Prior to going to work for Farm Aid last year, I spent more than 20 years as a teacher at colleges and universities around the country, so I know a little something about the ins and outs of “higher education.” For example, I know what it takes to create a new, innovative program within a traditional academic department. I also know about the pressure on academics to keep their heads (politically) low, keep pumping out publications, and keep pleasing faculty committees and administrative over-seers. Agricultural higher education is no exception to this. In fact, ag departments are notoriously conservative places, and, let’s face it, they’re too often beholden to corporate agribusiness for big contributions, major research dollars, and compromised research agendas.
For all these reasons, it was incredibly refreshing to attend the second annual “Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture Education” conference, held at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, July 11-14. Approximately 170 faculty, staff, grad and undergrad students, as well as a few of us from outside the academic world, came together with the goal of solidifying and enhancing sustainable agriculture education at schools large and small all over the country. In addition to networking and resource exchange among some of the nation’s most innovative and socially engaged ag educators, the major result of the conference was the formal creation of a new professional organization, the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association (SAEA). This kind of membership-based institution-building within academia is crucial to the collective survival and continued growth of sustainable ag programs that have been popping up all over the country in the last ten years. Although we tend to think that what happens within the ivory tower has little to do with life on the “outside,” in fact the growth of such programs is part of the larger “good food movement” that so many of us are embracing as our own.
Future farmers do indeed go to college! The kind of agricultural education they receive there depends wholly on the kinds of programs available to them. Sustainable ag education is in everyone’s best interest — so please support your local sustainable ag education program! Check out the SAEA conference!