Civic Agriculture and Food Systems: A systems approach in content and practice

Wednesday 11:30am-1:30pm UMC Aspen Rooms
Poster Presentation Part of Teaching about Systems


Rachel Seman-Varner, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
Susan Clark, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
Hannah Scherer, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
The Civic Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) minor at Virginia Tech uses a systems approach to teach undergraduate students about sustainable agriculture and food systems. The CAFS minor is unique in that it integrates transdisciplinary content, collaborative teaching, experiential learning and community engagement throughout the curriculum. The minor includes course content that examines food systems dynamics spanning sociology, economics, agricultural ecology, and the natural sciences. For example, a lesson in the Ecological Agriculture course examines the complex dynamics of insect and disease pest, weeds, herbivores and insect predator niches and their feedbacks on vegetable production; students learn about these systems relationships both in the field (at the university farm) and in the classroom. The four core courses in the minor were developed by a collaborative curriculum taskforce of scientific experts, pedagogy experts, and community partners across several disciplines. There is a systems approach here as well, with the interactions and evolution of curriculum between the interdisciplinary teaching team of each course and the taskforce. Students are challenged to make connections and understand feedbacks by participating in experiential learning exercises that include in-depth case study analysis of food systems, fieldwork in partnership with operating farms and gardens, and in-class cooperative learning activities. The culminating capstone course is based around individual student-lead projects involving community-based partners. The capstone projects have deliverable goals with an exploration of the long-term impacts on the local food system, and a dissemination plan that includes a final presentation at a university-organized poster showcase of student engagement. These transdisciplinary, collaborative and experiential elements use a systems approach to teach complex social and environmental issues around sustainable agriculture and food systems. Systems thinking and critical problem solving are essential to the development of visionary leaders and the future of sustainable agriculture and food systems.