Small-scale Sustainable Agriculture as a Platform for Experiential Learning
Keywords:sustainable agriculture, experiential learning, bioremediation, eutrophication, lake health
Background: Market pressures and the impacts of climate change are threatening the livelihoods of small-holding farmers around the world. Some young farmers are increasingly leaving behind the farming lifestyle through the pursuit of more stable work, while others are forced to reduce the diversity of their crops. As farmers themselves face shortages of workers and the pressures of climate change, adaptation is often required for sustainability. There exists a need to blend traditional farming practices with modern technology to maintain their way of life. However, we need to be aware of the best practices for sustainability, while at the same time, finding or developing appropriate technology solutions to help solve worker shortages and maintain crop diversity. Solutions must be developed in collaboration with local communities to be sustainable, accessible, and equitable. Method: These challenges can also provide opportunities for experiential learning within the engineering classroom. In this paper, I describe a diverse set of projects with a sustainable agriculture theme that I have used to enhance student learning through projects implemented in courses, capstone experiences, summer research programs, and independent research opportunities. Results: The projects described here include both short-term, single-semester projects with limited scope and longer-term projects involving multiple groups of students addressing various aspects of the project over multiple semesters. Conclusions: The projects discussed here each resulted in the successful design and construction of prototyped solutions to the challenges presented. In each case, the students have gained valuable design experience and have become better prepared to enter the engineering workforce and facilitate new product development and entrepreneurial activities. Further, students have gained new appreciation for the challenges faced by agricultural workers and communities. The students have learned the value of interdisciplinary collaboration for tackling challenging societal issues.
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