Sustainable Agriculture

SAG 397 (Apprenticeship in Sustainable Agriculture)

SAG 397 (Apprenticeship in Sustainable Agriculture)or just the apprenticeship as SAG students refer to itis an intensive experiential learning course taken over the summer. It is a combination of applied field learning and weekly seminars on special topics related to farming. Students engage and immerse themselves in the day-to-day operations of a commercial-scale organic farm.

As an extension of the apprenticeship, students participate in the UK Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) by providing fresh produce to subscribers called shareholders. Shareholders pay a sum upfront for a season’s worth of fresh, organic produce that is delivered to the University on a weekly basis. The distribution is on Thursday afternoons. Apprentices participate by operating the booth, interacting with the shareholders, and taking turns writing a weekly newsletter to keep shareholders aware of what has been happening on the farm that week. The CSA simulates the real world example of direct marketing, as marketing is an important economic consideration for independent farmers. The CSA model is one option for making a farm profitable and economic prosperity is one of the goals of a sustainable agricultural system.

The UK Horticultural Research Farm, affectionately known as South Farm, sits adjacent to the Waveland State Historic Site. Community participation is appreciated and encouraged. Shareholders are permitted to participate in u-pick. U-pick is a form of agricultural marketing where farmers grow crops and participants pay to harvest the crops. During the summer of 2011, u-pick items rotated between fresh flowers, herbs, and beans. A sustainable farm is one that is socially responsible and by opening up the farm to the shareholders, the farm is theirs to scrutinize.

The best apprentices have the opportunity to graduate to a position on farm crew. Members of farm crew are responsible for making sure that the necessary work gets completed so that the apprentices are able to learn at their own individual pace. Farm crew gives students the opportunity to really experience what it’s like to work on a farm beyond just learning in a formalized, academic way. It’s a job.

In the same way as residency is required of medical students, the apprenticeship is required of SAG students. It affords students the opportunity to learn about agricultural best management practices and farm management in a work environment and is flexible to the interests of the student.
In addition to the three pillars of sustainability, the UK Sustainability Policy offers four principles that foster a commitment to economic vitality, ecological integrity and social equity on a campus level. These principles are listed on the second page as follows:
1. Leadership
2. Commitment to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary sustainable research
3. Education
4. Community Development

SAG 397 directly implements each of these recommendations. Students are encouraged to take leadership by operating the CSA distribution and actively participating in meetings with shareholders.

Students are encouraged to assist researchers with their experiments. Six high tunnels were constructed primarily by apprentices and members of farm crew this year. These tunnels will serve as stations for long term research in season extension and tomato production. Other studies that students actively assisted in were in areas of organic apple research, pest management, and cantaloupe production.

Lectures are given by a diverse cast of instructors specializing in a variety of different fields of research. For example, the students can learn about beekeeping from an entomologist, tree care from an arborist, plant production from a horticulturalist, or building maintenance from a carpenter to name a few options.
SAG 397 (Apprenticeship in Sustainable Agriculture) is one of the best opportunities for a student at the University of Kentucky (and not just the students in the SAG program) to understand the practice of sustainability in agriculture and in education. The apprenticeship should serve as an example to all new majors e.g. Environmental and Sustainability Studies of how sustainability can be taken beyond the classroom, where it’s merely a platitude, into the lives of students where it becomes practice.

UK CSA flickr account 5912208271_f6ee6c4df8_z.jpg
UK CSA flickr account

SAG 490 (Capstone in Sustainable Agriculture)

Capstone in Sustainable Agriculture is a class offered in the spring semester that focuses on rounding off and completing a SAG student’s education. It includes a weeklong fieldtrip designed by the students to introduce themselves to real world examples of the kinds of agriculture and sustainability they may choose to pursue.
The capstone class of 2011 made a whirlwind tour through the states of the northeast. The itinerary include a visit to an Amish farm in Ohio, a dairy in Pennsylvania, a USDA research farm in Maryland, an organic vegetable farm in Virginia, and a historic winery in eastern Kentucky.
Capstone class also collaborated with a group of students from Virginia Tech to organize the 2011 Sustainable Agriculture Education Association Conference held in Lexington over the summer of 2011. Wendell Berry was the keynote speaker. By being given the chance to organize an academic conference, students were able to take leadership in promoting sustainability on national level, beyond just the University of Kentucky. The conference was focused specifically on sustainability in higher education.

Education and Research Efforts

1.Study Abroad, Internships, and Job Placement

a. Study Abroad and Internships

Aside from the University of Kentucky Sustainable Agriculture Apprenticeship students have the opportunity and are encouraged to seek out educational experiences that extend beyond the University boundaries. Understanding the importance of internships and study abroad opportunities faculty work with students to discover programs that match the individual student’s interests and career goals. Do to the flexible individualized nature of the Sustainable Agriculture curriculum a wide array of internships are open to students and advisors facilitate the process, often awarding students college credit for their pursuits.

b. Job Placement

As with all University students, regardless of major, there is a concern regarding the likelihood of employment after graduation. There are several strategies, implicit and explicit, employed by Sustainable Agriculture faculty and advisors to ease the transition from University student to a competitive candidate for employment. It’s implicit in the experiences one gets in the Sustainable Agriculture program that future career connections and networking opportunities abound. Classes are often geared to allow students to meet and make connections with individuals in diverse agricultural and food policy fields such as current farmers, community organizers, and a varied set of faculty members. It’s explicit however in the Sustainable Agricultural community to exchange information about open positions related to the field and resources to assist students in discovering job employment opportunities on their own. (See and

2. SAEA Conference(Cultivating Sustainable Agriculture Education: Growing a Collaborative Legacy)

a. On August 4th and 5th 2011 the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association (SAEA) held its 4th annual conference. Co hosted by the University of Kentucky’s Sustainable Agriculture Program and the Virginia Tech Civic Agriculture and Food Systems Program the conference focused on creating and sharing effective methods of Sustainable Agriculture education through networking and information sharing opportunities. A diverse group of educators, community leaders, and students from across the country participated in the conference. Collaborators traveled all the way to Lexington, Kentucky to exchange knowledge in regards to sustainable agriculture education. Conference goers had a unique opportunity to see firsthand what the University of Kentucky’s Sustainable Agriculture Program symbolizes and what it has to offer. Hosting the conference symbolizes a significant step for the Sustainable Agriculture Program at the University of Kentucky and for the University as a whole.

3. Research

(Note: Final Draft Version Will Include Interviews regarding these Research Topics)

  1. High Tunnel (Krista Jacobsen)
  2. Organic Apple Orchard (Mark Williams)

4. Partnerships

a. UK Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Working Group

This collaboration is a multidisciplinary working group focused on issues related to sustainability in agriculture. The following goals have been detailed by the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Working Group. (See
i. plan and coordinate college programs in sustainability related issues
ii. promote the development of new programming and events,
iii. develop support for existing College programs which contribute to sustainability,
iv. work closely with those implementing the undergraduate Sustainable Ag undergrad curriculum,
v. strive to integrate current instructional, research and extension efforts and, increase their visibility and impact,
vi.collaborate with campus and community level groups working on sustainability, and
vii. recommend to the College administration regarding needs and opportunities for investment and support in this area.

Enviornmental and Sustainability Studies


The Environmental & Sustainability Studies Major is still a work in progress. It is set to be available as of Fall 2012 as a Bachelor of Arts degree under University of Kentucky’s College of Arts and Sciences. Currently, there is a minor available called Environmental Studies. In an interview conducted with Dr. Rebecca Glasscock on November 16, 2011, Dr. Glasscock spoke about when she first started working at UK in 1994. She stated that it was around this time when the idea of a minor in Environmental Studies was first developed under the direction of Richard Schein. The minor wasn’t officially released until 2002. The next director of the program, according to Dr. Glasscock, was Ernie Yanarella until the current director, David Atwood, took over the program. “That’s when there was a really big push to create a major,” said Glasscock regarding Dr. Atwood taking over the program. The major has been in the works for a few years now and is almost ready for its debut. The minor is also getting a makeover to make it more workable for current students because many of the classes required by the current minor are no longer commonly offered by the university.

Ethical Mandate

Sustainability has proven itself a very controversial and elusive word. Environmentalists, policy makers, and philosophers have not yet come to an agreement as to its precise definition. Dr. David Atwood, a chemistry professor at the University of Kentucky and the ENS program director, defines it as “reducing, then preventing, the adverse environmental, social, and economic impacts of society.” While this appeal to the triple bottom line, which was developed by John Elkington in 1997, has by no means achieved universal acceptance, it has been popular as a framework for moving towards sustainability without completely restructuring society.
The program proposal cites the Brundtland Commission’s definition of sustainability, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” as justification for the necessity of a degree program in sustainability. The planet cannot continue to support the dominant culture that depletes finite resources through merciless consumption habits, nor can it repair the ensuing environmental degradation and destruction of complex, biologically diverse ecosystems at a rate that competes with the process. In order for the planet to continue sustaining life, society needs to learn how to manage the world’s resources in a responsible manner.
With these definitions of sustainability in mind, a transdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts will be particularly useful in mastering issue. Its graduates will obtain an intimate understanding of the relationship between society and the global environment by approaching it from many different angles in their coursework. They will thus be prepared to problem-solve effectively and make the world a livable place, not just for humans but also for the rich biodiversity that the planet has seen in the past.

Education and Research Efforts

Goals of the Major

The goal of the major is to prepare graduates for a world that is more substantially impacted by environmental issues. Students will be well trained in applications of sustainability in today’s world. They will develop skills in active learning along with oral and written communication.
The Student Learning Outcomes of this major consist of:
1) Development and utilization of critical thinking skills
2) Ability to work independently in the creation of new knowledge
3) Demonstration of excellence in communication, with an emphasis on writing
4) Factual academic knowledge in a broad range of environmental issues
5) Expertise in a specific area of environmental studies
6) Understanding the importance of sustainability and ability to implement in life and career.
Graduates will also attain thorough knowledge in the following environmental issues:
i. Energy consumption, and associated ecological, social and political impacts
ii. Natural resource consumption, and associated impacts
iii. Climate change impacts on ecosystems and society
iv. Population growth to nine billion by the end of this century
v. The ecosystem and social impacts of common consumer products
vi. Educating the general public on current and impending environmental problems

Comparison with Other Universities

The new Environmental and Sustainability Studies Major’s focus on sustainability and its interdisciplinary uniqueness will place it at the forefront of innovation in this area in comparison to other universities. The program will be among the first in the nation to provide a transdisciplinary, holistic approach to understanding, and making changes in, the relationship between humans and their environment. The majority of majors provided by University of Kentucky’s Benchmark Institutions are Bachelor of Science degrees such as “Environmental Science.” This shows UK’s innovation and desire to compete in the national scene amongst other large universities.

Career Opportunities for Graduates

A degree Environmental and Sustainability Studies will provide graduates with a broad liberal-arts education in the context of sustainability that will prepare them for an array of career possibilities. Jobs requiring people who are knowledgeable in environmental issues and sustainability are becoming more and more numerous as natural resources dwindle. This degree will prepare the students for a wide range of career opportunities in city, state and federal government, non-profit organizations, professional societies, and in the private sector. The students will be particularly well-prepared for careers where communication skills are essential. Because the degree provides broad-based academic training, ENS graduates would be well-suited to become educators throughout the P-12 grades. They could pursue careers at the state-level. In Kentucky this could be in the Department for Environmental Protection. At the federal level there will be career opportunities in the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

*Unless otherwise stated, the above information was taken from the proposal for the major written by Dr. David Atwood and ENS Advisory Board members.

Operations Integration

Major Requirements

The Environmental & Sustainability Studies Major is unique in that it is extremely interdisciplinary. It pulls classes from several different fields such as Geography, Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Philosophy, Political Science, Economics, English, and Statistics. The program will exist as a Bachelor of Arts degree in the College of Arts and Sciences. The coursework requires 18 credits of core courses and 24 elective credits that fall under five different focus areas. The focus areas are Economics and Policy, Ecosystems, Energy and Land, Society, and Water Resources. 15 of the 24 required credits must be taken from one chosen focus area while six must be taken from a second area and three from a third. That translates into five classes in one Area, two in a second Area, and one in a third. The creators of the program call this the 5:2:1 rule. The program intends to help the College of Arts and Sciences reach a goal of being defined by the four key characteristics of multidisciplinary scholarly research, connectivity with the world, innovative preparation for life and career, and substantive community involvement.

Core Courses

The program has six required core courses, each with a different goal for students. Together, the courses will help the students develop skills in active learning, oral and written communication, and a broad understanding of sustainability in today’s world.
In the first year, students will complete ENS 201 and ENS 202. Humanities and Social Sciences will be covered in ENS 201: Environmental and Sustainability Studies 1. Natural Sciences and Policy will be covered in ENS 202: Environmental and Sustainability Studies 2. The textbook that will be used for these two courses is Environmental Science (8th Edition) by Daniel Chiras. This book was chosen because it introduces students to techniques in Active Learning and its well-built connection to sustainability.
In order to build student’s writing and critical thinking skills, they will be required to complete ENG 205: Intermediate Writing. In this course, students will engage in activities and studies that are applicable to the environment. Sections taught by Eric Reece will incorporate studies of Robinson Forrest. In order to improve both writing and oral communication skills, students will be required to do oral presentations on written assignments.
Students will be required to take ENS 300: Special Topics in Environmental and Sustainability Studies. This course will be a way of introducing new courses that are needed within the major requirements, for example the need for an ecology course specific to the needs of Environmental and Sustainability Studies. The course will also introduce new and important topics to the degree program.
PHI 336: Environmental Ethics will be required. This course builds an understanding of moral and ethical issues regarding humans and their interaction with the environment. The course addresses topics such as man’s value in nature and the intrinsic value of the biotic community and the parts that make up the biotic community. It helps students answer questions and evaluate conflicts about human’s social interactions with the environment.
The Capstone course for Environmental and Sustainability Studies is ENS 400. This course is a cumulation of students’ activities while completing the ENS major. The students will choose a project where they will show that they can apply the skills and knowledge they acquired through completing the coursework for ENS. These projects must be clearly identified and approved by faculty members. A written description of the project in the form of “Senior Thesis” will be required.

Areas of Expertise

21 credits must be taken within the five areas of expertise. Five classes will be taken from one area, two from another, and one from a third. The courses selected under the areas must come from three different departments in order to keep studies interdisciplinary.
The first option is Economics and Policy. The courses in this Area will provide the students with training in the interconnectedness of economics, policy and development. An understanding of how a sustainable balance is needed between economic growth and natural resource use is necessary will be attained through this coursework. Students are able to choose clusters of courses available under this focus area that pertain to their career goals.
The second option is Ecosystems. The courses in this area will provide students with an in-depth knowledge of ecology and biology. Students will gain an understanding of the delicacy of human interactions with ecosystems and how these interactions need to be more sustainable.
The third option is Energy and Land. Land use is involved when humans extract resources for energy. Students will study human’s use of land through the collection of timber, coal, oil, and other energy commodities. They will develop ideas of how to make energy use more sustainable.
The fourth option is Society. This Area focuses on society and environmental interaction. Humans are both drivers of environmental change and sources for solutions of environmental issues. This Area has a strong platform in the social sciences so that students gain in-depth understanding of the dynamics between humans and the environment.
The fifth and final option is Water Resources. Dependent on individual’s decisions, this Area can be either human-oriented or science-oriented. As the human population exponentially grows, water is becoming an increasingly limited yet necessary resource. Students will study sources, conservation, policy, economics, and human impacts of water resources.
*Unless otherwise stated, the above information was taken from the proposal for the major written by Dr. David Atwood and ENS Advisory Board members.

Planning, Administration, and Engagement

Planning and Administration

Advisory Board

Dr. David Atwood is the program director for the new degree. He is the head of an advisory board to Dr. Mark Kornbluh, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, which met weekly during the Fall semester of 2010 to develop the new program. In addition to Dr. Atwood, the advisory board includes Drs. Arne Bathke, Shannon Bell, Kari Burchfield, Lisa Cligget, Alan Fryar, Rebecca Glasscock, Jim Krupa, Jeff Osborn, Tad Mutersbaugh, Eric Reece, Bob Sandmeyer, Alice Turkington, and Ernie Yanarella, along with Ted Schatzki, the Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Shane Tedder, the University Sustainability Coordinator.
According to the program proposal, “the Advisory Board will make all the decisions regarding the courses to incorporate into the Program, new courses to be developed, and any other programmatic or curricular issues. The Advisory Board will also oversee the design and content of the Program Website, the Guest Lecture Program, suitable Engagement Activities, Student Scholarships, the selection of an External Advisory Board and any other activities the Program engages in.” The Advisory Board will also develop methods of evaluation with which they will review the program every six years. They will periodically assess student development, based on an Assessment Plan developed in conjunction with the University’s Assessment Office, in order to solve problems with individual students, as well as within the program itself. This will ensure intellectual and vocational success of the graduates and continually improve the reputation of the program. Finally, they will assess the targeted outcomes of the program each semester. The targeted outcomes are based on the College of Arts and Sciences’ four key program characteristics: innovative preparation for life and career, multidisciplinary scholarly research, connectivity with the world, and substantive community involvement.

External Advisory Board

The External Advisory Board will consist of members from city, state and federal agencies, and local and national corporations, to be chosen by the Advisory Board will identify individuals from city, state, and federal agencies, local and national corporations, to serve on the Program’s External Advisory Board. The External Advisory Board will evaluate the program on an annual basis, provide guidance on career placement of graduating students, and assist with fund raising.


An integral aspect of the new ENS program will be a sense of community between the ENS scholars. The advisory board plans to develop the community atmosphere by coordinating relationships between the students and the University’s Office of Sustainability, by facilitating work in the wider community, by providing optional lectures to attend through the Guest Lecture Program.
The focus on community outreach also serves to foster what Atwood calls “an awareness of the interconnectedness” between society and the global environment. Developing such an awareness is a goal that permeates the entire program, but students will get to see that playing out in the real world through these programs.

Office of Sustainability

The University’s Office of Sustainability, headed by the University’s Sustainability Coordinator, Shane Tedder, is charged with fostering an institutional culture of sustainability. The office’s efforts fall under four categories: energy, dining and food, transportation, and recycling and resource recovery. Additionally, the office runs a website that connects all of the sustainability efforts across campus, including those by outside groups. The office will be a key resource for ENS students to get involved. There is a long list of current programs, developed by the Office of Sustainability, which the Advisory Board hopes students will plug into. In a recent interview, Atwood explained that Tedder is “a world expert on sustainability, but he’s one person, and he’s doing everything. … We would actually have … a way for students, within our independent study (ENS 395), to work with Shane, or work towards goals that Shane has identified.”

Community Outreach

The ENS program proposal includes a list of potential engagement activities. Among them are participation in the University’s Solar Decathalon, the “Green Buildings, Green Cities” program, getting involved with activism through the campus Greenthumb Club, membership in the Student Sustainability Council, and internships with the Kentucky Department of Renewable Energy, Secretary Len Peters, and corporations with local offices, such as Lexmark and Toyota.
Guest Lecture Program
The guest lecture program will bring experts to the University to further the students’ intellectual stimulation. Potential speakers include professors from environmental degree programs at other universities (e.g., Richard York of the University of Oregon), high-profile speakers from within the environmental movement, such as Paul Ehrlich, authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, and individuals with State, Federal, and environmental organizations.


Since the program has not yet been approved by the University, it is difficult to assess specific successes and failures. Regardless, the proposal has done an excellent job of allowing sustainability concepts to permeate the structure of the program. It would seem futile to have sustainability major that itself was not sustainable, and the Advisory Board has managed to steer clear of such a discrepancy. The variety of classes available to the ENS majors, in combination with the 5:2:1 policy, will help students develop a holistic understanding of what sustainable societies will look like. Finally, periodic student and program assessments by the Advisory Board will contribute to the continual growth and improvement of the program, its reputation, and its students’ academic and practical knowledge.
It will be telling to see the outcome of collaboration with corporations, such as financial support for a speaker in the guest lecture series, or membership on the External Advisory Board. Corporations are often criticized for masquerading as advocates of sustainability, while they’re really only picking the low-hanging fruit. That is to say, they advertise their brand name or individual products as being green or eco-friendly in order to appeal to customers’ ethos, but that does nothing to reduce overall societal consumption habits or promote sustainability on a systemic level.

In an interview with Dr. Rebecca Glasscock, she discussed one of her few concerns with the organization of the major. She mentioned the textbook chosen for ENS 201 and ENS 202 was an “Environmental Science” textbook. This concerned her because she felt that the major really needs to be defined as “Environmental STUDIES” because Environmental Science is so much more quantitative while Environmental Studies is qualitative. Because the major is a liberal-arts major, it sets itself apart from programs offered by other schools and Dr. Glasscock felt that this really defines the program.

*All of the information for the Environmental and Sustainability Studies major was pulled from the Program Proposal, unpublished interviews with Drs. Atwood and Glasscock, and a published interview with Dr. Atwood, which can be found here.