Experiential Learning Activities for an Undergraduate Minor in Sustainable Agriculture Systems

1996 Annual Report for LNC96-103

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1996: $122,732.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $60,092.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Craig Sheaffer
University of Minnesota

Experiential Learning Activities for an Undergraduate Minor in Sustainable Agriculture Systems


The objective of this project was to develop a sustainable food systems curriculum package for both faculty advisors and student internship hosts to fully understand and facilitate experiential learning theory and for undergraduate students to be able to fully engage in the learning cycle.

A tri-state workshop was help in March 1997 to show how experiential learning provides unique opportunities to meet the needs of highly interdisciplinary areas of study such as sustainable agriculture. Participants became aware of current trends in higher education, specifically those related to integrating hands-on experience with academic course work; developed an understanding about underlying concepts and principles of experiential learning; identified strengths and weaknesses of current internship models; and developed specific learning activities for students using the experiential learning model.

A course was developed that introduces students to: 1) background on theory of the experiential learning cycle so that they can design more holistic instruction; 2) how to plan for more reflective-observation activities (so that learners get more value from their concrete experiences); and 3) how to develop more active experimentation activities (so learners see for themselves how abstract concepts fit in the world of experience). The course was designed as a folder of activities and information to be used by internship advisors to allow maximum flexibility of use for students and advisors. Through interactions with their advisor and host organization mentor, students will be required to reflect, analyze and integrate their experiences. Approaches to help guide the students through this process will be developed and made available as part of this packet.

The purpose of the field course was to introduce students to the concepts, principles and methods of sustainable agriculture by having them experience real-life systems that highlight practices and problems of sustainable agriculture. By spending one week in the tri-state area (Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska), students were exposed to the diversity of farming systems and approaches to sustainable agriculture in the region. Each of the 14 students who participated was expected to assess the physical, biological, social and economic components of each system. Through an appraisal method, e.a. sondeo, students identified the strengths and weaknesses in the overall sustainability system. The goal of the course was to enhance students’ skills in systems assessment, problem-analysis and decision-making in the context of sustainable agriculture.

A regional directory has been created which lists internship opportunities in sustainable agriculture. Potential internship hosts (producers, nonprofit organizations and public agencies) have had an enthusiastic response to the directory and are eager to be involved in the project. Organization addresses and project descriptions will be updated annually, giving hosts an opportunity to refine the ways in which they present proposed internships and giving students a realistic view of what will be required as interns. The directory will be housed in the library of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) on the University of Minnesota campus and will be listed at the MISA website.


Chuck Francis

Univ. of NE
Rick Exner

Practical Farmers of IA