Developing Educational Resources on Sustainable Food Systems for High School Students

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2018: $11,354.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Purdue University
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Neil Knobloch
University of Illinois

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: beekeeping, crop rotation, food processing, greenhouses, high tunnels or hoop houses, organic fertilizers, pollination, seed saving
  • Education and Training: youth education
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture, labor/employment
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, drift/runoff buffers
  • Pest Management: mulching - plastic
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems, organic agriculture, organic certification
  • Soil Management: composting
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, community development, community planning, community services, ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, leadership development, local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, public policy, quality of life, social networks, urban agriculture


    This project addressed two major problems in the education system: (1) limited educational resources for teaching sustainable food systems; and (2) limited educational resources for teaching systems thinking by developing an open access educational resource called Food Systems Thinker. Food Systems Thinker fostered an appreciation for sustainable agriculture and food systems in order to make an informed decision in food choices or future careers. High school participants learned about sustainability and how their food choices are related to the environment, economy, and community through self-directed online lessons, scaffolding worksheets, and experiential learning activities. The research part of this project was a case study focusing on the exploring how the instructional design of this learning experience helped students learn about, engage in, and practice systems thinking in the context of sustainable food systems. Participants shared that the program was challenging because they were not used to coming up with their own answers, and they enjoyed experiential learning activities the most. In addition, participants reported that they intended to purchase locally grown and raised fresh food from a farm that uses natural methods and comes in a minimal packaging. They would also reduce food waste by eating leftovers, donating, and possibly communicating with businesses about reducing food waste. Participants who were interested in agricultural careers intended to find natural methods in caring for livestock and use natural products and biodiversity principle in growing crops.

    Project objectives:

    Learning outcomes:

    The Food Systems Thinker curriculum for high school students and older adults aimed to increase the learners’ knowledge about sustainability and systems thinking by engaging them to learn about sustainable food systems topics. Learners had a greater understanding of the importance of supporting sustainable agriculture and how their food choices were related to the environment, economy, and community. Learning about consequences of food systems environmentally, economically, and socially raised an awareness and change a consumer’s attitude towards food choices. Together with the experiential learning activities, learners practiced systems thinking, a higher-order thinking skill.

    Action outcomes:

    This project mobilized a network of high school students, farmers, and agricultural professionals to build social capital. The farmers were recognized for their work and had the opportunities to share their stories as educators. In the long-term, these developed resources will be accessed online by other schools or farmers interested in sustainable agriculture and food systems. The materials will foster the appreciation for sustainable agriculture among students to make an informed decision in their future career or further study. We showed students how to apply sustainability concepts in everyday decisions and change behaviors to be pro­-environmental. High school students gained insights in sustainable practices and connected to farmers at the local level to learn sustainable practices to strengthen the local community. Finally, the engagement approach would support students to develop life-long learning regarding sustainable 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.