Jenner Farm

Moving society in positive directions

 

Several of the agriculture classes at Prescott College take place on Jenner Farm – 20 acres of rich alluvial soils bordered by towering cottonwood and mesquite trees, 26 miles outside of town. This sort of “learning farm” and the hands on curriculum it facilitates is fairly unique for four-year undergraduate schools in North America.

Agroecology is a widely accepted and growing discipline that applies ecological principles to agricultural production. “It’s both scientific discipline and social movement,” said Dr. Tim Crews, head of the Prescott College agroecology program, and internationally recognized researcher of nutrient dynamics in agricultural native ecosystems.

Prescott College offers a broad, interdisciplinary curriculum that supports student interests in agroecology.  The core of the curriculum consists of six courses that span an entire growing season, from February to October.

Jenner Farm

Several of the agriculture classes at Prescott College take place on Jenner Farm – 20 acres of rich alluvial soils bordered by towering cottonwood and mesquite trees, 26 miles outside of town. This sort of “learning farm” and the hands on curriculum it facilitates is fairly unique for four-year undergraduate schools in North America.

Natural Systems Agriculture

An important focus of the work being done at Jenner Farm focuses on Natural Systems Agriculture – perennial agricultural systems that are designed to mimic the structure and function of natural plant communities of specific ecosystems. Under the direction of Dr. Crews, students in the agroecology program are developing crops and cropping arrangements uniquely adapted for the Southwest.

Regionally adapted germplasm

Classes across the agroecology curriculum stress the importance of regionally adapted crops, maintenance of genetic diversity, maintenance of soil fertility using minimal to no purchased inputs, and water conservation. Social considerations also receive considerable attention, such as ownership of germplasm, patenting of indigenous property, and how corporate control of food crops impacts food security of different populations and nations.

Critical thinking about farm issues

“There are numerous reasons why a liberal arts education is enhanced with experience on a student farm, but possibly none is more important at Prescott College than the development of critical thinking around farming and food issues,” Crews said.

If farming is anything, it’s humbling.  No sooner does a student succeed at raising a beautiful crop of chilies than blister beetles move through it like General Sherman’s army, leaving complete destruction in their wake. Crews is convinced that when examined from the classroom alone, it is easier to view some of the cardinal agricultural issues of our day as black and white: issues like whether there is any place in sustainable agriculture for genetically modified organisms, or agrochemicals, or immigrant labor. The truism that critical thinking ends where fundamentalism begins holds in agroecology.   

Green Washing

Moreover, as organic agriculture has become more profitable, the number of products sold to growers as beneficial, or even necessary, has risen. The next generation of farmers needs to know the difference between truly sustainable products and practices and “greenwash.”

Crews explained: “By learning to test claims, such as whether microbial inoculants accelerate or improve compost in any way compared to controls, students develop confidence in their own abilities to judge the sustainability of practices and products themselves.”

Beyond Prescott College

Approximately half of the students who have studied agroecology at Prescott College have gone on to pursue a formal vocation in a food or farm-related field. Graduate research and farming are two of the most common pursuits of agroecology grads, but there are many others.  Some have worked to integrate gardens into primary and secondary educational settings, where the garden becomes a tactile entry into science, health, history, art, and other subjects. Others have worked on food security projects in inner-city neighborhoods in the US or in rural settings abroad.  Still others have started businesses, from CSAs to heirloom seed companies.

Vital Role

The Jenner Farm and several on-campus gardens at Prescott College play a vital role in academics, as well as contributing to the campus community’s sense of place.  First and foremost, the gardens and farm facilitate experiential learning, contributing to the development of both pragmatic and critical thinking skills.

Move society in positive directions
“Regardless of whether graduates go on to farm, teach, conduct research, breed seeds, work for non-governmental organizations, focus on food security, or simply consume food,” Crews said, “the overarching objective of the college’s food and farm programs is not food production per se, but to nurture students with complex understandings of sustainability, who can grapple with tradeoffs at multiple scales, and ultimately move society in positive directions both ecologically and socially.”

 


Prescott College Jenner Farm is a member of the Organization of Biological Field Stations   Jenner Farm OBFS

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