Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) has a rich culture rooted in agriculture and natural resources; yet, there is only one state recognized school-based Agriculture, Food and Natural Resource Education (AFNRE) program in the U.P., an area which comprises one-third of the landmass of Michigan. As public awareness of agriculture and food systems grows, so does interest in establishing educational programs to prepare students for career opportunities in these fields. This challenge – and opportunity – is realized throughout much of the NCR-SARE region; therefore, smaller-scale, innovative solutions have the potential to serve as models for non-formal AFNRE in other rural, underserved areas. This proposal details an innovative solution, to connect U.P. farmers with secondary-school teachers to develop student-farmers well versed in sustainable agriculture practices as a method to catalyze the growth of formal AFNRE programs throughout the region.
Extending the work of North Farm Teacher Institutes (NFTI), which provide teachers with curriculum, technical and fiscal support on agricultural and food science concepts, the proposed project would support land-based, sustainable agriculture learning for educators and student-farmers impacted through NFTI by connecting them to partnering farms implementing sustainable agriculture practices. Working with a team of mentors, student-farmers will develop a supervised, Sustainable Agricultural Experience (SAE) project to be deployed on-farm, which includes planning, implementation and outreach experiences. Owners and operators from the on-farm, land- based learning centers have chosen to be involved in this program because they recognize the need to train the next generation of farmers, and for the potential benefit to make on-farm improvements to maximize sustainability and profitability. These non-formal educational experiences will promote student-farmer growth and prepare them for careers in agriculture, while making on-farm investments to enhance sustainability – whether it be in increased cover crop usage, diversification of enterprises, or improved ecosystem services.
A robust evaluation program utilizing pre-tests, post-tests, interviews, and social media engagement will track student-farmer, farm cooperator, and teacher progress and overall program impact. Furthermore, social media will be used for greater transfer of learning outcomes to the NCR-SARE region, extending the benefit of this non- formal education model. The North Farm, which hosts NFTI, is located in Chatham, Michigan and is part of the Michigan State University Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center (UPREC). The farm serves as a research and teaching facility focusing on the interaction of healthy soil, food, people and communities in the food insecure, and northern latitude region of the U.P.
Project objectives from proposal:
Audiences: Farm cooperators, student-farmers, high school and Michigan State University Extension educators
Learning: Student-farmers will increase their awareness, knowledge, and skills about sustainable agriculture practices; aspirations to consider a sustainable agriculture career; and increased self-efficacy for problem-solving. Farm cooperators will have increased awareness through student-farmer Sustainable Agriculture Experience (SAE) projects.
Action: Student-farmers will promote sustainable agriculture and sustainably raised food. Farm cooperators will improve farm sustainability with the assistance of student-farmers. Educators will incorporate lessons on sustainable agriculture practices and careers into their curriculum. School districts will inquire about adding state- recognized, school-based agriculture, food and natural resource education programs.