Teaching Tomorrow's Leaders in Sustainable Agriculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $57,969.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Robert De Haan
Dordt College

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, oats, soybeans, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, swine, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: housing, free-range, feed rations, manure management, grazing - rotational, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling, ridge tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, marketing management, risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: grass waterways, riparian buffers, wetlands, wildlife
  • Pest Management: biological control, chemical control
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: composting, organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, analysis of personal/family life, social capital, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Many of tomorrow’s agricultural leaders begin their education in high school vocational agriculture, biology, or environmental science programs. Teachers in these high school programs have received little attention from the regional SARE education program, and seldom have the opportunity to learn directly from innovative farmers in the region. This project is designed to make this kind of experiential learning a reality. In addition, it will help high school teachers develop materials, courses, and curricula in this area. This three-year project will also target undergraduate and beginning graduate students with an interest in agriculture. Our goal is to serve approximately three teachers and nineteen students the first year and nine teachers and thirteen students in years two and three. Outcomes include an influential cadre of teachers and top students who are well oriented in sustainable agricultural systems (short-term), course outlines and curricula that will be used in high schools in the North Central region (intermediate-term), and a functional regional network of agricultural professionals equipped to improve the economic, environmental and social health of the family farm sector in the North Central Region (long-term). The context of the project is an educational system that often precludes thoughtful study of alternative, integrated, and environmentally sound food systems. The approach includes an intensive summer course with pre-workshop reading and writing assignments; a one-week series of farm visits; group work producing cross-farm analyses based on production, economic, environmental, and social criteria; development of final team reports analyzing the farms we visited (students); and new course materials and curricula (teachers). Evaluation will be integral to learning and continuous throughout the project. It will include interviews, surveys, evaluation of written and oral reports, and observation.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Short term: The immediate outcome from this project will be a core group of approximately twenty-one high school agriculture, biology, and environmental science teachers with an enhanced awareness of sustainable agriculture as practiced by real farmers, and a commitment to pass this understanding on to their students. These teachers will have acquired key references and other educational tools and materials, and will have developed specific strategies for utilizing these within their classes, schools, and school systems. The teachers will also have learned to apply the pedagogical concepts of “experiential learning” and “problem-based learning” as a result of their participation as students in the field-based Agroecosystems Analysis course that serves as the core of this project. Both experiential learning and problem-based learning are highly effective tools for fostering transformational learning, which can lead to substantive positive shifts in participant attitudes and actions. Synergies gained by combining secondary teachers with the university students in this project should create immediate positive benefits for both groups. College and university students participating in the course will develop a better understanding of sustainable agricultural systems and the farmers who operate them and will have developed a framework to use to analyze agroecosystems. They will also be motivated to explore additional sustainable alternatives for Midwestern agriculture.

    Intermediate term: There will be a strong follow-up effect as the participating teachers return to their schools and school systems and interact with peers locally, and in professional associations. We also expect that teachers who have participated in this course will become resource persons for other high school teachers interested in experiential and problem-based learning, and in sustainable agricultural systems. Furthermore, we anticipate a positive response from high school students who are given the opportunity to use experiential learning approaches to investigate food production systems. We expect the students to foster their own impetus for change within their schools and school systems. Finally, we expect that the college and university students who participate in the Agroecosystems Analysis course will become committed to the development of sustainable food production systems and rural communities. As these students move into their own professional contexts and adult lives, they will likely serve as important advocates and agents for change in their roles as citizens, parents, and community members.

    Long term: We envision a day when concepts and considerations of sustainability, including sustainable agriculture and agroecology, will become central to the secondary curricula and learning experience within both rural and urban communities in the North Central region! This will only happen as teachers and citizens grasp the reality that sustainable agriculture is not just an agricultural concern. The synergistic relationships formed among the secondary teachers, university students and faculty involved with this project can form an important nucleus of citizens and professionals who will work towards this goal. With time, we envision the development of a functional regional network of agricultural professionals and citizens equipped to improve the economic, environmental, and social health of the family farm sector in the North Central Region.

    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.