Building student capacity to lead sustainability transitions in the food system through farm-based authentic research modules in sustainability sciences (FARMS)
Undergraduate courses provide valuable opportunities to train and empower students with the knowledge, skills, and motivation to advance society in more sustainable directions. This article emphasizes the value of bridging primary scientific research with undergraduate education through the presentation of an integrated experiential learning and primary research model called Farm-based Authentic Research Modules in Sustainability Sciences (FARMS). FARMS are collaboratively designed with agricultural stakeholders through a community needs assessment on pressing food system issues and opportunities with the objective for faculty and students to jointly identify evidence-based management solutions. We illustrate the implementation of FARMS in an undergraduate course in Ecological Agriculture at Dartmouth College, NH where students assessed various agroecological solutions for managing plant vitality, weeds, soil quality, pests, pollinators, and biodiversity at the Dartmouth Organic Farm. Student reflections indicate that the FARMS course component was beneficial for understanding agroecological theories and concepts while also motivating involvement in sustainability sciences despite the challenges of primary research. Educator reflections noted that the FARMS pedagogical approach facilitated achieving course objectives to develop students’ ability for systems thinking, critical thinking, and interdisciplinarity while fostering students’ collaboration skills and overall motivation for creating change. Adopting the FARMS model should enable faculty in the sustainability sciences to serve as bridges between the learning, practicing, and scientific communities while supporting educational programming at student and community farms. Ultimately, it is expected that the implementation of FARMS will increase student capacity and prepare the next generation of leaders to address complex challenges of the food system using an evidence-based approach.