See more from this Session: Symposium--Experiential Learning and Action Education: I
Monday, October 17, 2011: 1:40 PM
Henry Gonzalez Convention Center, Room 006A, River Level
There is widespread and growing interest among college students, staff, and faculty in creating and developing educational farms on campuses to provide experiential learning opportunities in sustainable agriculture. But can an educational farm really serve as a realistic model of sustainability? Separated from the risks of the market and often operated by individuals with limited direct experience in production agriculture, student farms may not be able to easily meet the multifaceted criteria defining sustainability. Further, individuals or groups involved with a farming effort may not agree on what constitutes a sustainable farm. Berea College has one of the oldest continuously operating student educational farms in North America and its history offers interesting and potentially useful insights into the benefits, challenges, and contradictions of student farms as both models of sustainability and laboratories for student learning. Students are involved in all aspects of managing the farm’s diverse crop and livestock enterprises through the college’s required labor program. The farm has measured and tracked quantitative and qualitative indicators of environmental, economic, and social sustainability over the past five years and shares the data with the students. This information sharing and transparency has been important for maintaining constructive dialogue among students, staff, and faculty with different perspectives on sustainability and necessary for justifying long-term management decisions that are sometimes controversial, such as transition of crop acreage to organic production and the elimination of confinement hog production in favor of a pasture-based system. Student feedback on these indicators, recent changes in management practices, and the farm’s current trajectory indicate that strong differences of opinion about sustainability persist but the farm is seen as a valuable educational resource that is considered essential to their education in agriculture.