Rural Schools Pursue New Way Of Teaching Agriculture

They caught and identified bugs, walked the banks of the Boyne River looking for evidence of riverbank erosion, spoke to weed and soil specialists about biodiversity, ecosystems and farm production systems.

And while that might sound like any other end-of-school-year field trip, for about 100 Grade 10 students in south-central Manitoba, the visit to the Ian Morrison Research Farm at Carman last week was part of a unique focus on agricultural studies this year.

Youth in schools at Carman, Elm Creek and Miami this spring were students of “agroecology,” an interdisciplinary field of study to integrate agriculture with ecology, the biophysical sciences, and social studies.

Agroecology approaches agriculture from the larger context of biophysical and social sciences and aims to help students see the wider relevance, said Ernie Bart, regional internship co-ordinator in career and technology studies based at Carman Collegiate.

The project pairs agriculture with management of the environment, sustaining rural communities and food.

Organizers wanted to help students see agriculture through its relationship to all these aspects, Bart said.

The students studied a whole range of issues, from the scarcity and distribution of food and the changing nature of farming on the Prairies and implications for rural communities, to the dynamics of ecosystems and how human activities affect them.

Students were paired with mentors and expected to pursue an inquiry-based project, which they presented at the June 1 field day. Some students took an interest in specific types of agricultural equipment while others were interested in GPS applications in agriculture.

Carman Collegiate students Hailey Rex and Kelly Pockett compared organic and non-organic farm production systems, exploring the productivity potential of each type of system.

“I knew a lot about modern farming but not much about organic farming,” said Rex, 16.

Along with simply helping these students be better informed about where their food comes from, it is hoped that teaching agriculture this way may spark interest that leads into an agriculturally related career path, said Sue Clayton, community liaison co-ordinator at the faculty of agriculture and food sciences at University of Manitoba.

Field sessions at the research farm last week included topics such as riverbank erosion, weeds, genetically modified organisms, entomology, local soil profiling and productivity, and balancing ecological systems.

The intent was to show these students how all these relate to agriculture and that choosing agriculture as a career doesn’t necessarily mean farming.

“Obviously, that’s hugely important and we do have a number of students who come through the faculty that end up going back to the farm,” said Clayton. “But the majority of jobs in agriculture are off the farm and they’re so diverse. And I think students don’t realize what the opportunities are.”

This is the second year that agroecology has been taught in the PRSD, offered in a partnership with staff at the Carman GO Office of Manitoba Agriculture and Rural Initiatives, the Ian Morrison Research Farm at the Campus Manitoba Carman, and La Salle Redboine Conservation District. [email protected]

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“Whatthisdoesisexposestudentstoawidevarietyofcareeropportunitiesintheagsector.Idon’tthinkstudentsrealizewhatthoseopportunitiesare.”

– SUE CLAYTON, COMMUNITY LIAISON CO-ORDINATOR FACULTY OF AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SCIENCES AT UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA

About the author

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Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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