Student farmer-to-student farmer: Transformational learning in sustainable agriculture and food systems education
Student farms, developed largely out of student efforts, have served as centers for the development of experiential learning and sustainable agriculture and food systems (SAFS) education on land grant college campuses long before most formal SAFS programs were proposed. This research compares the development histories of three land grant colleges (northeast, mid-west, and western U.S.), examines students' perspectives on effective learning approaches, and reports on a Participatory Action Research (PAR) intervention at the northeastern college.
The three student farm cases faced challenges and opportunities to expand facilities and programs, and maintain significant participation by students in student farm management and governance. In all cases, tensions between shared governance and professionalized continuity threatened experiential learning (EL). In all but one case, these tensions resulted in the replacement of students' deliberations on the purpose, premise, and structure of their education with technical exercises, effectively marginalizing students' agency and consequently narrowing the scope of critically reflective EL.
Students' learning preference for integrating classroom and fieldwork showed strong resemblance to contemporary EL that argues that knowledge is constructed when learners resolve tensions between abstract conceptualization and concrete experience, reflective observation and experimentation. Students appreciated having instructors act as facilitators and highly valued opportunities for peer-to-peer co-construction of knowledge. Students actively sought out student farms to gain both production and community development competencies in organic, small-scale agriculture, competencies often unsupported by their formal programs. Student farm activities empowered students by affording them the autonomy to self-direct and align hands-on technical learning with their social and environmental values and sense of life-purpose.
At the request of students, faculty, and staff at the northeastern college, additional research using PAR was performed to help stakeholders deliberate upon a governance structure. Cooperation and trust was built across stakeholder groups who had otherwise struggled with conflict, and a shared governance structure was successfully enacted. Experiential learning pedagogies based on critical reflection and collective decision-making are valuable components of student farms and SAFS education at land grant universities (LGUs). Scholars and staff using student farms for SAFS education would benefit from developing EL and PAR competencies.
0477: Environmental Studies
0517: Agricultural education