This is an advanced course for students interested in the ecology of agricultural systems. Students will gain a more in-depth understanding of inputs and outputs in agricultural systems and their relation to primary productivity, nutrient cycling, energy flows, and species interactions on farms. We will consider agroecology as a science based in, although fundamentally different from, ecology and agronomy. This course also recognizes that agroecological practices cannot be considered apart from the socioeconomic and political processes in which they are a part. We will address questions like, can temporal and spatial crop diversity be used to manage pest and disease populations?, how can animals contribute to soil fertility on farm?, what ecosystem services do agroecosystems provide?, and what factors influence farmers’ choice of practices? Students will undertake a case study of a local farm. Labs will involve participatory research, farmer interviews and field mapping, and quantification of physical and biological agroecological variables.
The Agrarian Myth (Syllabus)
The “family farm” as a unit worthy of protection and replication is a construct deeply embedded in American culture. Thomas Jefferson was a devout defender of agrarianism. He believed that democracy, personal freedom, and virtue are dependent on a society in which people own and work the land in order to sustain the family unit (the yeoman tradition). The yeoman tradition, however, was never a reality in the United States. Since early colonial times farmers were engaged in commercial agriculture, and there were various forms of land tenure from near feudal relations to sharecropping. Curiously, however, agrarianism still holds a strong place in present day culture. Many historians have coined this contradiction “the agrarian myth.” Agrarianism is now even coupled with environmentalism; the small, family farmer is argued to be a better land steward, and the family farm unit has become a pivotal point of opposition to large, industrial farms. What evidence exists to support this argument? What is “good land stewardship”? How does land tenure, market structure, and regulation affect agricultural practice? In this class we will examine the agrarian ideals of past Americans like Jefferson and the Grangers to the current philosophies of the influential writer Wendell Berry. We will compare these ideals to records of practice by reading historical accounts of agriculture in New York State, studies of organic, conventional, and small-scale family farming, and farmers’ memoirs. The class will be reading and writing intensive, and will include a field trip to an area farm.
City and Hinterland (Syllabus)
Cities have always been intimately connected to their rural hinterlands. The waterways and farmland surrounding cities gave rise to urban commerce and population density. In turn, urban growth resulted in the pollution and destruction of the natural environment. Urban life has been characterized as the antithesis of environmental lifestyles, where consumption reigns and people are divorced from their natural environments. Now, as rural to urban migration continues at rapid rates, cities face the new challenge of housing over half of the world’s population. Many post-industrial cities in the world’s more developed countries have become leaders in environmental governance supporting polices that are reclaiming polluted sites, conserving energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, fostering urban agriculture and mass transit. Urban residents are touted as having a lower carbon footprint than their rural counterparts. Can urban life really become sustainable? This is an advanced course in which student will develop a thesis paper to be presented by the end of term.
Global Problems, Local Solutions (Syllabus)
This is an introductory course in environmental studies. In this course we will consider how global environmental problems take on societal importance and what steps have been taken to deal with them. What is the role of science in describing environmental problems? How does ideology shape what are described as problems? What kinds of conflict arise in the process of defining problems and solutions? The course will focus on the American environment movement from the 1960s to the present day to familiarize students with its main actors and issues and to track the change in environmental thought over time. We will focus on how people pursue solutions through policy, grassroots organizing, research, and writing. Students in this course will be asked to confront their own ideologies about the environment and reconcile them with the knowledge gained in the course. The course uses environmental issues to explore how normative and empirically based arguments are used in public discourse to achieve change.
Bennington Farm to Plate (Syllabus)
In 2011, Vermont released its Farm to Plate Strategic Plan to provide a rationale and approach to increase economic development in Vermont’s food and farm sector and improve access to healthy, local foods. Much of this work is to be done by a network of devoted individuals and organizations across the state, including a nascent Farm to Plate Council in Bennington. This is an advanced course in which we will contribute to the statewide effort by conducting research on food and farm issues in the Bennington region. Students will learn methods for making systematic observations about food production, distribution, or consumption, interpreting the data collected, and documenting results. Students in the course will engage in group projects and an individual project of their own design. In Spring 2013 we will collaborate with Kate Purdie’s documentary production course to explore video as a means of documentation.
This course will be an introduction to the cross-cultural study of the relationships between people and plants. We will focus on how indigenous peoples around the world today know and use plants for food, medicine, shelter, and rituals. We will examine folk taxonomies, the role of plants in religion and cosmology, the conservation of genetic diversity, and the ethics of bioprospecting and scientific documentation of indigenous knowledge. The course will include basic botany as well as cultural studies.
Advanced Projects in Environmental Studies
Students in this course will complete an original project of their design. Class time will be spent examining various lines of inquiry within environmental studies and the methodologies employed to investigate them. Students will identify common readings from primary literature for group discussions and peer-review each other’s work from the design phase to project completion. A final presentation of the project will be required as well as identification of outside reviewers. Students in this course should be prepared to conduct a substantial amount of independent work.