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VT’s new minor educating students about future life
By JANE W. GRAHAM
BLACKSBURG, Va. (Dec. 16, 2014) — The director of a new minor in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences said excitement about is growing as more people in and out of college learn about it.
The minor is Civic Agriculture and Food Systems and is an interdisciplinary course open to students from all of the university’s majors.
Susan Clark, CAFS director, said she got the inspiration for the new minor after taking with a group of students working with Heifer International in 2009.
Clark and 12 students spent a week at Heifer International’s Education Ranch in Perryville, Ark., doing ranch work that included repairing fences, bottle feeding goat kids, and weeding the herb garden.
They also learned the Heifer International ideology, particularly its value-based appreciate inquiry model for sustainable driving development.
“Driving home at the end of the week the students spent the 13-hour in the van asking questions summarized by, ‘Why can’t Virginia Tech have a program that would integrate ecological stewardship, economic viability, and social justice, incorporate working in the community and all of it lead to training students to work towards creating both a local and global sustainable future?’” according to a Virginia Tech description of the major.
“It is truly a response to our students,” Clark said.
The minor gives students opportunities for domestic and international learning, research and discovery and active engagement in and outside the classroom, Clark said.
“The CAFS minor embodies a commitment to developing and strengthening an economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable agriculture and food system,” she added.
Clark said that the minor is not something a student can earn in one semester.
The 18 credits are spread across several terms because of the nature of the studies, activities and interactions.
Courses include Introduction to Civic Agriculture, Ecological Agriculture: Theory and Practice; Concepts in Community Food systems; and Capstone: Civic Agriculture and Food Systems.
Following the trip to Heifers International, Clark began putting together the idea of a curriculum that crossed disciplines and provided experiential learning opportunities.
This led her to develop the request and receive a USDA Higher Education Challenge grant.
“During the 2009-10 academic year, a group of faculty, staff and students from CALS departments plus community partners collaborated to develop the interdisciplinary and experiential-based minor,” according to the history. “The minor guides students through an understanding of sustainable agriculture and food system philosophies and actions. It helps students incorporate the knowledge into personal and professional practice.
“Within a few months of rigorous collaboration, a set of learning objectives and outcomes were developed for four core courses in the minor with an overarching emphasis on participation in the community tying it all together.”
Clark said that all the courses have field work where students learn hands-on skills.
By the time the students would reach the capstone course they have a good foundation both from study and interactions with their community partners to create a community based project.
“They are our new generation,” Clark said. “They are affecting change around food systems…. The minor is getting them their jobs.
She said all the students who have graduated with the minor have jobs in civic agriculture.
“Through my participation in the civic agriculture and food systems minor and my experience with my community partner I have taken the things I learned working with my community partner and successfully applied them to real world experience,” Catiln Miller, a 2012 graduate with a major in Crops, Soils and Environmental Sciences, said. “Personal growth and professional development is an integral part of the CAFS minor and being involved with the CAFS minor gave me the gift of direction and confidence to secure a job as a Community Food Systems Extension Agent.”
Jenny Schwanke, coordinator for the Hale-Y Community Garden in Blacksburg, Va., said taking the minor “provides a richness of understanding that begins to elevate my understanding of the work at the Hale YMCA garden from a singular community action project to a vital part of a global movement to improve the social, environmental and ecological well-being of the planet.
“The creation of that connection is empowering. Bringing CAFS students together with community garden members through shared labor, food, and conversation”