Teaching Tips and Highlights

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 saea.information@gmail.com if you would like to contribute an article or nominate someone to contribute. 

Meet our new Outreach Coordinator

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!

Krista Jacobsen

Chair, SAEA Steering Council

University of Kentucky

SAEA is Hiring: Outreach Coordinator

SAEA Outreach Coordination Contractor:
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: saea.information@gmail.com

Welcome the new Steering Council Members

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  

Megan Fehrman, Rogue Farm Corps — Secretary *

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!


Kind Regards,

Kim Niewolny

Past Chair, SAEA

SAEA Steering Committee Elections are Underway!

Our 2014 Steering Committee elections are now underway! We are excited by the fantastic group of candidates that we have this year, and hope that you will chose to participate in the electoral process. ALL MEMBERS are encouraged to participate, and we have a special circumstance this year, as all three student positions are up for election.

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!

Share your expertise with SAEA

SAEA membership,

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.

Taking Sustainable Ag Students on the Road

By: Krista Jacobsen, Assistant Professor, Department of Horticulture, University of Kentucky

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.

High tunnels at Crystal Organic Farm GA
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.
2014 capstone Jubilee farms GA
“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.

rotational grazing in blueberries jubilee farms GA

Student-Selected Topics for 2014 SAG Capstone Class

1.       Permaculture

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

10.   Farm-to-table

11.   Economics of starting a farm

12.   Livestock production, particularly integrated systems

13.   Cheese making

14.   Meat processing

15.   Agroforestry, alleycropping

16.   Agrotourism

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-energy

27.   Aquaponics

Training the Next Generation

By: Megan Fehrman, SAEA Outreach Coordinator

For some in the agricultural world, winter is the time for resting, recuperating and planning for the next season. It can also be full of meetings, travel, and probably means attending a farming conference or two. This winter, the USDA released the preliminary data from the 2012 Agricultural Census. As sustainable agriculture educators, how do we take this new information and incorporate it into our work, both for 2014 season, and beyond?

At base level, the census numbers do not look promising. While the number of large farms has grown, the number of mid-sized farms continues to decline. It appears that small farms held steady, which is somewhat hopeful from a sustainability perspective, but these small farms do not necessarily bring in enough income to support the people living there.

The average age of the American farmer is now nearly 58, an increase of 1.2 years since 2007 alone, with about a third of our farming population over the age of 65. On the other hand, the number of farmers between the ages of 25 and 34 increased slightly to 6%. But with a decrease in the 35 to 44 range, it is unclear if young farmers are sticking with it.

I recently returned from the Oregon Small Farms Conference where the need to train the next generation of farmers was underscored repeatedly by the keynote speaker, Michael Ableman of Foxglove Farm. Farm profitability and sustainability were also topics of conversation, both on stage by presenters and in the casual conversations in the halls during the breaks. At EcoFarm earlier this winter, land transfer and succession planning were discussed again and again. If we are able to get people into the field, which is a big job in and of itself, how do we help them succeed?

After EcoFarm, I met people addressing these issues as I toured the UC Santa Cruz Student farm and the UC Davis Student Farm. Over the past 5 years, many new farmer-training programs have sprouted up, but these two date back to 1967 and 1977 respectively. They offer a couple of different approaches to sustainable agriculture education, and provide models for many others.

The Center for Agroecology and Food Systems at UCSC runs their apprenticeship program in conjunction with UCSC Extension. The Apprenticeship course carries 20 units of Extension credit for the approximately 300 hours of classroom instruction and 700 hours of in-field training and hands-on experience in the greenhouses, gardens, orchards, and fields. During the six-month program, topics such as soil management, composting, pest control, crop planning, irrigation, farm equipment, marketing techniques, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) are covered. Graduates of the program go on to run their own farms, host educational programs, and manage many different projects concerning food and farming.

The Student Farm at UC Davis is 20-acres of certified organic teaching and research fields- offering internships, formal courses, research opportunities, and visits from the general public. Student interns can work in the Ecological Garden or the Market Garden, a four-acre section dedicated to hands-on learning about small scale, organic vegetable production and marketing. Students help to sell their produce through a CSA, to a coffee house on campus, and other venues. Courses at the Student Farm include Organic Crop Production Practices, Intro to Sustainable Agriculture, Seminar on Alternatives in Agriculture, and Field Work in Ag and Environmental Education where students work with Kids in the Garden.

Currently, I am the Education Director for the Rogue Farm Corps, a non-profit that works with a network of commercial growers in agricultural communities in Oregon to provide hands-on training. Though we have only been at this for ten years, we are working with the on-farm internship model that has been happening in the world of sustainable agriculture for decades- while providing a legal, safe, and educational experience for all involved. We have learned a lot from UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz, as we work to establish valid educational programming outside the realm of Academia. And, we have a lot to share with them. Our relationships with these institutions, and others, have been crucial to our development.

Clearly, these three programs, and many, many more across the country (as shown in our Academic Program Listings and the Student Farm/Garden Listings), are doing their part to get that number of farmers in the 25-34 age bracket above six percent. These programs are networking and exchanging information through organizations like the SAEA. They are coming up with curriculum, not only teach the art of sustainable agriculture, but also to teach marketing, bookkeeping, and technological skills necessary to run a profitable farm business. And, they are forming partnerships and working relationships with others within the food system to help build the movement.

In one of his writings, Michael Abelman says, “We prepare ground for planting, providing everything we can to insure that the conditions are right. We place tiny seeds, and plants, and trees in that ground, in rows, and lines, and blocks, on raised beds, in trenches, in holes, we wait and watch and cover and protect, always knowing that in the end we are not in control.” The same applies to new farmers. As agricultural educators, we are responsible for creating the best of conditions for these young people- so that they may thrive.

For more reading on this topic, please see this article by Kim Niewolny, the President of SAEA’s Steering Council: Expanding the Boundaries of Beginning Farmer Training and Program Development: A Review of Contemporary Initiatives To Cultivate a New Generation of American Farmers


Student Farms

P5090243Student Farms are found on an increasing number of college and university campuses in North America. At many schools the student farm is an essential component of students’ sustainable agriculture (SA) learning experience. At the Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture conferences at California in 2006 and New York in 2007, there was a great deal of interest, particularly among students, but also among staff, in the role of student farms in SA education. The diversity among student farms is impressive and arriving at a generally agreed upon definition of a student farm is not easy, nor do we propose a definition here. In this discussion we focus on facilities and programs of various sizes (making no distinction between ‘farms’ and ‘gardens’) that emphasize practical and experiential, student-centered learning in sustainable agriculture and food systems.

Typically, a student farm is a place where students get practical experience in sustainable agricultural production, marketing and management. It is also common for students to have their farming experiences broaden and deepen their knowledge and practice with food and issues of health, nutrition, and social equality. Some of these experiences are integral to formal courses, but, more commonly, they are not. Student led experimentation, including both formal and informal research, is also common on student farms. However, much of the importance and value of many student farms is related to some of their other features.

DSC_0236Students have initiated many student farms, and students are involved to various degrees in farm management and decision-making. Student farms have proven to be a vital place on campus where students have had the freedom to exercise self-directed learning, critically reflective thinking, and innovation. These innovations have at times contested traditional values, thinking, and practices, in terms of both agriculture and education. Often, student farms have played a historically significant role in introducing to their campus community the discourse of organic, ecological, low-input, and sustainable agriculture. Student farms today offer a sense of place and community for students (and faculty and staff) and provide a foundation for student efforts focused on larger issues and efforts, such as developing sustainable food systems on a campus, regional or larger scale.

While some student farms have existed for more than a 30 years, many are less than a decade old. Regardless of their age, however, most students, staff, and faculty associated with student farms have a strong connection with advancing sustainable agriculture educational efforts on their respective colleges and universities.

The continued interest in and development of student farms and SA education presents opportunities to ask questions regarding the goals of such efforts. These questions span from the pragmatic to the philosophical. Some questions aim at instrumental-technical issues, while others reflect on the underlying value and purpose of education. Through the SAEA conferences and venues like this website, we explore and begin to answer some of the questions surrounding student farms and their relationship to SA education. Please join us in both answering these questions and asking new ones.

IMG_0289Discussions at past SAEA conferences have focused on the following topics:

  1. What are the challenges and advantages of having the students run the farm in relation to the quality of their learning experience and the capacity of the operation?
  2. What is the student’s role? What if the pendulum shifts too far (paid staff do too much) and the students become lazy and their experience suffers. How can we maintain balance?
  3. How can students get as many experiences as they want with increased leadership opportunities?
  4. As a farm manager, are you a role model, a facilitator, or?
  5. How valuable is it is for students to see reality and to have a real experience, like operating a CSA?
  6. How do you balance the tension between competing with other farmers in terms of sales?
  7. How do you balance the tension between the responsibilities and labor of a working CSA and the time focused on education? Can too much stress on the making-money part of the CSA make students’ educational experience suffer?
  8. How can a CSA integrate the rest of the university in a way that is not available via other methods (e.g., the Dean, other professors have shares in the CSA)?
  9. What is the balance between the “formal” piece of the sustainable agriculture curriculum, and the “informal” piece, which is often the farm?
  10. To have animals on the farm, especially larger animals, how important is it to have a “professional” farm manager, from a consistency standpoint?
  11. How do you excite faculty and students to get involved?
  12. How do you evaluate and assess the roles and values of student farms – so you can show something to administration, etc.?
How do you use season extensions, since the growing season is often in the summer and students aren’t there?
  14. How do you best coordinate between staff and student management?
  15. How do you support student accountability and ownership?
  16. How do you foster a good work ethic amongst students?
  17. How do you maintain continuity of the program/farm?

By: Damian Parr & Mark Van Horn