The researchers looked at two consecutive years of the Sustainable Agriculture Scholars (SAS) Program, supported by a USDS-CSREES grant. Three students each year spent four days a week performing routine lab work, and classroom-based facilitated presentation/discussionwith professionals, or a field trip to an organic farm. The fifth work day was dedicated to student-designed service projects, ranging from working in a children's garden to designing composting systems for local public schools.
The goals of the program were threefold: to further students' understanding of sustainable agricultural research, increase their interest in careers in sustainable agriculture, and use community service as a vehicle for learning. Based on post-project interviews and focus groups, the research team found that visits to organic farms were most important to linking agricultural research practice.
"The farm visits definitely made the lab work seem more meaningful," said one student. "We could see within the lab and in our work with different farms...how the information that was provided from our research was going to go back to the farms, what they were going to do with it, and how they were going to make management choices for their farms."
Ultimately, four of the six participants expressed an increased interest in sustainable agriculture after the SAS program. Sustainable agriculture tends to attract students from diverse disciplines and majors, and the researchers suggest that the SAS program outlines approaches that can be used to increase enthusiasm in students and increase the effectiveness of academic programs and future professionals.
|Contact: Sara Uttech|
American Society of Agronomy