Sustainable Inquiry Research and Education Network (SIREN)

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $156,336.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Pauline Nickel
SW Research & Outreach Center

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: flax, oats, rye, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, intercropping, conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, workshop, youth education, technical assistance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: economic threshold
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, soil analysis, organic matter, soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, public participation, public policy, sustainability measures


    This is the final report on the SIREN grant relating to engaging educational institutions in SW Minnesota and their respective faculty. The first year our report focused on the planning leading up to classroom implementation. The second year focused on actual in-classroom activities centered around the impacts of varying soil nutrient levels for plants and the impacts of these varying levels on the environment. The final year included distribution of instruments to the participating institutions through a no cost extension of available funds remaining from the original grant to address research integrity. The work asked of the participating institutions receiving the data collecting instruments was to set up an experiment using hydroponic apparatus which could control and then detect impacts of various nutrient levels delivered to the plants.


    The Sustainable Inquiry Research and Education Network (SIREN) integrated inquiry teaching strategies into sustainable agriculture projects designed by established producers and experienced scientists, building a research and education network of K-12 teachers, classrooms, schools, community education programs and university outreach and engagement activities.
    Project Coordinator: Pauline Nickel.
    Outcomes: short-term, a web-based resource for agriculture and science educators in southern Minnesota and beyond; Intermediate, better understanding among science and vocational agriculture teachers of the sustainable farming system and of the inquiry process as a teaching tool, and teachers, producers and university scientists engaged in interactive problem-solving;
    Long-term, successfully integrating sustainable agriculture into the science curriculum and connecting sustainable ag producers with future farmers (and other careers) in the region, as well as current producers and community members. Outputs: a curriculum resource for teachers and research reports for producers and the community, expanding the audience for sustainable agriculture concepts. Producers will help to define research questions and integrate sustainable agriculture practices (e.g., water quality) into organic and conventional systems in our region.
    Context: High use of chemical weed control and fertilizers by 90% of the region’s producers impacts soil and water quality; economically and environmentally sustainable farming enhances quality of life and recreation options. Research-based information on sustainability is critical.
    Approach: SIREN was guided by an Advisory Council of conventional and organic farmers, researchers and educators. Teacher workshops followed the well-tested Improving Teacher Quality model. Evaluation assessed educator and student outcomes; their research results were shared with other teachers, with area producers at Field Days and other events, and in community education forums.

    Project objectives:

    Over the life of the proposal the number one objective was to engage high school teachers and students in a scientific inquiry approach to learning about and better understanding sustainable agriculture. This was achieved through the three scientific experiments which participating teachers from several educational institutions participated in through numerous all day seminars at the Center and field trips to numerous farms in SW Minnesota. The teachers then used the same procedures, methods and field trip information to carry out the same experiments in their respective classrooms.(Two of the three experiments have been summarized in previous reports. The third experiment is included in this report.)

    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.