AgEBB-MU CAFNR Extension

Chuck Adamson
Senior Information Specialist

July 7, 2006

New courses emphasize holistic
approach to farming and consumption

COLUMBIA, Mo. - When Tony Thomas teaches college philosophy courses in applied ethics and consumer behaviors, he wants to offer his students practical solutions, not just pose questions.

The University of Missouri-Columbia graduate student and part-time instructor said that's why he wants to learn more about the sustainable agriculture movement. He knows there's more to it than just organic foods and conservation, he said.

Thomas plans to audit an inaugural offering of Sustainable Agriculture: Theory and Practice, a fall semester course offered through the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. The course is an undergraduate course open to all MU students.

It's one of three new sustainable agriculture courses being developed for the 2006-07 academic year and the first offered on the subject at MU.

The other two courses will be offered in the winter semester. Those will be upper-level courses aimed at sophomore to senior undergraduate students majoring in general agriculture.

Mary Hendrickson, MU assistant professor of rural sociology, said Thomas is right; sustainable agriculture is about more than just natural growing methods. It's about where and how food is sold, how it gets to market, field laborers' wages and working conditions and how consumers buy, prepare and eat their foods.

"All of this works together in a very holistic way and that's a very difficult thing to understand," Hendrickson said. "What we're about in sustainable agriculture is quality of life."

Hendrickson is one of several faculty members teaching the winter courses.

Jose Garcia, MU assistant professor of rural sociology, is one of two teachers for the fall course. The new course offerings are an outgrowth of several years of work on developing an emphasis area in sustainable agriculture for general agriculture students, he said.

The emphasis allows students to focus a general agriculture major around sustainable agriculture using a core of existing CAFNR courses. The new courses, funded through grants, are the first to focus exclusively on sustainable agriculture practices and philosophy.

Garcia is planning two farm visits and a field trip to the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference, which annually is at the Boone County Fairgrounds.

"The students will have the opportunity to interact with farmers, ask questions and see what it takes to be a sustainable farmer," Garcia said. "We want students to know that sustainable agriculture is not only about taking care of the environment. It goes way beyond that."

A common misunderstanding, he said, is that sustainable agriculture is about rejecting technology and going back to a time when people only worked with their hands. To the contrary, Garcia said, using technology toward being more environmentally friendly, economically profitable and socially responsible is at the center of the movement.

"Students will be exposed to industrial agriculture from every corner here at MU, but there are not many opportunities to learn about and discuss sustainable agriculture," Garcia said. "This is one of those opportunities."

While teaching as an adjunct instructor, Thomas said that classroom discussions have often come to focus on ethical issues regarding the land and its resources. "Is it right to have factory farms in order to allow people to eat $1 fast food chicken sandwiches?" he asked rhetorically.

"I'm interested in what I can do, how I myself can be a better consumer and user of resources," Thomas said.

Hendrickson is encouraging non-agriculture majors to give the course a try.

"Anyone could take the course in the fall," she said. "If you're a journalist and you think food and agriculture systems are going to be important to your career later, you could take this."

For more information on the MU CAFNR sustainable agriculture program, log on to the Community Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture Progra

Source: Jose Garcia, 573-884-3794, Mary Hendrickson, 573-882-7463

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