Sustainable Agriculture Learning Modules for High School Agriculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2010: $54,918.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Shannon Moncure
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Charles Francis
Grain Place Foundation

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: free-range, manure management, pasture fertility
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: general education and training
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: cultural control, physical control, cultivation, row covers (for pests), weed ecology
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: organic matter, composting, soil chemistry, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Current high school agriculture curriculum focuses on conventional farming systems and improving efficiency and profitability within an industrial farming model. We will develop educational modules in sustainable agriculture that are relevant and responsive to the emerging realities of resource and input scarcity, more variable climate, strict environmental regulations, and collapsing rural infrastructure and communities. Key trainers to be served are the opinion leaders among Nebraska high school agricultural educators. Short-term outcomes will include greater student understanding of issues like spatial and temporal field diversity, new and unique crops, crop/animal integration, enterprise and economic diversity, organic farming, adding value on farms and in the local community, and local food systems. Intermediate outcomes will be new opportunities for young beginning farmers, employment in rural communities in the food system, increased system resilience and local food security, and more dynamic and durable local economies. These high school modules are components of an integrated rural and peri-urban educational strategy that will connect people with their food supply and natural environment, starting in K-6, continuing up through high schools and colleges. Through agriculture teachers we can multiply impacts be reaching farmers and other ag industry professionals. An overall program impact will be design and testing of educational components for innovative lifelong learning in farming and food systems in the Midwest, as the modules are posted on a national web site for the agriculture teachers’ association. This project will catalyze essential changes needed in secondary school teaching to introduce sustainable agriculture into agriculture education programs.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Short-term outcomes
    As a short-term outcome of this project, the high school students of project participants will have a greater understanding of the topics and issues in the project units used in their classrooms. In addition to the topics chosen by the pilot group, this could include topics such as spatial and temporal field diversity, new and unique crops, crop/animal integration, and organic farming methods. Another short-term outcome is a beginning awareness of, and interest in, sustainable agriculture topics and issues on the part of Ag Ed teachers who participate in the course. Giving these teachers the opportunity to learn about sustainable agriculture while being challenged to reflect on its applicability to the classroom learning and future careers of their students will give them a wider set of options when planning their broad and specific goals and activities for their high school students.

    Intermediate outcomes

    As Ag Ed teachers participate in the course, apply their new learning and ideas to their teaching, and spread the word among their students and fellow educators about opportunities in sustainable agriculture, an intermediate outcome will be an increased interest in bringing these topics and activities to the classroom among both of these important constituent groups. Whereas in the past it has been necessary for high school students and teachers to be persuaded to insert “alternative” elements into their curriculum and daily class experiences, our goal, in the intermediate future, is to create a “buzz” about sustainable methods and the possibilities they create for both learning and economic opportunity. Another intermediate outcome is an increased focus on real-world problem-solving and connections across the curriculum in agriculture education classrooms, which will both better engage high school students in learning about agriculture topics and issues, and support students as they begin to shift from navigating the world of school, to entering an adult world that calls for the ability to make tough, complicated decisions that may have broad implications, consider all aspects of a problem, and be open to new information that can lead to better choices. This experiential course design will better enable teachers and students to make attitudinal and behavioral changes in agroecology (Harms, King, & Francis, 2009; Wiedenhoeft et al., 2003). Finally, as these students consider the real possibilities that sustainable agriculture offers them in their careers, a third intermediate outcome is the increased enterprise and economic diversity, organic farming methods, and added value on farms and in the local communities of the participant educators. The choice of real-world issues as classroom material will encourage students to bring their new knowledge home to their 4-H, FFA and family farm endeavors, thus creating a hands-on environment allowing students to actively participate in the learning process through real-world, immersion-based activities (Harms, King, & Francis, 2009).

    Long-term outcomes
    In the long-term, Ag Ed teachers who participate in this course will have an on-going influence on their schools and outside communities, leading to more, varied opportunities for young beginning farmers, increased employment in rural communities in the food system, a renewed interest in farming as a career and way of life among high school students, and a decrease in dependence on conventional agriculture methods across local food systems.

    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.