UC Davis has always been known as a farm school, and now with faculty and staff working towards establishing a sustainable agriculture undergraduate major, it can further that reputation.
“There is a big need to have a major that educates students broadly about agriculture,” said Mark Van Horn, director of Student Farm. “The major will combine the natural sciences and technology as well as the economic and social issues and how those combine to make the totality of agriculture.“
Van Horn plans on teaching an introductory course in the sustainable agriculture department. He and other professors from the College of Agriculture have been working on the program for five years and predict a full scale major to be implemented by 2009.
The major would encompass all areas of sustainable agriculture; from using environmentally friendly practices to ensuring that today’s farmers are making a fair living.
But before the actual major is sanctioned, the courses offered must also be approved by the university to ensure they are not repetitive. After all of the courses are approved, the university will decide whether or not to approve the major as a whole.
“I sure hope [the major] will be approved,” said Maggie Lickter, a sophomore individual studies major. “There’s been a lot of work by a lot of really great people and it’s something that the community really wants.“
Currently, three out of the five courses developed have been approved. The remaining two are being reviewed.
Prior to making the major, the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences conducted a Delphi study to determine the curriculum of the major. They surveyed practitioners, academics, alumni and students, asking what content knowledge, skills and experiences should be required of sustainable agriculture majors.
“One of the most interesting of the findings was that there were four different populations and there was a considerable degree of agreement between these four different groups,” said Damian Parr, a graduate student in the School of Education and contributor to the study. “It presented a strong case for a number of characteristics that the major ought to consider having.“
Those characteristics, he said, fall into three categories. The first is knowledge of both natural and social issues surrounding agriculture. Second, field trips should be provided for experience-driven learning. Lastly, the major should teach students how to communicate with the business and political realm, in addition to the agricultural realm.
Prior to the creation of the major, students interested in sustainable agriculture would study through the Student Farm. However, many students, such as Lickter, found the program to be lacking in many areas.
“Sustainability is a much broader thing than just going out and working on the production side,” Lickter said. “[The major] focuses on the social side and covers social justice issues. I think that we really need a much more enhanced program.“
The sustainable agriculture administration is already offering a course in food systems and hopes to offer an introductory sustainable agriculture course in the spring.
“The major is fairly unique in how interdisciplinary it’s going to be and its focus on skill building,” Van Horn said. “There are a number of schools that in recent years have started offering courses in sustainable agriculture, but they aren’t as comprehensive and broad based as ours will be.“
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.