How do you include experiential education in classes and educational formats?
The Association for Experiential Education defines experiential education as when “educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities.” In my experience with sustainable agriculture, this could be anything from sharing a meal or measuring food waste, to hands-on activates that give students real world skills in agriculture.
Kido Pielack, the Education Coordinator of the Keep Growing Detroit, an urban food sovereignty organization, shares a practical tactic, “I ask myself, what are ways to get students to think outside of the box or engage with the knowledge from their perspective?” Often, as we develop expertise, we forget what it’s like to be a beginner, or what knowledge we inherited from what may be an enriched environment. Attempting to take a fresh look through someone else’s lens can help us create more engaging educational activities. Keep Growing Detroit continues to provide combined garden leadership and horticultural training that has served as an example to other urban agriculture organizations, along with an ever-evolving set of agricultural skills that provide guidance to a diversity of Detroit farmers.
Megan Fehrman, the Education Director for Rouge Farm Corps shared about their hands-on, field based emersion-style education. “Our students spend 40+ hours a week in the field with a mentor farmer where they learn by observation, guidance, and example. Eventually, they attain high levels of proficiency many of the farm-related skill that they work on over the course of the season. We also include some experiential activities in our class series, including getting in a bee suit and tending hives, hunting for beneficial insects, milking cows, moving chicken tractors, and tasting hard apple cider from one of our orchards.” Engaging beginning-farmer students fully in physical and tactile experiences of agriculture allows them to build confidence along side their competency.
In the higher education academic arena, we are sometimes challenged by resource constraints or institutional norms around classroom learning. However, many sustainable agriculture or food system programs have experiential community engagement aspects as a core feature, setting them apart from other agronomic programs. While students have opportunities to learn horticultural, animal, or agronomic skills in their majors, minors such as the Civic Agriculture and Food Systems, or the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems respectively offered at Virginia Tech and Michigan State Universities also require that the students integrate their skill sets into applied projects that are integrated with various community organizations. In addition to direct knowledge, these engagement opportunities build cultural competency and “soft skills” that are now a considered a significant determinant in career success.
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