton Township, MI).

DISCUSSION:

The NCR-SARE Youth Educator Grant Project was a great success and a huge help and support for Michigan Envirothon. Through the grant support we were able to use the MSU Student Organic Farm as one of the testing sites at the 2009 Michigan Envirothon state competition. Participating students were able to experience first-hand learning about sustainable agriculture; we were able to include a lot of hands-on, site-related questions to the state test. We received a lot of positive feedback from students, teachers, and event volunteers about this year’s farm testing site. Through working with the MSU Student Organic Farm Michigan Envirothon established new partnerships which will be very helpful for future events.
The NCR-SARE Youth Educator Grant Project also helped Michigan Envirothon to build a hands-on activity kit designed for sustainable agriculture education (plant a mini heirloom garden). We had very successful classroom visits and conference sessions and are currently following up with teachers from Southfield High School and Beecher High School that are interested in forming Michigan Envirothon teams for the 2010 competition. We embedded the hands-on planting activity in a 45 minute session about Michigan Envirothon, The activity was a very popular part of the session. The results were above our expectations; the students were excited about their mini heirloom indoor garden, participated in the activity with great interest and excitement. Besides the material that we purchased with the NCR-SARE Youth Educator Grant Project for the planting activity, we took a worm bin to the sessions and taught students and teachers about vermicomposting, which was a perfect fit for the planting activity.

OUTREACH:

ME promoted the competition events and formation of ME teams at the 2009 Michigan Science Teachers Associations annual conference in Detroit (3/5 – 3/7/09), the 2009 Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) Annual Conference in Dearborn (10/8 -10/10/09), the Clinton River Watershed Council Stream Leaders Student Congress (11/12/09), the Wayne County Science Leaders Meeting (12/1/09), the Michigan Association of Conservation District’s (MACD) Annual Winter Convention (12/15/09) as well as scheduled classroom visits at the Southfield High School (11/1009) and Beecher High School in Flint (11/19/09). At these events and conferences, Michigan Envirothon utilized hands-on activity kits, including one designed specifically for sustainable agriculture, to promote the program activities, engage and interest the educators in the program. Through these events and conferences, Michigan Envirothon reached between 300 – 350 students in Michigan.
For future years, Michigan Envirothon plans on continuing to present at the conferences and events listed above as well as increasing the number of classroom visits and six regional Michigan Envirothon workshops for teachers.

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.