The University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry has a major focus on outreach.
With its online program, graduate certificate and Agroforestry Academy, the Center for Agroforestry works hard to promote the many facets of agroforestry to a wide audience.
One group who the Center for Agroforestry has been researching on how to more efficiently reach is high school students. With the help of a grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) program, the Center has a chance to do just that and extend its reach even further.
The Center for Agroforestry was awarded $70,334 by NCR-SARE for its project, “Missouri Agroforestry Summer Institutes: High School Educator Training for Curriculum Delivery.” The goal of the program is to bring agroforestry to the Missouri high school Agriculture Science II class, which is part of the Missouri Future Farmers of America (FFA) curriculum. MU will train high school teachers in the new agroforestry curriculum.
The idea for the program developed out of a conversion between Michael Gold, associate director of the Center for Agroforestry, and Hannah Hemmelgarn, an MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ School of Natural Resources graduate research assistant in agroforestry. This will be Hemmelgarn’s master’s project as well.
“For several years we’ve tossed around the idea of how to reach out to high school students,” Gold said. “We are reaching out to a lot of individuals, but there is one group that we really felt had long-term value and could benefit from learning more about agroforestry, and that was high school students.
“This grant is really big for the Center for Agroforestry. We’re filling in all of the gaps.”
Gold and Hemmelgarn are joined by Hank Stelzer, MU forestry department chair, and Anna Ball, MU agricultural education and leadership professor and director of graduate studies. Stelzer and Ball are both advising on the agroforestry curriculum development. Each have experience in developing curriculum for projects such as this.
Not only did Gold and his team receive a grant, they also received the 2016 Paula Ford Professional Development Program Proposal of the Year. The award goes to the proposal that demonstrates the same passion Ford had for sustainable agriculture. Ford served as the NCR-SARE Professional Development Program Coordinator at Kansas State University for 11 years. She supported SARE for more than 20 years and this award was created to honor her.
“The fact that they said this was the best proposal is just icing on the cake,” Gold said.
The team submitted their proposal in April. Just two months later, in June, Hemmelgarn hosted the first summer institute to train high school teachers. The Center for Agroforestry welcomed 15 teachers from across the state for a one-day institute, which took place at the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center in New Franklin.
Hemmelgarn took current Center for Agroforestry materials and tweaked them for a high school audience.
“The teachers are looking for ways to update their material,” Hemmelgarn said. “There are so many new innovations in agriculture, and they continue to happen. Agroforestry is one of those innovations.”
Hemmelgarn went over the agroforestry unit with the teachers, gathering feedback on how best to present the information to high school students. Teachers were able to see agroforestry practices in action at HARC, which Hemmelgarn said helped with the institute. She went through each lesson component with the 15 teachers, giving a complete overview of those lessons.
“We wanted to work with high school agriculture educators to hear what motivates them to source new curriculum content and what they like to see in new curriculum content,” Hemmelgarn said. “The best way to do that is to figure out the best way for it to work for the teachers when they present it to students.
“I’ve gotten really good feedback from this thus far.”
Hemmelgarn will keep in touch with the 15 teachers throughout the school year, keeping track of how the new agroforestry curriculum worked in a classroom setting.
“I’m really looking forward to continuing this work and following through with it,” she said. “This project has put me in a great position to see my research come to life.”
The Missouri high school Agriculture Science II class covers a variety of topics including livestock production and management, crop science, fish and wildlife management, small engines, and forestry. Hemmelgarn found, however, that agroforestry isn’t a part of that curriculum. That was something the Center for Agroforestry wanted to change.
“That really motivated me to look into this area,” Hemmelgarn said. “When I started looking into the high school realm of agricultural education, I couldn’t find agroforestry anywhere. The FFA program really covers a lot of topics in Missouri and nationwide. This grant enables us to bring them material that isn’t there currently.
“I feel that we’re on the cutting edge of innovation with this project.”
The timing couldn’t be more perfect either, as the Missouri FFA curriculum is currently being redesigned.
“It’s a good fit and good timing,” Hemmelgarn added.
The grant will allow the Center for Agroforestry to host six more summer institutes, from 2017 to 2019. The Center will host two each summer during the next three years. The institutes will train a total of 90 teachers, with the opportunity to reach thousands of high school students.
“In the United States, according to USDA-ERS data, a high percentage of farm operators do not have a college degree,” Hemmelgarn said. “That means that their high school education is really foundational to what they do. That’s why we want them to know about agroforestry opporuntities.
“Also, a high percentage of students that go through agriculture program in high school, go on to pursue agricultural professions, so of course we want to reach this group. A new generation of agricultural professionals is going through this program – and we want them to know about agroforestry because it’s a piece of the puzzle.”
Hemmelgarn added that the Savanna Institute is also helping with the project. The Savanna Institute, a nonprofit organization, has a focus on production agroforestry in the Midwest.
“Our proposal showcased an unmet need,” Gold said. “NCR-SARE agreed. We’re excited to have the opportunity to expand our agroforestry knowledge once again.
“It’s also exciting to have Hannah on board with us. She’s doing a great job and we’re excited to see where this project goes.”