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Agroecology

Bruno Borsari, Biology, Winona State University
http://course1.winona.edu/bBorsari/
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Summary


An introduction to the theory of agroecology and the current practices of sustainable agriculture. The components of farm management will be studied within the context of a complex ecosystem. Class time will be spent in lecture, field studies and field trips that will attempt to integrate concepts in agroecology with actual practices in sustainable agriculture.

Course Size:
15-30

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This course in an elective for students in the College of Science and Engineering. It is typically attractive to majors in: ecology, environmental science and geoscience.

Course Content:

This course has a strong emphasis on the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of soils. Students learn to measure and analyze soil samples upon which decisions about crop cultivation and fertility management plans are made.

Course Goals:

At the completion of this course students will be able to:

1. Integrate knowledge of biological and sociological systems into the development of sustainable food production strategies, which are innovative and ecologically sound.
2. Communicate in written and oral formats a clear understanding of sustainable agriculture concepts and their basis in natural ecosystem functioning.
3. Analyze current popular models of agroecology with a critical understanding of potential biological and sociological flaws.

Course Features:

The capstone project for this course is a small group (2-3 students) presentation on a topic of students' choice and with research conducted at a local farm. The reports are presented orally to the class at the very end of the semester.

Course Philosophy:

This course was designed to complement the effort of Winona State University to purchase locally grown foods for its cafeterias, while fostering learning in a more ecological way of farming.

Assessment:

Students' learning is assessed through exams and quizzes. In addition to this, soil testing and lab activities are evaluated through short reports and class discussions of the data. Participation in field trips and hands-on activities (e.g.: planting a small garden, managing the vermicompost bins, the apiary, tending the vegetable seedlings) are evaluated as well. Finally, the capstone presentation at the end of the term weighs most significantly in the assessment of students' learning for this course.

Syllabus:

Agroecology (Microsoft Word 78kB May22 12)

References and Notes:

Gliessman, S. R. 2007. Agroecology: Ecological Processes in Sustainable Agriculture. 2nd. Ed., An Arbor Press, Chelsea, MI

Cochrane, Willard W.,1993. The Development of American Agriculture: A Historical Analysis. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Danbom, David B. 1995. Born in the Country: A History of Rural America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gardner, Bruce L. 2002. American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century: How It Flourished and What It Cost. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hurt, R. Douglas. 1994. American Agriculture: A Brief History. Ames, Iowa State University Press.

Solbrig, Otto T.and Dorothy J. Solbrig . 1994. So Shall you Reap: Farming and Crops in Human Affairs. Shearwater Books. ISBN: 1-55963-308-5. Island Press.

Smith, B. D. 1995. The Emergence of Agriculture. Scientific American Library Vol. 54. W. H. Freeman and Co., New York.

Vasey, D. E. 1991. An Ecological History of Agriculture, 10,000 B.C. - A.D. 10,000 . Iowa State University Press, Ames.

Worster, Donald. 1990. Transformations of the Earth: Toward an agroecological perspective in history. Journal of American History 76(4): 1087.

McNeely, Jeffrey A. and Sara J. Scherr. 2002. Ecoagriculture: Strategies to Feed the World and Save Wild Biodiversity. Island Press. Chapter 3. Agriculture and Human Welfare.

Paarlberg, Don and Philip Paarlberg. 2000. The Agricultural Revolution of the 20th Century. Iowa State University Press.

Powers, L.E., and R. McSorley. 2000. Ecological principles of agriculture. Delmar Thomson Learning, Albany, NY.


Curricula/lecture notes:
Miles and Brown (eds.) 2003. Teaching Organic Gardening and Farming Resources for Instructors. UC CASFS. Unit 3.1:The Development of US Agriculture: http://casfs.ucsc.edu/education/instructional-resources/downloadable-pdf-files. Contains lecture outlines on the history and development of US agriculture with citations of reference works for the various sub-topics addressed.

Print Resources:
Cochrane, Willard W. 1993. The Development Of American Agriculture: A Historical Analysis. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
The definitive critical history of U.S. agricultural development. Full of insightful analysis and commentary as well as exhaustive history. Introduces the concept of the "technology treadmill" as a major problem in U.S. agriculture.

Danbom, David B. 1995. Born in the Country: A History Of Rural America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
An important history of the effects of agricultural policy and development on rural life and rural people. See especially Chapter 11, "The production revolution and its consequences."

Friedmann, Harriet. 1993. The political economy of food: a global crisis. New Left Review: 29.
A succinct history, overview and contextualization of trends in global food trade. Discusses national agriculture and trade policies in the context of international geopolitical relations; and their effects on agricultural development.

Gardner, Bruce L. 2002. American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century: How It Flourished and What It Cost. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
A straightforward, uncritical, but data-intensive and encyclopedic overview of trends in American agricultural development during the 20th century. Full of valuable charts and graphs. An excellent reference.

Goodman, David, Bernard Sorj, and John Wilkinson. 1987. From Farming To Biotechnology: A Theory of Agro-Industrial Development. Oxford, New York: Basil Blackwell.
An integrated theory of the nexus of research, policy, technological development, and capitalist penetration in agricultural development. Considered a seminal work in modern political economy of agriculture.

Goodman, David. 1991. Some recent tendencies in the industrial reorganization of the agro-food system. In Towards a New Political Economy of Agriculture. William Friedland . Boulder, CO, Westview.
A distillation and update of the concepts developed in From farming to biotechnology (Goodman et al. 1987); and an overview of the encroachment of industrial capital into the agro-food system.

Heffernan, William D. 1998. Agriculture and monopoly capital. Monthly Review 50: 46 (July/August).
An analysis of who controls the agro-food system. A discussion of the historical and modern trends toward oligopoly and monopoly that characterize firms operating in the agro-food sector, and the consequences for the structure and development of agriculture. Heffernan's specialty.

Hurt, R. Douglas. 1994. American Agriculture: A Brief History. Ames, Iowa State University Press.
A good, but uncritical, survey of American agricultural development with an emphasis on pre-World War II history.

Lappe, Frances Moore, Joseph Collins ,Peter Rosset. 2nd edition. 1998. World Hunger: Twelve Myths. Institute for Food and Development Policy. Grove Press.
Three experts on food and agriculture expose the myths that prevent us from effectively addressing the problem of world hunger.

Lobao, L. M. 1990. Locality and Inequality: Farm and Industry Structure and Socioeconomic Conditions. Albany: State University of New York Press.
A Marxian analysis of the structural economic conditions governing agricultural development.

McConnell, Grant and American Farm Bureau Federation.1969. The Decline Of Agrarian Democracy. New York: Atheneum.
A history and analysis of agrarian populist movements in the U.S. Good discussion of farmers' resistance strategies in the face of increasingly powerful corporate control over the food system.
McNeely, Jeffrey A. and Sara J. Scherr. 2002. Ecoagriculture: Strategies to Feed the World and Save Wild Biodiversity. Island Press.
Examines the idea that agricultural landscapes can be designed to take the needs of human populations into account while also protecting, or even enhancing, biodiversity. Chapter 3: Agriculture and Human Welfare addresses the problem of meeting human needs in developing countries under increased population pressures while protecting environmental quality.

Paarlberg, Don and Philip Paarlberg. 2000. The Agricultural Revolution of the 20th Century. Iowa State University Press.
A short 154 pages and 12 chapters covering 19th Century agriculture followed by the rapid technologica developments (mechanization, synthetic chemical advances, information networks) as they influenced producers, the industry and consumers.

Powers, L.E., and R. McSorley. 2000. Ecological principles of agriculture. Delmar Thomson Learning, Albany, NY.
This text is valuable as a general overview of ecological principles, as they relate to agricultural design, management, and problem solving. Emphasizes sustainable agriculture with respect to many different types of farming practices, encompassing agroecology in developing as well as industrialized nations. Includes chapter on human population growth and its impacts upon agricultural systems.

Schafer, Joseph. 1936. The Social History of American Agriculture. New York: The Macmillan Company.
A dated history of pre-chemical American agriculture,with an emphasis on social organization.

Solbrig, Otto T.and Dorothy J. Solbrig . 1994. So Shall you Reap: Farming and Crops in Human Affairs. Shearwater Books. ISBN: 1-55963-308-5. Island Press http://www.islandpress.org
So Shall You Reap is a exploration of the intersections of farming and history. Beginning with the prehistorical era, Otto and Dorothy Solbrig describe the evolution of farming. When and how did people learn to irrigate, to fertilize, to rotate their crops – and why?

Wood, Stanley Sebastian, Kate and Scherr, Sara J. 2000. Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems: Agro-ecosystems. International Food and Policy Research Institute and the Worlds Resources Institute. This analysis determines the extent of agricultural land use and assesses the status of agroecosystems on a global basis. The report is the most comprehensive mapping of global agriculture to date. It also shows ways to better understand and monitor changes in the capacity of the systems to provide sustainable goods and services. Provides a summary of data on the environmental impacts of agriculture world wide. Includes the following topic areas: Agricultural extent and change; Food, feed, and fiber; Soil resource condition; Water services; Biodiversity; Carbon services. Available online in pdf format.

Worster, Donald. 1990. Transformations of the Earth: Toward an agroecological perspective in history. Journal of American History 76(4): 1087.
A preeminent environmental historian's discussion of agriculture as the fundamental way in which humans relate to, transform, and are themselves transformed by their environments. A call for the reorientation of agriculture towards a more ecologically informed approach.

Web resources:
International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture & Food: http://ijsaf.org/
The Research Committee on Food and Agriculture (RC40) is a world wide organization of social scientists who are interested in the study of contemporary food and agricultural systems. RC40 publishes the International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food . RC40 exists under the auspices of the International Sociological Association.

United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA NASS) Census of Agriculture: http://www.nass.usda.gov/census/
A searchable and comprehensive set of statistical data gathered every 5 years on US agriculture at a national, state and county level. Includes information on "outlying areas" of Guam, Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands. Includes some data dating back to 1866 census.

History of American Agriculture (United States Department of Agriculture)
A timeline of major developments in all areas of agriculture
http://www.agclassroom.org/gan/timeline/index.htm


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