Teaching Tips from: Julie Cotton- Michigan State’s SAFS Program
Sustainable agriculture and food systems programs throughout the nation tend to share the pedagogy of experiential learning. The unique approaches that each program takes often reflect the activities of the burgeoning sustainable agriculture movement in their region, or the expertise at their institution.
Here at Michigan State University, we built our Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems undergraduate program to create active learners across many disciplines that contribute to the food system. We recognize that building a sustainable food system is going to take more than just growing food more sustainably – a diverse network of professionals that can reflect sustainability principles thought the value chain and shared goal of a healthy food system for all. At any time, we have up to 17 majors in the undergraduate program, which is both challenging and stimulating.
As a primary instructor for the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems minor, I have the challenging but exciting task of building projects that engage students in meaningful work that can also contribute to their chosen career path. To this end, we have built a capstone course that provides diverse small groups of students a meaningful project opportunity to complete with a community partner.
We identify community partners that have the capacity to host groups and can define a project that engages students in meaningful learning experiences. The process allows us to create generative projects that both provide meaningful professional experience for our students and a useful end product for our partners. Beyond the “hard skills” that the students learn to complete their work, they also learn a multitude of “soft skills” that are so important in post-graduate success. Our partners come from both in and outside the university, and the process of engagement respects the time and needs of both students and partners.
Our four field projects this year help demonstrate how we design and structure these opportunities – and I’ve provided some of the insights they provided to our students (and instructors).
1) The Allen Market Place (AMP), a newly founded food hub project in the sister city of Lansing, serves a neighborhood that has been under-served in healthy food availability. AMP wanted to identify additional retail opportunities in the area. These students mapped potential small private food retail operations, and visited with several store owners to gauge interests and constraints in purchasing local produce.
These students learned about the retail and post-harvest distribution systems, as well as the retail possibilities in urban settings – like ethnic stores looking for specialty items – that can help inform growers. They were also challenged to “cold call”, interview and scout with a particular business end in mind. I watched as students were empowered by knowing that they can be seen as professionals, and learn how to prepare the “elevator pitch” that can help any professional share their story.
2) The Food Day group worked on-campus to through a Food Day event in coordination with the Real Food Challenge. Last year, the project group surveyed at cafeterias and found that MSU students wanted to see more local Michigan food on campus. With a growing fresh apple market, new distributor opportunities, and a commitment to buy more Michigan apples, the MSU campus was a great target for a small change that could make a big difference – getting local apples year-round in all retail and cafeteria spaces on campus.
These students followed their event that showcased Michigan apples with information gathering on production, distribution, constraints and barriers to purchases of Michigan Apples. They talked to producer groups, individual farmers and local food procurement to encourage the campus to take the next step and get local apples year-round by trying new varieties and taking advantage of emerging regional distributors.
3) With new federal food safety guidelines in the works, many farmers are apprehensive and concerned about the impact that these new laws will have on their farms. Luckily, we have savvy and pro-active Conservation District outreach specialists in Michigan that help farmers meet a key factor – water quality standards – through the free and confidential Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).
This group worked with the outreach specialist Jen Silveri to design new marketing materials that would inform farmers of the services available, and encourage them to take advantage of the free services in preparation for the upcoming new regulations. From simplifying policy messages, to finding appropriate media modes to reach farmers, these students gained insight and respect for the complexities of farming and those that serve farmers.
4) Our forth project took created a visual tool to help farmers look at the optimal nitrogen application rates for their fields, as well as the environmental consequences of nitrogen application at different rates. They had the expertise of a postdoc at MSU Kellogg Biological Station, where our Long Term Ecological Research site on agriculture is housed, to help inform their efforts.
Several years of data collection and other studies have suggested optimal nitrogen application rates for particular areas of the state, and other research has provided some evidence of the atmospheric and water impacts of different types of nitrogen application. These students compiled evidence and build a simple model that allows farmers to see the outcomes of nitrogen application at various rates in a simplified chart form, which can help them optimize their choice of inputs and yield, while balancing their environmental impacts.
Obviously, this class doesn’t aim to have all students graduate with the same skill set, but to provide tangible experience which empowers students to trust their own ability to affect change by applying their expertise, and to be able to dialogue and incorporate knowledge from other areas of expertise. From utilizing social media to building social networks, from solving difficult equations to overcoming distribution chain issues, these students show that they all have what it takes to make our food system more sustainable.
One thing we hear consistently at our National Conferences is how much people like learning best practices and creative new ways to invigorate instruction. In this regular newsletter section and blog post, we reach out to our membership, and leaders in our field (and classrooms!), to share teaching tips and instructional approaches that have worked for them. Feel free to nominate a teacher that you think is outstanding to share some of their tips and tricks! Or feel free to volunteer yourself! Articles may be traditional write-ups, but we would also welcome links to videos or other web-based resources, or any other creative delivery mechanism. This is just one way we can keep the conversations going between SAEA events and build a community of practitioners engaged in excellence in the teaching and learning of sustainable agriculture. Please contact Sarah Lovett our outreach coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute an article or nominate someone to contribute.
Hello SAEA community! I am excited to introduce an exciting new addition to the SAEA community, our new Outreach Coordinator, Sarah Lovett. I have had the privilege of working with Sarah since 2010, in the planning of the 2011 SAEA National Conference here in Lexington, Kentucky, when we were fortunate enough to have Sarah serve as our Conference Coordinator. Those of you who met Sarah at the Kentucky/Virginia Tech conference, or at subsequent national conferences, know that her organizational skills and “git ‘er dun” spirit will be a tremendous asset to our organization!
By way of brief introduction, Sarah has shared a bit of her background and bio:
“As a Paducah Kentucky native I grew up with a love for the outdoors and gardening. Those passions lead me to Lexington, Kentucky where I enrolled in the Sustainable Agriculture bachelor’s degree program at the University of Kentucky. I was one of the 4 women who were the first graduates of the program in 2009. For the past five years I have been working full time as an extension associate for the UK College of Agriculture’s Department of Ag Economics. My focus is on Sustainable Agriculture through the State’s SARE program and KyFarmStart: Kentucky’s beginning farmer program funded through USDA BFRDP.
I worked with SAEA in 2010-2011 on the Kentucky/Virginia Tech co-hosted SAEA Conference. Since then I have worked with several of the members of the steering council on various other academic projects. I am so excited to be working with this organization again and help with the organizations outreach and membership efforts!”
As SAEA Outreach Coordinator, Sarah is tasked with helping our organization communicate with our membership. We are at an exciting growth phase for the organization, finalizing a new organizational strategic plan, which includes developing a number of new ways to serve the teachers and students of sustainable agriculture. We are very happy to have Sarah on board to steward these efforts, and on behalf of the Steering Council, wish to welcome her wholeheartedly to the SAEA!
Chair, SAEA Steering Council
University of Kentucky
The Sustainable Agriculture Education Association (SAEA) is looking to contract with someone to help us complete our outreach goals and objectives related to promoting our organization and maintaining already existing relationships and membership. The Outreach Coordinator will serve on the Outreach & Membership Committee; serve as a member on the SAEA Steering Council by participating in monthly conference calls; and will report to the SAEA Chair. The contractor would be responsible for developing, managing, updating, and/or responding to:
* SAEA’s website on WordPress (hosted by Watermelon Web Works)
o Frequent updates to the website include:
§ Brief “profiles” highlighting key leaders in sustainable agriculture education
§ Images and information reflecting new content
§ The Program Listings Database
§ The Curriculum Database (working with the Curriculum Database Committee)
* SAEA’s social media platforms:
o Facebook page and group (as necessary)
o LinkedIn Group (as necessary)
o Facilitation of Twitter communication with our membership
* SAEA’s current contact lists:
o Constant Contact (student member list, member list, and general contact list)
o SAEA Listserv (managed through Google Groups)
o SAEA Steering Council Listserv (managed through Google Groups)
o As well as exploring or investigating other email outreach services
* Requests for information, including phone and email inquiries.
* Occasional outreach events in coordination with partner entities (regional non‐SAEA conferences, marketing opportunities, etc.)
* Outreach materials that will be used at outreach events to promote SAEA.
* Standardization and management of SAEA protocol for institutional alliances, including facilitating Steering Council discussion on submitted applications
Preferred qualifications and experiences include:
* Strong background in the field of sustainable agriculture education
* Having knowledge of and experience with SAEA
* Housed in or familiar with an SAEA aligned organization and institution
* Experience and knowledge of WordPress websites, social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), Microsoft Office, Dropbox, and Constant Contact
* Previous organizing and outreach experience
* The ability to collaborate with others around the country while working remotely
* Attention to detail and ability to manage multiple projects at once
* Ability to be self-directed and accomplish tasks in a timely fashion
Funds available for these services range between $5,760‐7,200 for a 12‐month period. If interested, please submit a CV and a cover letter by October 19, 2014. To apply, or for more information, please contact: email@example.com
Dear SAEA members and friends,
We are pleased to report the results of our recent election for the 2014-2015 Sustainable Agriculture Education Association (SAEA) Steering Committee! The new Steering Committee members will take their positions on August 1st.
Please join us in congratulating our new steering committee for the coming year:
Krista Jacobsen, University of Kentucky — Chair
Julie Cotton, Michigan State University — Vice Chair *
Kim Niewolny, Virginia Tech — Past Chair
Victoria LeBeaux, University of Kentucky —Treasurer
Kido Pielack, Keep Growing Detroit — Member representative *
Seth Friedman, University of British Columbia — Member representative
Ryan Galt, University of California- Davis — Member representative
Andrew Baskin– University of California- Davis — Student representative *
Andrew (Andy) Petran– University of Minnesota — Student representative *
Samuel (Sam) Plotkin, University of Montana — Student representative *
*Newly elected SAEA steering committee members.
Many thanks to those of you who have served on the Council in the past, and to those who participated in the election. We look forward to the upcoming year as a time of growth and new ideas. You can read more about our newest members on our Steering Council page. If you too are inspired to support the work of the SAEA, become a member or join one of our working Committees!
Kim NiewolnyPast Chair, SAEA
SAEA was established with the recognition that the student voice is essential in our process. Therefore, according to our bylaws, we only allow students to select their representatives. Indeed, students can have a strong influence on how SAEA seeks to fulfill our mission and goals.
We understand that as a national organization with a growing membership, knowing all the other active members is impossible. Don’t leave the decisions to others because you don’t know the candidates… we asked them to create a brief biography to help you understand their background, and to provide ideas on what they might offer the organization. You can read more about our candidates.
Finally, if you are a currently registered member, you should receive a ballot from the SAEA on July 3nd, and a reminder on July 10th. Registration often coincides with your registration for the conferences, but if you have any questions regarding your membership, please contact Victoria, the Treasurer, at victorialebeaux_at_uky.edu. The last day for the election will be July 17th, 2014.
We look forward to introducing our new Steering Council members to you at the 2014 SAEA Conference!
We are now accepting nominations for SAEA Steering Committee positions! These positions help to guide the organization, and insure that we have diverse student and practitioner voices.
Positions will start August 1, 2014 and will carry forward for either one or two years. Please see the position descriptions below for the available positions – available positions are described below.
Nominations will open June 2, and close June 16. Nominees will then be asked to submit a short biography to share with the voting membership, due June 30th. Elections will be held online from July 1-July 15. Positions will be announced and terms officially start August 1.
The new SC members will be asked to attend the late July Steering committee conference call as a way to welcome them to the organization and orient them to the committee. We also hope that new Steering Committee members will attend the 2014 SAEA Conference and post-conference Steering Committee meeting on August 6, 2014.
• June 1-June 16 – nominations open
• June 30 – deadline for nominee biographies for election
• July 1-15 – online voting is open
• July 18 – positions are announced
• August 1 – new SC members begin their term
• August 3-6 – SAEA conference and strategic planning meeting in North Carolina
We are soliciting nominations for the following positions:
Vice-Chair (1 opening)
Secretary (1 opening)
Member Representative (1 opening)
Student Representatives (3 openings)
Please email your nominee’s name, contact information, and the position for which you are nominating him or her to Julie Cotton, SAEA Secretary, at cottonj [at] msu.edu.
Self-nominations are welcomed and encouraged!
SAEA Steering Committee Position Descriptions:
Duties: All members of the Steering Council are expected to: attend monthly 1-hour conference calls; serve on one or more subcommittee(s); attend national conferences if possible; represent the Association as appropriate.
Vice-Chair (1-year term, 1 opening)
The vice-chair succeeds to the office of Chair for a term of one year after finishing their term as Vice Chair. As vice chair, they will assume the duties of the Chair in the event of the inability of the Chair to fulfill their duties. As vice chair, they learn to perform the duties of the Chair, who is the presiding officeholder of the Association. Chairs organize steering committee meetings and conference calls, set agendas and decision-making priorities, and delegate appropriate duties to other committee members and subcommittees. The Chair also represents the organization at SAEA conferences and other public events. By nominating a Vice-Chair, you are effectively nominating the next SAEA Chair.
Secretary (2-year term, 1 opening)
The secretary keeps full and accurate records of all business and proceedings of the Steering Council in regular and special meetings, as well as general information related to SAEA activities and bylaws. S/he maintains all records and, upon leaving office, make necessary arrangements for passing on these records to the successor Secretary. The secretary may be responsible for correspondence of the SAEA upon direction of the Steering Council. The secretary prepares and distributes ballots to the voting membership, tabulates and records the votes, and notifies the candidates for office and the Steering Council of the election results.
Member Representatives (1 opening) and Student Representatives (3 openings) (2-year terms)
Member and Student Representatives maintain awareness of the diverse views, goals and objectives of the membership of the SAEA and represent these as appropriate at meetings of the Steering Council. They are required to serve as chairs or members of subcommittees. Nominated Student Representatives must be current students in any institution of higher learning when elected, but may complete their term if they graduate during this time.
The Sustainable Agriculture Education Association promotes and supports the development, application, research and exchange of best teaching and learning practices in sustainable agriculture education and curricula through communication, training, development, and collaborative activities for teachers and learners. The Association is organized exclusively for education purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Like many students in Sustainable Agriculture degree programs around the country, students in our Sustainable Agriculture Undergraduate Degree Program (SAG) at the University of Kentucky participate in a number of experiential learning activities in their time at UK. They apprentice on our university’s organic farm, intern at farms and community food-centered non-profits, and participate in education abroad courses. The final spring semester of the SAG program is marked by our Capstone course, a course focused on integration of sustainable agriculture principles by incorporating individual concepts learned throughout the program into a system that they are particularly interested in, be it their future farm, a project, or just a topic of interest.
The class (10-15 students) and their instructor, Dr. Mark Williams, essentially create the course syllabus together. The students discuss their career goals, interests, and identify concepts they would like to explore in a deeper way before they leave our program. Working with Mark, the students create a course schedule filled with weekly afternoon workshops around Central Kentucky, including visits to farms and community food non-profits, as well as skill-building workshops (see Capstone Workshop List below). However, with the broad interest of students in our program, there is only so much the students can see and do in an afternoon in their own backyard.
In addition to the afternoon workshops, the students work with Mark and other supporting faculty across the UK College of Agriculture, Food, and the Environment to design a “Capstone Study Tour.” This Study Tour is a spring break trip focused on a particular region (Northeast, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic) and create an action-packed 5-6 day study tour where they explore everything from homesteading to urban agriculture, from rotational grazing to aquaponics.
This year the Capstone students headed south on a whirlwind tour of Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina. The Study Tour focus was “sustainable living and farming at different scales.” The group visited homesteaders, intentional communities with subsistence farms, upscale green developments, and all manners of farms. They visited with herbal medicine-makers, grist mill operators, permaculture devotees, high tunnel growers producing for major metropolitan markets, and pastured livestock producers. Each day included 3-5 tours, a little downtime (like trampoline jumping (!) or a walk around a new city), and an evening meal at a locally-owned or local foods-oriented restaurant.
“What surprised me about the capstone trip was the amount of diversity. Every place had a different view yet they were all honing one goal: to be more sustainable,” said graduating senior Erica Indiano. Erica was one student who became more focused on her future farming and career goals after the Study Tour. Her family is aspiring to buy land, but after seeing some sheep operations in Kentucky and North Carolina, Erica and her sister, a sustainable fashion major, are working on a business plan with their family to develop a “fiber CSA” and local fashion-focused farm.
The goal of the Capstone Study Tour is for students to see real-world folks making a living doing what the students aspire to do, to learn about their challenges and successes, and to process these learning experiences as a team with their faculty. The students reflect on these experiences in multiple ways, on van rides between stops, at dinner, and late night hotel room chats, as well as through a formal report capturing what they learned on the study tour.
After this year’s tour, several students have found apprenticeships that build on farming systems they were exposed to on the tour, including sheep farms, dairies, and permaculture-oriented farms. Other will continue their studies, or work for a few years while they save money to begin their own farming operations. For more information about the UK SAG program and to see some photo highlights from experiential learning activities in the program, visit the UK SAG website or email Mark Williams (mark.williams [at]uky.edu) or Krista Jacobsen (krista.jacobsen [at] uky.edu). See below for this year’s student-selected topics.
Student-Selected Topics for 2014 SAG Capstone Class
2. Carpentry for farm buildings and structures
3. Homesteading/Self-sufficient living: creating closed systems, i.e. recycling farm wastes for fuel, building materials, etc.
4. Foraging for wild edibles and medicinals
5. Goats: Goat care and cheese making
6. Planning and economics of starting a CSA
7. How to care for egg chickens
8. Nut production
9. Added value products and other on-farm processing
11. Economics of starting a farm
12. Livestock production, particularly integrated systems
13. Cheese making
14. Meat processing
15. Agroforestry, alleycropping
17. Edible landscapes
18. Hemp production
19. Mushroom production
20. Intentional communities
21. Electrical work
22. Organic agriculture
23. Season extension and tunnel production and construction
24. Tillage and soil conservation
25. Cover cropping
26. Agro-energy27. Aquaponics