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Integrating Agricultural Field Sites into the Curriculum and Student-Faculty Research at ACM Colleges

ACM colleges attract students interested in food and agricultural issues who have limited direct experience with agriculture.  Through a workshop for ACM college teams and an ongoing electronic resource, this project expects to strengthen programs that integrate agriculture in the curriculum by sharing information and best practices about existing curricular and co-curricular programs such as farm-based coursework and student-faculty research.

Carleton and St. Olaf are well ­positioned to host this event and lead the project.  Through a 2018 “Broadening the Bridge” grant (a program funded by the Mellon Foundation), Carleton and St. Olaf have explored ways to strengthen academic connections to local agriculture. We are identifying course projects and research opportunities that emphasize joint Carleton­/St. Olaf projects and exploring long­-term funding to manage these projects through a local environmental NGO, the Cannon River Watershed Partnership.

The local Legvold farm is an ideal agricultural educational setting.  Additionally, Carleton and St. Olaf integrate their on­-campus farm programs into the curriculum and into student/faculty research.  At least six ACM colleges have permanent student gardens and farms that serve their campuses and communities in a variety of ways, including selling produce to campus food services and supplying community food shelves.

Most colleges in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest are located in areas where agriculture and food issues are central to physical environment, local economies, and social welfare.  Moreover, agriculture in the Upper Midwest affects both local environments and sites of global importance, such as the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

If our experience at Carleton and St. Olaf is typical, many students come to ACM colleges eager to tackle a wide range of issues related to food and agriculture; during their four years they fill college courses devoted to these topics.  However, few have a background in agriculture and particularly, they lack personal, practical experience on farm sites. Even so, our students’ liberal arts education strongly situates them to pursue opportunities in agriculture and environment – especially if they acquire some real­-world experience.

A FaCE-­funded workshop that assembles faculty, staff, and students who are interested in immersive, place­-based, research and teaching focused on agricultural sites – both on and off our campuses – promises to be an innately collaborative effort to develop an innovative approach to teaching and learning at the intersection of science, social science, and civic engagement, among other dimensions of the contemporary liberal arts experience.  The goals of this project include sharing best practices among the ACM colleges for integrating on-­campus and community­-based agriculture into curriculum and student/­faculty research.


This project will foster collaboration and innovation by encouraging interchange among faculty and staff at ACM institutions who are interested in agricultural education.  Research by the project leaders into ag education at ACM institutions has found some activity at each college, even those (like Macalester) with urban or suburban locations.  Connecting faculty and staff who conduct these activities will improve practitioners’ knowledge about ways to incorporate agriculture at liberal arts colleges and about the variety of off-campus resources.  We will also develop common goals that might be larger than any single institution can pursue.

This project builds on recent ACM grants about “place-based” college programs: the 2017-­2018 project on “field stations”, the 2016-­2017 project on off­-campus study programs, and the 2014­-2015 symposium on field studies at Colorado College.

This project advances ACM member institutions’ general commitment to offering high-impact educational experiences for their students.  Campus-based agricultural education is (or could be) an important component of residential liberal-arts learning, offering a variety of these high-impact experiences.

The project also aligns specifically with Carleton’s and St. Olaf’s current strategic plans.  The emphasis on agriculture supports St. Olaf’s strategic goal to “enhance student participation in, and experience of, high-impact educational practices” such as student-faculty research, off-campus study experiences, and civically-engaged learning.  Similarly, this project aligns with Carleton’s Strategic Plan goal to “embrace collaborative opportunities with other institutions to enhance our academic programs and save costs.”

This strategic emphasis has led Carleton and St. Olaf to explore numerous collaborative opportunities, such as the “Broadening the Bridge” project supported in part by a $1.4 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. As noted, Shea and Savina have received several small sub-grants through this project to explore the curricular use of agriculture field sites; that preliminary work has now led them to seek FaCE funding.

A successful FaCE project will foster closer connection among participating ACM institutions, whose communities all distribute and consume agricultural products; for many of these communities in rural, semi-rural and even urban settings, agriculture is a direct and important part of the broader economy.


The project includes a workshop in fall 2019 that highlights – as an example of place­-based agricultural teaching and learning – current programs, resources and alliances in the Northfield, MN area.  Prior to the workshop, registered participants – organized into 5-7 college-specific teams of 2-3 people each (ideally a faculty member, a staff member, and a student) – will develop and submit a poster describing any current activities with agricultural sites.  Each team will also write a document introducing their team and describing key college-specific goals for the workshop.

In addition to a poster session (see item #8 below), the workshop will include presentations and discussion led by representatives of Northfield-based programs and conversations on a wide range of issues:

  • student/college farms and gardens
  • other agriculture-­related research/teaching sites and models
  • establishing and maintaining relationships with farmers and NGOs
  • mechanisms for funding research and teaching in this area (e.g., state DNR and department of agriculture programs), and
  • ideas for weaving agriculture into the liberal­-arts curriculum

A key resource and field site for the workshop will be the Legvold farm in rural Northfield. Its operator grows corn and soybeans, typical of area agriculture; uses no­-till, cover crops, riparian buffers, and other conservation practices, and has already deployed some instrumentation to collect data on water quality.

Following the workshop, the project team will develop a catalogue of high-impact teaching practices that utilize or could utilize agricultural field sites.  See item #7 below for more details on this catalog.

March 1, 2019:

  • Workshop announcement

August 31, 2019:

  • Registration deadline

October 11, 2019

  • Poster and other pre-workshop information submission deadline. Note: To create a basis for discussion, each project team will prepare and submit introductory material and a poster outlining current ag-related activities at its campus.

October 18, 2019:

  • Posters published online

Late October 2019:

  • Workshop (2.5 days, probably on a Friday-Sunday schedule) Note: Local farmers will have harvested their crops and conditions will likely be favorable for site visits, with warm, dry weather and good visibility.

Day 1

Late afternoon/early evening: Introduction by Savina and Shea; poster session

Dinner and post-dinner discussion: Exploring common themes as well as differences among institutions; Action plans, part 1: designing a workshop for your own campus

Day 2
Morning: Field visits to Legvold Farm, campus farms/gardens

Lunch: Campus use of locally-grown produce, including farmers, students, and representatives of the dining services contractor at St. Olaf and Carleton

Afternoon: Visits with Cannon River Watershed Partnership and “Heart of the Heartland” summer ag education program for undergraduates

Dinner and evening: Panel by faculty who direct student research on agricultural topics; time for teams to draft action plans

Day 3
Early morning: Action plan presentation and discussion

Late morning: Summary presentations and wrap-up

November-December 2019:

  • Project website development for launch in early 2020

Throughout 2020:

  • Campuses refine and implement final ideas for work at each campus, using a videoconference in mid-2020 to wrap up this phase of activity; publish reports to website

Dissemination Strategies

Materials prepared by participants before, during, and after the workshop will be shared on a web site accessible to ACM schools and others interested in connecting agricultural field sites to the curriculum. We envision this website being managed to assure quality, longevity, and the opportunity to add and edit materials.  The website would include curriculum (links to syllabi, for instance), contact information for community partners, research results and other materials.

Each participating campus team will commit to hosting a half-day to full-day workshop or field day on their own campus and local field sites; these workshops will be designed to connect college faculty, staff (including food service suppliers, sustainability offices, grant writers, etc.) and students with community partners on farms and local environmental NGOs.

The website will also facilitate the coordination of cross­-college student/faculty research, e.g. a project by environmental studies majors at several schools to measure how stream buffers mitigate nitrate in different climatic and soil settings. At its fullest extent, this tool could be opened to communities beyond the campuses which want to organize citizen science projects.

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