Cornell University - 2007

The Second National Conference on Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture Education

On July 11-14, 2007, a national conference on post-secondary sustainable agriculture education was held at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Over 170 people attended the three-day event. Like the first conference, our goal was to encourage the development of educational programs in sustainable agriculture in the U.S. More specifically, it was to build broad stakeholder participation; define sustainable agriculture as an academic discipline; share the nuts and bolts of developing and sustaining programs; create opportunities to network; and, inaugurate the SAEA. Overall, the event was a tremendous success.

Approach, Methods, Conference Design & Format:

The 2007 conference was unique and complex in that it modeled an innovative approach to teaching and learning with the conference design itself—it was a participatory learning exchange. To make this learning exchange as successful as possible, each conference participant was asked to contribute something of their skills, knowledge and experiences in sustainable agriculture education, as well as their material resources, to the conference via a web-based information gathering survey prior to the event. From this, an online “Resource Directory” was created reflecting the diverse knowledge and material resources of, offered by and available to participants. The Directory was used to develop on-site, ‘real time’ Study Team workshops for different topics in sustainable agriculture education. On the evening of July 11, conference participants gathered to brainstorm specific topics of interest within thematic areas of their choosing. Thematic areas included:
  • Pedagogies for sustainable agriculture (e.g., interdisciplinary, experiential, and systems approaches);
  • How to start and sustain a sustainable agriculture education program;
  • Curriculum development for sustainable agriculture;
  • Ways of knowing: putting educational theory into practice; and,
  • Student farms
On the morning of July 12, with the assistance of the facilitation team, participants organized themselves into Study Teams based on the cluster of topics formed the evening before. These Study Teams generated specific questions they wished to address during the course of the conference. Next, Study Teams utilized the participant Resource Directory to help develop a series of 90 minute workshops and were then assigned a workshop space. As Study Teams engaged, the workshops were the primary means by which participants learned and explored topics of interest together. participants at the 2007 conferenceOn the afternoon of July 13, a structured planning session was scheduled to allow interested participants time to develop action plans and collaborations for the future. At the close of the conference on July 14, Study Teams provided brief verbal reports on their workshop discussions and action plans. Post-conference, these Study Team reports were documented in detail and made publicly available in a digital database of resources and information collected before, during, and after the conference; the database is accessed by Confluence software. The conference did not include keynote speakers, with one exception: as the representative of the hosting institution, Cornell University’s Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Dr. Susan A. Henry, joined participants for lunch on July 13 to briefly share Cornell’s commitment to and progress in sustainable agriculture education.

Study Team learning

Throughout the conference, there was a dedicated area to exchange material resources. This Materials Exchange was an opportunity for participants to share syllabi, curricula, posters, multimedia teaching tools, videos, texts, manuals, and more with one another. In addition to the on-site formation and engagement of Study Team workshops, two field trips were offered. The first, to Cornell’s Dilmun Hill Student Farm, exemplified an inquiry-based teaching approach. Participants worked together in small groups to conduct a multi-layered assessment of the potential educational resources of this student farm. After participating together in the assessment, student managers and conference participants shared their results and discussed ways in which student farms can be used as tools for sustainable agriculture teaching and learning. The second field trip, to West Haven Farm at Ecovillage, illustrated ways in which teachers and learners can work with local growers to advance educational goals. The West Haven farmers, John & Jen Bokaer-Smith, worked with educators from the Rodale Institute to lead discussions on the integration of working farms into sustainable agriculture curriculum. Last, on the evening of July 12, singer-songwriter Adrienne Young kicked off the celebration for the newly charged Sustainable Agriculture Education Association (SAEA) with a lively performance. The SAEA is a developing national organization focused on disseminating information for sustainable agriculture programs and facilitating communication and support among programs. Below, the diagram depicting the overall design of the Conference as a Learning Exchange.

Outcomes and Impacts:

Attendance and Format: Conference attendance was great, with more than half of participants representing students (88 of 170), and an overall increase in registration of 22% compared with the first conference in 2006 in Pacific Grove, California. Of the 170 participants, 50 institutions of higher education were represented. Of these 50 institutions, 55% of participants were from the Eastern region, 16% from the West, 13% from the Midwest, 13% from the South, and 2% Internationally. Approximately 80% of the 2007 participants had not attended the 2006 conference. The gathering itself was identified as a fundamentally positive outcome as the primary intention of the event was to facilitate dialog among teachers and learners of sustainable agriculture education nationwide and to form inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional connections in real time. The process by which participants self-organized, beginning on Wednesday evening (July 11) and continuing on Thursday morning (July 12), was an exercise in encouraging and mobilizing critical thinking skills. The intention and subsequent outcome was to address participants’ interests in ‘real time’ in order to delve deeper into pressing subjects. From there, participants clustered into Study Teams of their choice.


There are three main outcomes that serve to meet the lasting needs of the sustainable agriculture education community. The Resource Directory is a database of information, or portal, that was originally created as the foundational piece of the conference, upon which the Study Team workshops were built. This collection of information continues to provide educators, students, administrators, farmers and food systems practitioners with a wealth of information about diverse types of sustainable agriculture educational resources available around the country and the world. It is a searchable, cross-linked collection of information that builds upon current efforts in sustainable agriculture education initiatives in higher education. The Confluence wikis house the results of the Study Team workshops. Here, Study Teams report on their sessions, including: the Study Team title, who participated, the questions and topics discussed, the materials and resources utilized, and finally, their Teams’ summary & conclusions, with follow-up actions. The wikis may be continually modified and updated as needed by conference participants.  

Inauguration of the SAEA:

By formally launching the SAEA at the conference, this nascent national organization was able to captivate the conference participants—its targeted audience—by seeking committee membership and general feedback in the way the SAEA takes shape and disseminates information for sustainable agriculture programs. The intention is to facilitate communication and support among programs and members, centralize resources, and further develop (and house) the Resource Directory, the cross-linked and searchable digital database of resources and information collected before, during, and after the 2007 conference. When anonymously surveyed, 86% of conference participants expressed interest in becoming a member of the SAEA.


In an end-of-conference evaluation each participant was anonymously asked to assess the accessibility, process, importance, and success of the conference experience. Below is a snapshot of the results: Mean response 5= Very much; 1= Not at all

Room and Board

The conference was located at the Alice Cook House at Cornell University, a LEED certified building with a green roof. During the school year the Alice Cook House is used for student housing. However, during the summer few students are housed in this facility which allowed us to offer these high-qualty rooms at an affordable price. Our meals were prepared by Cornell University's Catering Service Unit using local and organic products. Registration fees included all meals allowing participants the opportunity to continue their discussions in an family-style setting.


Conference Planning Steering Committee
J. Michael Campbell Professor & Associate Dean, Department of Biology, Mercyhurst College, Erie, PA
Kathi Colen Peck Conference Organizer, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Jennifer Gardner Graduate Student, Department of Crop & Soil Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Julie Grossman Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Allison Jack Graduate Student, Department of Plant Pathology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Heather Karsten Associate Professor, Department of Crop & Soils, The Pennylvania State University, State College, PA
Daniel O'Connell Graduate Student, Department of Education, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Damian Parr

Graduate Student, Department of Education, University of California-Davis, Davis, CA
Gregory Peck Graduate Student, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Scott Perez Graduate Student, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Maria Pop M.Ed, Training Coordinator, The Rodale Institute, Kutztown, PA
Jackie Ricotta Associate Professor, Department of Horticulture, Delaware Valley College, Doylestown, PA
Meagan Schipanski Graduate Student, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Additional support Robert Rich, Ithaca Consulting Group | conference design and process JiJy | 2007 conference Web site development Craig Cramer, Communications Specialist, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University | technical support Department of Horticulture, Cornell University | financial management & support


W.K. Kellog Foundation

The Rodale Institute

Toward Sustainability Foundation

Cornell University

  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Executive Vice President for Administration, Facilities and Finance
  • Department of Animal Science
  • Department of Communication
  • Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
  • Department of Development Sociology
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Food Science
  • Department of Horticultural Sciences, Geneva
  • Department of Horticulture
  • Department of Natural Resources
  • Department of Plant Pathology
  • Graduate and Professional Student Assembly Finance Commission

The Pennsylvania State University

  • College of Agricultural Science
  • The Environment & Natural Resources Institute

Student Support

    Institutions who supported their students so they could attend the conference:

  • Cornell University: Department of Horticulture
  • The Pennsylvania State University
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of California, Santa Cruz: Environmental Studies Department
  • The University of Missouri, Columbia: Department of Rural Sociology
  • North Carolina State University
Prepared and submitted by Kathi Colen Peck on behalf of the Members of the Conference Planning Steering Committee, February 1, 2008