Cows, Corn-Soy, and Community: The Agroecology ACE Course

20 November 2019

This year Carleton offered BIOL215, a course on agroecology, as part of the CCCE’s ACE courses. The class, which is taught by Professor David Hougen-Eitzman, focuses on the scientific aspects of food production, including the application of principles of ecosystem and population ecology to agricultural systems. Alongside learning the science of food production, students also have the chance to visit local farms and create projects that will engage with food production in the local community and provide services to farmers or community organizations.

The class gives students not only the opportunity to learn about food production systems, but also to engage with those systems outside of a purely academic setting. Students visit multiple types of farms and food producers, including conventional corn-soy farms, regenerative agroforestry systems, a cidery, small vegetable farms, an organic meat farm and small sheep cheese farm. Labs such as these visits focus on farming practices, the lifestyles of the farmers, and their relationship to the land they work. Students must also do at least three separate community connection events throughout the term which somehow relate to farming or the food system. These can including doing donation pick up with the Food Recovery Network, going to talks about farming or food systems, or even volunteering at the Carleton Farm.

Visiting local food producers and participating in community connection events leads into the students’ final projects, which is working in a group of three to assist a specific farmer on a project they need help with. These projects can include, but are not limited to hands-on farm work. For example, Gray Harrison ’21 is working with her group to design a lesson plan to teach to Nerstrand Elementary School students. This type of project is a great example of using what’s learned in courses to engage in public scholarship. Sharing knowledge and bringing it to children not only impacts the students running the project, but the farmers they are working with, the children who they teach, and the ways those children choose to take that information into the wider community.

The Agroecology course gives students the opportunity to learn about food systems in a way that allows to see it first-hand and use what they’ve learned to make decisions about their own role in the food industry. Through its engagement with the local community, students get to see the reality of food production and farming from multiple viewpoints and feel informed about the processes going into the food they eat long after the course ends. According to Gray, “I feel like the learning am doing learning that really matters. I feel like this is applicable to the real world, and to my own life after Carleton.”