Teaching Organic Farming: Resources for Instructors

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Over the past 47 years, instructors at the University of California, Santa Cruz have taught organic farming and gardening skills to more than 1,400 apprentices through the UCSC Farm & Garden Apprenticeship program. Teaching Organic Farming & Gardening: Resources for Instructors draws on those four-plus decades of experience to offer teaching resources based on many of the skills and concepts taught during the six-month Apprenticeship training program.

Published by the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, the 600-page manual covers practical aspects of organic farming and gardening, applied soil science, and social and environmental issues in agriculture. Units contain lecture outlines for instructors and detailed lecture outlines for students, field and laboratory demonstrations, assessment questions, and annotated resource lists. Although much of the material has been developed for field or garden demonstrations and skill building, most of the units can also be tailored to a classroom setting.

The training manual is designed for a wide audience of those involved in teaching farming and gardening, including colleges and universities with programs in sustainable agriculture, student farms or gardens, and on-farm education programs; urban agriculture, community garden, and farm training programs; farms with internships or apprenticeships; agriculture extension stations; school gardening programs; organizations such as the Peace Corps, US AID, and other groups that provide international training in food growing and ecological growing methods; and master gardener programs.

Mark Van Horn, director of UC Davis's Student Farm, says "This is an excellent resource for us because of its content, organization and flexibility. The staff instructors who developed this manual have tremendous knowledge of not only the subject matter, but also how to teach it to students and interns."

Part 1 of the manual, Organic Farming and Gardening Skills and Practices, emphasizes the "how-to" aspects of organic gardening and farming, including propagation, irrigation, tillage, transplanting, and compost production. This 11-unit section also introduces students to critical skills and considerations in the management of soil fertility and agricultural pests (arthropods, diseases, and weeds) in organic systems. The information included in the manual is based on certified organic production practices that meet or exceed the National Organic Program (NOP) standards. Included throughout is an overview of principles and practices used in NOP-certified production.

Part 2, Applied Soil Science, covers basic information on soil chemistry, soil physical properties, and soil biology and ecology, providing a more detailed overview of the underlying scientific principles that inform many of the organic farming practices covered in Part 1.

Part 3, Social and Environmental Issues in Agriculture, first outlines the history and development of agriculture in the U.S. and then introduces students to social and environmental issues associated with conventional agriculture practices and the current organization of the food system. This section also introduces the concept of sustainable agriculture and some of the current obstacles to more sustainable food and agriculture systems.