Northeast Indiana sustainable agriculture field day to increase youth interest in sustainable agriculture concepts and careers

Project Overview

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2014: $1,967.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Manager:
Jonathon Zirkle
Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: melons, berries (brambles), grapes, peaches
  • Nuts: chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, onions, parsnips, peppers, radishes (culinary), sweet corn, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants
  • Animals: poultry, goats
  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms


  • Animal Production: grazing - rotational
  • Crop Production: agroforestry, crop rotation, cover crops
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture, marketing management, value added
  • Pest Management: mulches - living, physical control, mulching - plastic
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, permaculture, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter

    Proposal abstract:

    Experiential learning is crucial to engaging youth about sustainable agriculture, as many have never been to a farm, been presented the career option to become a farmer, or have working knowledge about food production. Through this proposed weekend field day, high school students and early college students will visit northeast Indiana farming operations working to address sustainability issues, tour a farmers market, talk to college students running an urban community garden, eat an all-local meal, and participate in hands-on agricultural activities. Youth and accompanying educators and parents will also learn about post-secondary education and practical training opportunities in sustainable agriculture.

    Given the restraints schools experience with budget cuts for field trips and pressure to focus on test scores, a Saturday field day offering funding support may be an excellent way to expose students to future opportunities in sustainable agriculture. This project will teach students about marketing sustainably-raised produce, creating community gardens, and will give them opportunities to visit local farms and talk to sustainable agriculture professionals. 

    Participants on this Saturday tour will include visits to:
    *Trackside Community Garden (plots for Goshen College students and nearby neighborhood residents)
    *Goshen Farmers Market
    *Plough & Stars Farm (Columbia City, IN)
    *Merry Lea Sustainable Farm (Wolf Lake, IN)
    *Old Loon Farm (Columbia City, IN)

    Trackside Community Garden will provide participants with a tour led by garden manager Josh Yoder, a recent Goshen College graduate who completed the Agroecology Summer Intensive program at Merry Lea ELC.  This tour will include tours of garden plots, an explanation of the garden's history, and a tour of the college's compost management program.  

    A stop at the Goshen Farmers Market will give students a chance to interact with farm and artisan vendors at the market, asking questions about what they produce and how it is raised, purchase farm products, and consider the variety of career and entrepreneurial options in small-scale agriculture.  Questions about this experience will be raised on the bus trip to other farms afterwards.

    The visit to Plough & Stars Farm west of Columbia City will be led by farmer Seth Rash.  Seth is a young farmer in his 30s, an unexpected farmer who studied English Literature in college and later realized he'd like to farm.  His family's farm will showcase organically-managed vegetable production, small hoophouse projects in progress, discussions about small-scale farm equipment, farmers market dynamics, on-farm soil management and crop rotation, crop specialization, career preparation advice, and family decisions affected by the farming life.  

    While at Merry Lea Sustainable Farm, articipating students will perform on-farm tasks such as building a compost pile, handling oak logs inoculated to raise shiitake mushrooms, covering beds with straw for soil protection, and caring for pasture-raised chickens.  Also included will be a hayride tour of the farm, with stops at the Woody Perennial Polyculture 5-acre new planting, market gardens, and greenhouse/hoophouses at the LEED-certified complex called 'Rieth Village' (first LEED-Platinum certified buildings in the state of Indiana where residental students and staff work and live throughout the year).  Lunch will also be at Merry Lea, a meal filled with local and organic ingredients many of which come from Merry Lea Sustainable Farm.  Presentations over the lunch hour at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College will be given by Purdue Extension educator Doug Keenan, Natasha Weisenbeck of Seed to Feed (Elkhart, IN), Rachel Drescher (WWOOF volunteer at Merry Lea Sustainable Farm), and Merry Lea ELC staff members Jon Zirkle and Dale Hess.  These presentations give participants a chance to consider education and career opportunities in sustainable agriculture and interact with working professionals in the field.  

    Finally, the visit to Old Loon Farm gives participants a chance to tour a variety of farm endeavors at this small working CSA farm.  A tour will be given of their farm kitchen where value-added products are prepared: pies, breads, honey/beeswax products, jams and jellies, and more.  Subsequent tours will include a tour of their animal barn where chickens, geese, and dairy goats are raised, a tour of the beehives, and a tour of the vegetable and herb gardens. 

    Participants then return to Goshen, IN to Goshen College.  Follow-up surveys will be sent to participants six months after the event (Spring 2015).  

    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.