Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New High School Curriculum Developed: "Toward a Sustainable Agriculture"

A new curriculum has been developed for educators to teach high school students about sustainable agriculture.

It was developed by the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) at the University of Wisconsin Madison with funding in part from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE).

Diane Mayerfeld, the Sustainable Agriculture Curriculum Coordinator for CIAS, and the Wisconsin state coordinator for NCR-SARE's Professional Development Program, participated in creating the curriculum, and is approaching with project with hopefulness and enthusiasm.

"I developed this curriculum for two reasons. First, high school agriculture teachers did not have access to sustainable agriculture materials. Quite a lot of the teaching materials they use are provided by larger agribusinesses, and most of the rest also has a large-scale, intensive agriculture focus, where questions of environmental sustainability are at best an afterthought and often are dismissed or ignored," explained Mayerfeld.

"Second, the kinds of information and programs we generally deliver to Extension agents and other agricultural educators are of limited use to teachers who engage with a very different audience in a very different way. They need specifically prepared curriculum materials that they can use directly in the classroom."

What makes this curriculum unique is the comprehensiveness of the project. It consists of 5 modules:
1) Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture
2) Corn, Beans, and Burgers: field crops in sustainable agriculture
3) Flesh, Fish, and Fowl: animals in sustainable agriculture
4) Apples, Beets, and Zinnias: sustainable horticulture
5) A Growing Market: organic agriculture

"There are several excellent stand-alone lessons in sustainable agriculture or food systems that have been developed," said Mayerfeld, "but I think there is a need for a curriculum that puts those activities into a comprehensive framework."

From the beginning of the project, Mayerfeld was committed to creating a curriculum specifically for high school students, although she iterates that education about food systems and sustainable agriculture is important for everyone.

"I believe that high school is an important time to open students' minds to critical thinking about food and agriculture. For some students, high school is the final step in their formal schooling," said Mayerfeld. "For those who go on to further education exposure to ideas about sustainability may lead them to look for and demand more education in that area."

Educators are welcome to adapt and reproduce sections of the curriculum for non-commercial use. It is available online for free at

To order a CD of the curriculum, please send a check for $5.00, payable to “UW-Madison CIAS” to:

Curriculum Project
1535 Observatory Dr.
Madison , WI 53706

Questions, comments or suggestions can be directed to:
Diane Mayerfeld
1535 Observatory Dr.
Madison , WI 53706
(608) 262-8188 or

Diane Mayerfeld

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