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  • Author or Editor: N.G. Creamer x
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While enrollment is dropping in many commodity-based curriculums, one key program area of interest to many students is sustainable agriculture. Some land-grant universities are initiating undergraduate and graduate programs, or concentrations in Sustainable Agriculture, to meet this student demand. Many smaller colleges (for example, Delaware Valley College, Slippery Rock Univ., and Warren Wilson College) are also offering a focus in this area as well. These programs often include an experiential learning component through internships and other hands-on activities. Examples of some of the courses being offered include Principles and Practices of Sustainable Agriculture, Agricultural Ecosystems, Sustainable Agriculture Processes in Plant Horticulture and Animal Husbandry, and Fertility Considerations in Regenerative Agriculture. In this presentation, I summarize ongoing programs nationwide, and discuss the impact these programs are having on student enrollment.

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The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) is dedicated to developing farming systems that are environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable. Established in 1994 at the North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture Cherry Farm near Goldsboro, CEFS has >2000 acres (1000 cleared). This unique center is a partnership among North Carolina State Univ., North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State Univ., North Carolina Dep. of Agriculture and Consumer Services, nongovernmental organizations, and other state and federal agencies, farmers, and citizens. Long-term cropping systems that integrate the broad range of factors involved in agricultural systems is the focus of the Cropping Systems Unit at CEFS. The USDA SARE program has provided funding to help establish a comprehensive long-term, large-scale experiment. Data collection and analyses include comprehensive soil and water quality, pests and predators (weeds, insects, and disease), crop factors (growth, yield, and quality), economic factors (viability, on/off farm impact, and community), and energy issues. Systems being compared are a successional ecosystem, plantation forestry/wood lot, integrated crop/animal production system, organic production system, and a cash-grain cropping system (BMP). An interdisciplinary team of scientists from almost every department from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, along with faculty from North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State Univ., NGO representatives, and farmers are collaborating in this endeavor. Challenges and opportunities in building collaborative teams and setting up such long-term trials will be discussed.

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More than 50 agents participated in a series of workshops that were offered as in-service training and as a graduate level North Carolina State University (NCSU) course worth four credits. The Organic Unit at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), a 100-acre (40-ha) facility dedicated to research and education in organic farming systems, served as a home base for training activities. These training activities consisted of lectures, hands-on demonstrations, group discussions, field trips, and class exercises. Two unique features of the workshops were the interdisciplinary, team teaching approach and the emphasis on integration of information about interactions among production practices. This well-received, successful training program will serve as a model for future extension training. A training manual, slide sets, extension publications, and an organic farming web site are being created to provide agents with the resource materials they need to conduct county-based educational programming in organic production systems and enterprises. The model for extension training presented in this report is an effective means for engaging county agents in continuing education and professional development. Interdisciplinary teaching teams allow for a full, integrated treatment of subject matter and present a whole systems perspective to agents. Regularly scheduled, intensive sessions that accommodate busy calendars and utilize time efficiently provide a strong incentive for regular attendance. Awarding graduate level university credit hours for completion of required course work attracts and retains prospective student and agents. Encouragement of active participation by agents through hands-on field activities, open discussion of issues that impact agricultural and rural life, and field trips to view concepts presented in a real world context ensure that educational goals are fulfilled and that active learning takes place. This model should be used in future extension training programs.

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Consumer demand for organically produced food and the desire by many farmers to eliminate chemical fertilizers and pesticides is increasing the need for research and educational programs to support organic farmers. To date, the land-grant universities and the cooperative extension service have been viewed by organic farmers as unresponsive to this need. The primary reason for the unresponsiveness has been inadequate training and resource materials available to extension agents. In 1998, we conducted an intensive training for agriculture agents in North Carolina. Funding was provided by the USDA SARE Professional Development Program. More than 50 agents participated in a series of workshops that were offered together as a graduate course worth four NCSU credits. Much of the training was conducted on the Organic Unit at The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), a 100-acre facility dedicated to research and education in organic farming systems. The hands-on training consisted of lectures, demonstrations, field trips, and class exercises. The topic areas included soil biology/ecology; crop rotation; organic nutrient management; composting; cover crop management; organic weed, insect, and disease management; appropriate tillage practices; organic greenhouse management; marketing organic produce; integrating animals into organic crop production systems; delivery systems for disseminating information to organic producers, and; social and community development aspects of sustainable agriculture. Unique features of the workshops were the interdisciplinary approach to teaching them, and the integration of information about interactions between production factors. The training was very well-received and will serve as a model for future extension programming. A training manual, slide sets, extension publications, and a Web site are being created to further support agents as they conduct programming in their own counties.

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There is an increasing demand for education in organic and sustainable agriculture from undergraduates, graduate students and extension agents. In this paper, we discuss highlights and evaluations of a multilevel approach to education currently being developed at North Carolina State University (NCSU) that integrates interdisciplinary training in organic and sustainable agriculture and the related discipline of agroecology through a variety of programs for undergraduate students, graduate students, and extension agents. These educational programs are possible because of a committed interdisciplinary faculty team and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, a facility dedicated to sustainable and organic agriculture research, education, and outreach. Undergraduate programs include an inquiry-based sustainable agriculture summer internship program, a sustainable agriculture apprenticeship program, and an interdisciplinary agroecology minor that includes two newly developed courses in agroecology and a web-based agroecology course. Research projects and a diversity of courses focusing on aspects of sustainable and organic agriculture are available at NCSU for graduate students and a PhD sustainable agriculture minor is under development. A series of workshops on organic systems training offered as a graduate-level course at NCSU for extension agents is also described. Connecting experiential training to a strong interdisciplinary academic curriculum in organic and sustainable agriculture was a primary objective and a common element across all programs. We believe the NCSU educational approach and programs described here may offer insights for other land grant universities considering developing multilevel sustainable agriculture educational programs.

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Little research has been conducted to quantify allelopathic suppression of weeds in the field. The objectives of this study were to develop an adequate control for separating physical from allelochemical effects, use the control to quantify allelochemical suppression in the field, and determine whether a mixture of cover crops would provide a broader spectrum of weed control than single species. Hairy vetch, rye, crimson clover, and barley were cut into 5-cm pieces, shaken in distilled water (pH 6) to leach allelochemicals, and redried. A seed germination bioassay confirmed that leached cover crops were nontoxic to germinating seeds. Physical suppression of Eastern black nightshade by the four cover crop species occurred in the field study, as did allelochemical suppression by crimson clover. Only rye physically suppressed yellow foxtail, and none of the cover crops suppressed yellow foxtail allelochemically.

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The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) is dedicated to farming systems that are environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable. Established in 1994 at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDACS) Cherry Farm near Goldsboro, N.C.; CEFS operations extend over a land area of about 800 ha (2000 acres) [400 ha (1000 acres) cleared]. This unique center is a partnership among North Carolina State University (NCSU), North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University (NCATSU), NCDACS, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), other state and federal agencies, farmers and citizens. Long-term approaches that integrate the broad range of factors involved in agricultural systems are the focus of the Farming Systems Research Unit. The goal is to provide the empirical framework to address landscape-scale issues that impact long-run sustainability of North Carolina's agriculture. To this end, data collection and analyses include soil parameters (biological, chemical, physical), pests and predators (weeds, insects and disease), crop factors (growth, yield, and quality), economic factors, and energy issues. Five systems are being compared: a successional ecosystem, a plantation forestry-woodlot, an integrated crop-animal production system, an organic production system, and a cash-grain [best management practice (BMP)] cropping system. An interdisciplinary team of scientistsfrom the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NCSU and NCATSU, along with individuals from the NCDACS, NGO representatives, and farmers are collaborating in this endeavor. Experimental design and protocol are discussed, in addition to challenges and opportunities in designing and implementing long-term farming systems trials.

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