Exposing students to experiential education in the complex issues of global ecology within a regional landscape-scale context around food, water, energy and biodiversity; strategically collaborating with campus in sustainable transitions
Research and demonstration farms associated with universities and colleges have long been important in the development of agriculture in the US, particularly for Land Grant systems like the University of Minnesota. Over the past decade, several hundred smaller-scale college and university farms and educational organizations and sharing networks have been founded. These campus farms embrace both classroom and experiential learning, collaborations across disciplinary boundaries, life-long learning of complex food environments, and changing operational practices of campus dining operations.
Land Grant institutions are also recognizing that 20th century top-down approaches are ill fitting to 21st century challenges and opportunties. The need for transitioning our food and agricultural systems recognizes their importance to economy, ecology, and social and cultural life. Making successful change requires innovation and enterprise development within a community embedded framework. The UMD Land Lab is inspired by these new developments in facilitating the following projects:
- An innovative partnership with UMD Dining Services that links operations and academics for the mutual benefits of campus and community. UMD Dining Services supports the UMD Land Lab by hosting our Farm Manager and student-farmer employees and by purchasing the produce grown on site. We collaborate on personnel development, acquiring relevant processing equipment, and expanding facilities that support the use of whole foods on campus for the first time in several decades. In 2016 te UMD Land Lab will produce ca. 40,000 pounds of organic grown produce, most of which will be consumed on campus.
- The UMD Land Lab uses agroecological practices to manage the field site, synergizing ecological components for productivity, stability, sustainability and equitability outcomes for long term benefits. We mobilize crop rotations, green manures, integrated pest management, companion planting, biodiversity enhancement projects, and related activities to achieve these goals. We have managed the landscape according to organic standards since its inception.
- Nearly 1,000 students annually interact with the farm as student-farmers, interns, volunteers, as part of courses that use aspects of the farm for experiential learning, and as participants in other events held at the farm. Building upon classroom sustainability studies, the experiential dimension of the UMD Land Lab builds fuses academics and life-long learning as part of a 21st century college education.
- Many of our student-farmers have gone on to work in the agriculture and local food systems sector. Given the growth in demand for local foods and the deep interest in sustainable farming among young people, the UMD Land Lab will be inaugurating a ‘Sustainable Agriculture and Community Food Systems Certificate’ to more formally respond to these campus and community interests.