Although I left the field of horticulture in 1934 and returned to it (as an administrator at that) only in 1972, I have been involved during the past two decades to some degree with graduate education and other training programs for foreign students. I shall rely here on whatever I have gained from that experience, which should contain a few common denominators applicable to the problems of training horticulturists.
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.
Undergraduate interest in courses and curriculum in the agricultural sciences, including horticulture and plant and soil sciences (1), is at an all time high. Enrollment in agriculture in member institutions of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges more than doubled from 1963 to 19743. This paper describes changes that have been made in the Department of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Massachusetts to serve our students and provides a vehicle for future changes in undergraduate horticultural education. Hopefully, other departments will report on their undergraduate activities so that others may benefit from their experience.
The University of Tennessee's undergraduate and graduate public horticulture concentrations are new programs designed to prepare individuals for careers in public horticulture that emphasize people and their education and enjoyment of plants. These new programs could not exist without the educational resources of the university's gardens. The gardens play a variety of roles in supporting faculty, undergraduate, and graduate students in these programs. The gardens serve as an outdoor laboratory and classroom and provide on-campus opportunities for the following teaching and learning activities: plant identification; plant photography; garden design; plant use; garden maintenance internships; special problem topics (e.g., production of annual variety trials, planting and labeling trials, writing garden literature, and creating interpretive displays); mapping and cataloging plants; and garden writing. Only through a university-based garden could opportunities to engage students in such meaningful learning experiences occur providing them with the competitive edge for entering the public horticulture field.
Research shows that food irradiation is a safe food technology effective in reducing pathogenic microorganisms, prolonging shelf life, and controlling pests, such as mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata), to avoid quarantine. The purpose of this research was to study the effectiveness of a professional development program designed with a variety of experiential education strategies targeting food industry regulators, extension agents, and others in the food industry. A short course employed experiential education components, such as presentations by experts in food irradiation technology, tours of food irradiation facilities, group activities, and a taste-test of irradiated produce and meat. Data were collected that assessed participants' knowledge, perceptions, and concerns about food safety and food irradiation, using Likert-type scales. The short course produced significant knowledge gains. Respondents' perceptions of food safety and food irradiation issues were improved significantly as a result of participation in the short course. Also, respondents' perceived knowledge and understanding of food safety, food irradiation, and the technology behind food irradiation improved significantly upon completion of the short course.
At the University of Georgia, HORT 3020 (Introduction to Fruit Crops) is a two-credit survey of the botanical characteristics, taxonomy, and production practices of the world's major fruit crops. It is offered via traditional classroom instruction, and as a distance education (DE) course through the University System of Georgia Independent Study program. The DE version of the course is designed to be identical in content, final exam, and grading scale. However, due to the nature of independent study, the end-of-topic evaluations are open-book, written assignments in the DE course, whereas students in the classroom version have closed-book quizzes at the end of each topic. Student performance in the two versions of the course was compared over a 3-year period (May 1998 to May 2001) by analyzing scores on end-of-topic evaluations, final exams, and overall course grades. Students in the DE version had higher scores on end-of-topic evaluations in all 3 years, higher scores on a comprehensive final exam in 2 of 3 years, and consequently higher overall course grades than classroom students in all 3 years. Better performance of DE over classroom students may have been related to 1) qualitative differences in end-of-topic evaluations (written assignments versus quizzes), 2) differences in student demographics (nontraditional students in DE, traditional undergraduates in classroom), 3) the elective (DE) versus required (classroom) nature of the courses, or 4) differences in course duration (1 year for DE, 15 weeks for classroom). Equal or better performance of DE students suggests that survey courses such as Introduction to Fruit Crops can be offered via distance education without compromising learning outcomes.
The challenges facing horticultural production in the Northeast are many: Pests that are increasingly resistant to conventional controls; eroding profitability; increasing consumer concern about residues in food and water supplies.
The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program is working to find solutions to these problems. SARE-supported research is developing practices that will help reduce producers reliance on pesticides and other purchased inputs while maintaining farm profitability.
In the Northeast, SARE has provided about $5 million in grants since 1983 to about 50 projects. Many focus on horticultural crops, such as apples, small fruit, sod and ornamental plants. Some strategies developed through SARE projects are already being adopted at the farm level.
Last year, the program allocated $1.461 million to 16 projects. This year, the Northeast Region expects to distribute a similar or slightly lower amount of grant funding. In addition, the region established a new $100,000 farmer mini-grant program to promote adoption of sustainable practices and in novations on the farm.
Research shows that food irradiation is a safe food technology effective in reducing pathogenic microorganisms, prolonging shelf-life, and controlling pests, such as fruit flies, to avoid quarantine. However, this technology may not be understood widely by food industry professionals. The purpose of this research was to study the effectiveness of professional development designed with a variety of experiential education strategies targeting food industry regulators, Extension agents, and others in the food industry. The workshop, Improving Safety of Complex Food Items Using Electron Beam Technology, included presentations by experts in food irradiation technology, tours of food irradiation facilities, group activities, and a taste-test of irradiated meats and produce. Data were collected from 19 males and 3 females in the paired workshop pre- and post-tests which assessed participants' knowledge, perceptions, and concerns about food safety and food irradiation, using Likert-type scales. The workshop produced significant knowledge gains. Respondents' perceptions of food safety and food irradiation issues were improved significantly as a result of participation in the workshop. Also, respondents' perceived knowledge and understanding of food safety, food irradiation, and the technology behind food irradiation improved significantly upon completion of the workshop and post-test.
The Department of Horticultural Sciences at North Carolina State University began offering landscape horticulture students a construction studio in 2002. This unique studio engages students in experiential learning (hands-on) and service learning (client-based) projects while simultaneously applying knowledge they have gained during their university education. Three years later, the Landscape Construction Studio is a model course that pushes students to design creatively, while providing a practical foundation in how ideas transition from paper to reality. Projects embody several learning objectives, including fostering exploration and discovery while raising students' awareness of strengths and limitations of traditional and nontraditional construction materials. In addition, the studio enables the elimination of students' tendency to compartmentalize course work, and encourages students to broaden their understanding and appreciation of the world around them. A typical semester incorporates several smaller projects that introduce students to a variety of materials and lessons in construction methodologies. Projects increase in size and complexity over the course of the semester, leading to a comprehensive landscape design and installation project in which students experience the entire design process. Through this final project, students see how information gained from other horticultural and general classes are applied in landscape design. This presentation will discuss the importance of incorporating experiential learning components to horticultural courses, and the pros and cons of service learning projects. Presentation of best management practices will stimulate discussion among the audience.