Innovative Approaches to Practical Education in Sustainable Agriculture
Agricultural education land grant colleges is still strongly disciplinary oriented and places major
emphasis upon intensive production, often with insufficient attention to environmental costs. The
interdisciplinary education of carefully selected, leadership-oriented students in the principles
and practices of a more sustainable agriculture, through a hands-on farm-based experience, will
be one of the best methods of accelerating the adoption of more sustainable practices and a better
understanding of integrated lower input systems. This project proposes to develop an innovative
approach to practical and applied education in sustainable agriculture, not only in terms of its
principles, but also in its techniques, practices and systems.
1) To provide practical on-farm educational training in sustainable agriculture, for career and
leadership-oriented students and young farmers, through an internship program.
2) To provide opportunities for practical on-farm educational experiences on a network of
demonstration farms in Ohio.
3) To develop an “Association of Innovative Farmers” as a resource for practical education in
Methods and Results:
A 10 week Sustainable Agriculture Internship Program was developed for 11 interns in 1993 and
a similar program in 1994. These interns followed a demanding schedule, which included
developing practical skills through hands-on experiences on a number of demonstration and
privately owned farms that were involved in the program throughout Ohio. They participated in
lectures and discussions from a large number of visiting speakers covering a wide variety of
topics including soil ecology, agroecology, rural sociology, Amish agriculture, on-farm research
methodology, cover cropping and other sustainable cultural practices. Each intern also completed
a project in sustainable agriculture related to their own specific interests.
A number of individual farmers were involved with other farms in Ohio to establish a statewide
network of demonstration farms. Twelve demonstrations on privately-owned farms and three
demonstrations on public-owned farms were initiated throughout Ohio. During the two years of
this project, about 2,000 people attended field days, demonstrations, workshops, and tours
conducted on these farms.
A farmer to farmer network established as a result of this project evolved into a new
organization, the Innovative Farmers of Ohio, now run independently by farmers. This
organization provides a network for exchange of information and ideas, promotes on-farm
research to enhance farmers’ sustainability and profitability, and promotes interaction between
farmers, non-farmers, and the rural communities they live in.
Potential Contributions and Practical Applications:
Over the course of this project, more than 200 farmers have been involved in at least one aspect
of the three main objectives. This includes more than 130 members in the association of
Innovative Farmers of Ohio, with the remainder being involved in events held at the ODA/OSU
Demonstration Farm, the Stratford Ecological Center, organic farms that are members of the
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, and other forums around Ohio. Demonstrations,
practical information, and research findings were provided to a very broad audience of