On January 24th and 25th, 2006 a national post-secondary agriculture education conference was held in Pacific Grove, California. Over 140 people attended the two-day event, including students, faculty, staff and administrators from over fifty colleges and universities (both national and international) and fifteen state and national sustainable agriculture organizations. See the registrant list [PDF, 24KB]. Twenty-five states were represented from across the U.S.
The objective of the conference was to encourage the continued development of educational programs in sustainable agriculture and agroecology in the U.S. through facilitating a national dialogue on learning and teaching at the post-secondary level. The content of the conference was organized around the specific needs and interest of the participants, which had been gathered through a national needs assessment.
The conference was conducted using both World Café and Open Space technology and was facilitated by an international team of faculty and graduate students. Participants engaged in a series of focused small group discussion sessions and participant-initiated workshops organized around shared needs and interests. The first day of the conference focused on defining and discussing shared needs and interests, with the second day focused principally on the formation of working groups organized to take collective action on common needs and interests, both during the conference and into the future.
Evaluations of the conference by participants have indicated a high degree of satisfaction and usefulness. Fifteen working groups and sub-committees have been proposed, including a national association for the advancement of sustainable agriculture and agroecology in higher education. A second national sustainable agriculture education conference has been proposed for the winter of 2007.
Sponsors and Supporters
Major sponsors for the event included the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Student Farm; The Farm Foundation; the UC Santa Cruz office of the Chancellor; the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS); the Department of Environmental Studies and the Division of Social Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. Additional support was provided by the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program; the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE); Wageningen Agricultural University of the Netherlands; and the Students for Sustainable Agriculture (SSA) at UC Davis.
- Albie Miles, Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), UCSC.
- Damian Parr, Graduate Student, Agricultural Education, School of Education, UC Davis.
- Mark Van Horn, Director, Student Farm. Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis.
- Richard Bawden, Department of Community Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, Michigan State University.
- Catherine Cloud, Graduate Student, International Agriculture Development, UC Davis.
- Nancy Grudens-Schuck, Department of Agricultural Education and Studies. Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University.
- Geir Lieblein, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
- Nadarajah Sriskandarajah, Associate Professor, Unit of Learning. Food and Resource Economics Institute. The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Denmark.
History and Background
In 2002, the College Farms Sustainable Agriculture Educators Working Group was formed with the support of the Kellogg-funded California Food and Fiber Futures (CF3) project. This working group involved staff, students and faculty from a number of colleges and universities in California who came together to learn from one another, identify common needs and interests, and begin to collectively address their shared needs and interests. The group worked on a number of projects together, convened several meetings each year, and held workshops for the last three years at the annual Ecological Farming Conference in Asilomar, California. The principle focus of these projects and workshops was to serve the further development of experiential sustainable agriculture education and college farms.
Realizing the need for a similar, multi-day event that served the broader sustainable agriculture education community, the idea of convening a national sustainable agriculture education conference was proposed and met with enthusiastic support. We conducted a survey of selected individuals and US institutions involved in sustainable agriculture education in order to further assess interest in a national conference as well as to solicit input on content. The idea was met with great support and we received much informative feedback.
We began working on convening the event with the confidence that there was sufficient interest and with the financial support of UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, and the Farm Foundation, with additional contributions from the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE), the Students for Sustainable Agriculture at UC Davis, and the Wageningen Agricultural University of the Netherlands.
Conference Goals and Objectives
The goal of convening a national sustainable agriculture education conference has been to encourage the continued development of educational programs in sustainable agriculture through facilitating a national dialogue on learning and teaching at the post-secondary level. We wanted to create a stimulating working environment in which faculty, students, staff and administrators were free to share ideas and questions, discuss what they have done and want to do in their education programs, what worked, what didn’t work, and what educational resources they have been using.
We also wanted to take a critical look at our programmatic goals and objectives, and assess how well we have been meeting our needs as students, educators, and society now and into the future. We wanted and continue to want to share and explore teaching and educational ideas, practices, and theories. We wanted to talk about opportunities and challenges and how to best approach them. Finally, we wanted educators, administrators and students to meet each other, learn from each other and, if and as it suits them, develop collaborations and working relationships across geographical, disciplinary and other boundaries. In doing so it is our hope that collectively we can encourage the development of educational programs that focus on learning, student self-empowerment, and the development of knowledge and skills needed to achieve more sustainable food and agricultural systems.
Conference Content and Development Process: Surveying Needs and Interests
In order to inform our colleagues of the idea of the conference and determine most accurately their shared needs and interests, we developed a Needs and Interests Assessment that was circulated nationally. Two separate needs assessments were developed, one exclusively for students [PDF, 44KB] and another exclusively for faculty and staff [PDF, 136KB]. Also see an assessment summary of the responses to the student needs [PDF, 500KB] and the faculty/staff responses [PDF, 122KB].
From these assessments we found that respondents shared many similar needs and interests and were also interested in the idea of meeting as a community of learners and educators to share ideas and resources on how to best develop this rapidly evolving field of study.
Both Open Space Technology and World Café were used during the event. World Café was used to encourage participants to talk and think more deeply together about the critical issues facing them and their programs and to create innovative paths forward. Three World Café sessions were included in the schedule. Please see the conference schedule below for links to the questions posed to participants and summaries of responses. Visit the World Café for more information.
Open Space Technology structures the conference program in ways that enable participants to engage each other deeply and creatively around issues of concern. The format is different from World Café in several ways. First, Open Space begins in a large group format for agenda-setting purposes. The agenda is set by participants, not by facilitators. The technique lets participants get their work done efficiently by allowing direct and immediate control of the agenda by attendees.
Participants then move into smaller-sized discussion groups, which are shorter and faster-paced than classical Open Space technique (but longer than World Café discussions). Facilitators support, rather than control or stimulate the small group discussions. Open Space is a tool that enables a self-organizing group to deal with complex issues like sustainability in a very short period of time. For a listing of topics and summaries of the Open Space workshops conducted during the conference, please see the conference schedule below. Visit the Open Space Technology website for more information.
Outcomes and Future Activities
Participant evaluations of the conference indicated a high degree of satisfaction and much enthusiasm and support for continuing this type of collaborative work into the future. At the close of the conference, fifteen working groups and sub-committees had been proposed (see below) to address such topics as: developing and maintaining institutional support for sustainable agriculture education programs; sustainable agriculture curriculum development; student recruitment and retention; connecting sustainable agriculture programs and their students to surrounding communities; student and college farms; interdisciplinary and experiential education; developing inter-institutional collaborations; and a student-centered working group to focus on issues and interests specific to undergraduate and graduate students.
In addition, the development of a national and international association/organization for the advancement of sustainable agriculture and agroecology in higher education was proposed, along with a second national sustainable agriculture education conference to be held during the winter of 2007.
Evaluation Form and Summary
If you participated in the conference and have not submitted a Conference Evaluation [PDF, 84KB], we ask that you please do so and return it as soon as possible. See the Conference Evaluation Summary [PDF, 176K].
Suggested Readings on Sustainability and Sustainable Agriculture in Higher Education
Please see the Annotated Bibliography [PDF, 40KB] of articles and books on sustainability and sustainable agriculture in higher education.
Topical Working Groups and National Organization Sub-committees
Topical Working Groups and National Organization Sub-committees: Click on the link below for information on subscribing to and participating in working groups and sub-committees formed during the Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture Education Conference of 2006. Each working group and sub-committee has been organized around a set of needs and interests identified by conference participants. It is also possible to create new groups and committees (please see link, below). The listservs, e-mail addresses and homepages given in the following link will provide a platform for ongoing dialogue and group communication on a given topic. We encourage you to join as many conversations as you wish.
Refer to: Subscribing to and Participating in Working Groups and Sub-Committees.
Conference Schedule and Workshop Summaries: Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture: A Participatory National Conference on Post-Secondary Education
Tuesday, January 24 (Day 1)
Wednesday, January 25 (Day 2)
||Session One: Raising questions/issues that matter
Converging on those questions on which we want to focus
||Session Two: Working creatively around those
||Session Three: Converging around possible ideas for
solutions; Converging around action plans
||Reflections and Celebration Café