All-Natural Agriculture Education

Article excerpt

WILLIAM MURPHY, a professor of agronomy at the University of Vermont (UVM) looks out of his office at this hilltop, mountain-framed college campus and shakes his head. "Anyone who would argue that we shouldn't go toward sustainable agriculture has to be a fool because I don't think there's any alternative," he says. "How can there be an alternative? How would anyone work toward a nonsustainable way unless they had a death wish?"

Dr. Murphy voices the sentiment of a number of professors, graduate students, and other faculty members who are pushing for a sustainable agriculture program at the University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

In five years, supporters hope to expand what is now mainly research-based projects to a program that would include an undergraduate and graduate curriculum. They want to get more research money, attract greater student interest, and construct a building that would house a sustainable agriculture center.

Supporters of sustainable agriculture advocate a simple, natural, and environmentally sound approach to farming. Most farm practices now involve large amounts of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which contaminate soil and water. Many scientists say the chemicals used on food create unknown side effects.

The goal of sustainable agriculture is to lessen the use of chemicals, keep food safe and wholesome, and still make agriculture economically viable. It looks at the whole ecological system and examines the effects of one farming practice on another.

More farmers will have to be cognizant of their farm as part of the planet because the use of too many pesticides and fertilizers "has a trickle effect," says Catherine Donnelly, associate dean and associate director of UVM's agricultural experiment station. "Sustainable agriculture tries to marry a profitable agriculture with some cognizance that the environment is worth protecting and saving."

Although the movement is slow, the University of Vermont is one of a growing number of colleges and universities around the United States that are incorporating sustainable agriculture into courses or increasing research. At least one college - the University of Maine - offers both an undergraduate and graduate program.

Agricultural schools "that want to be around are looking very seriously at sustainable agriculture," says Jerry DeWitt, agricultural extension director at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa."The bandwagon is rolling, and everybody wants to be on it. Those schools that are listening are making some appropriate changes in their research, teaching, and extension programs. …