Student Farms at United States Colleges and Universities: Insights Gained from a Survey of the Farm Managers

Article excerpt


Student farms at United States colleges and universities enhance curricula by integrating research, extension and teaching missions, reinforcing classroom instruction, and improving job training. Student farms are sites of agricultural production and marketing at which students have, through coursework and/or internships, opportunities to supplement classroom instruction with "real world" experience. Student farms and their influence on curricula began decades ago, but the number of farms and their impact have increased recently. Although increasingly numerous, the structure, programming, and operating principles of student farms have not been studied. A lack of knowledge regarding student farms hinders the development of new farms and ongoing success of existing farms. Therefore, an online survey of student farm managers was distributed in order to gain insights into the current status of student farms in the United States.

The data were used to determine that college and university student farms are diverse in operating characteristics. Though many groups contribute to successful farm operation, undergraduate students are the largest group to participate in and benefit from student farms. Working with a limited budget was the most significant challenge faced, though despite various challenges, farm managers on average, reported that their farms were operating successfully. Managers also indicated that their farm played a role in attracting students to attend their college or university.


"The land grant institution was created under the Morrill Act with the purpose of, among other things, ...teaching such branches of learning as are related to agriculture... "(Collier, 2002, p. 182). College and university student farms have been present on campuses throughout the United States for the duration of the passing of the Morrill Act. Student farms vary greatly in size and focus, but a common philosophy is their role in providing students with opportunities to gain valuable skills through applied experiences. In addition to acquiring various skills, involvement with a student farm allows students a concrete medium in which to solidify knowledge gained through coursework. Student farms currently operating across the United States offer a wide range of learning opportunities through which students can gain experience to supplement coursework, major programs and certificate programs, and provide opportunities for internships and volunteering.

The educational basis for inclusion of student farm opportunities in curricula is grounded on the idea that these opportunities serve as a form of experiential education. Stated simply, experiential education is learning by doing (Andreasen, 2004), and the basis of this type of education rests upon a foundation of four pillars, including learning in reallife contexts, learning by doing, learning through projects, and learning by solving problems. The essence of experiential education is that of engaging students to "solve problems inductively, actively use and explain knowledge through solving problems, and make connections and apply knowledge beyond the classroom and school, based on real-life problems" (Knobloch, 2003, p. 23).

John Dewey's name is associated with the term experiential education (Knobloch, 2003), and was an early proponent of this educational model. According to Dewey, "Education, in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society must be based upon experience" (Dewey, 1938, p. 89). Many others serve as strong proponents of the experiential education model (Mak, 1992; McKeachie, 1999; Saddington, 1992). Thus, calls to incorporate experience-based learning into the curriculum in higher education have been widespread (Boyer Commission, 1998; National Leadership Council for Liberal Education & America's Promise, 2007; U.S. Department of Labor, 1991).

Recommendations to shift agricultural curricula to an experiential learning model, grounded in reallife situations and problems (Francis et al. …