Land-Based Learning

Students and farmers have teamed up to work on sustainable agriculture issues through on-farm projects. Students take an active role in problem solving, learning about the food system, and discovering careers in agriculture. ​

Land-Based Learning

Land-based learning is a multi-generational educational approach to promoting on-farm sustainable agriculture in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. 

Studying soil health

Superior Central Schools and Log Cabin LivestockSoil Health

Students from Tim Bliss' classes worked with farmers Ben and Denise Bartlett to develop best practices for hay fields that are too remote from the farm to be grazed.

This issue, which relates to ecosystem health and farm financial sustainability, led to an investigation of the relationship between soil microbial activity, soil health, and crop yield.

Students designed an experiment to examine four different treatments and set up test plots on land that had been hayed consistently for several years without being fertilized or grazed. Intern Beau Rondeau collected data over the 2018 growing season. Students visited the site to collect soil samples and hosted a presentation based on those results that was attended by area farmers. 

In 2019, students conducted soil health tests that emphasized biological activity with assistance from MSU Extension Educator Jim Isleib and presented their work at the Alger County Farmer Potluck. 

Monitoring invasive species in blueberries

Chassell Township Schools and Gierke Blueberry FarmMonitoring invasive species

Students from Mary Markham's classes worked with farmers John and Lynn Gierke to investigate the life cycle of an insect which poses an emerging threat to Michigan's fruit industry: the Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) fruit fly.

Intern Wyatt Gerner set traps over the 2018 growing season to monitor SWD and led a farm visit to with peers to continue delving into the issue of how the farm will face the changing ecosystem and economics brought about by the invasive insect. Students collected samples of insects to identify in their school lab and designed pollinator hotels to be installed at the farm using locally sourced and recycled materials. Wyatt was selected as Youth Citizen of the Year in Chassell in connection with his dedication to this research. 

In 2019, students learned to propagate blueberries from cuttings. They will started transplants of native plants to attract and support pollinators, and helped establish those plants at the farm on a planting day. They also worked on signs to educate the u-pick farm's many visitors  about the importance of native pollinators, protecting habitat, and approaches to limiting the spread of invasive species.

Designing slug traps

JLK Bahweting and Waishkey Bay FarmDesigning slug traps

Students from Heather Purple's classes worked with Bay Mills Community College farm manager Cloud Sparks to develop sustainable solutions to slug damage in the farm's community garden for elders and hoop house. 

Students began by learning about the farm and the food produced there, then searched for slug habitat and participated in activities to better understand insects and invertebrates in the food web. Students designed slug traps, 3-D printed the traps, and began testing them in highly affected areas. 

In 2019, students continued to test new prototypes, comparing efficacy across different approaches using observation and data collected by farm staff. With support from MSU Extension FRTEP Educator Kat Jacques, students collaborated with Waishkey Bay for events at the farm to share their findings with those who use the community garden as well as area farmers.  

The project found a new professional audience with others working in non-formal agriculture education across tribal communities at the FRTEP Professional Development Conference in Sault Ste. Marie, MI.

Exploring new markets for dairy farmsExporing new markets

Carney Nadeau FFA and Brock Dairy Farm

Students from Pat Wehner's classes worked with Lindsay Kozikowski and Ann Brock to develop a direct-to-consumer freezer beef market for dairy steers.

Students began by learning about the farm through classroom visits from the Brocks to get background in the dairy industry. In routing calves toward the beef market and monitoring the cost of feed, new marketing initiatives, and sales, students can determine whether this approach will function as a profitable supplement to farm revenue as milk prices are at historic lows.  Summer interns learned about diet and routine care for the calves. 

Engineering a compost pad

Iron Mountain High School and Slagle's Family Farm

Students from Brian Waitrovich's classes worked with farmers Jennifer and Jason Slagle to design a compost pad that will serve the farm as it expands.Compost pad

Students toured the farm to learn about the diversified business model, which includes produce and meat marketed through CSA, farmers markets, and wholesale outlets. The farm is expanding to include a commercial kitchen for value added products and meat processing. To understand how the farm can close a loop by utilizing nutrients on the farm, students interviewed the farmers to find out how much and where they compost, and then began studying the biological process of composting in the classroom. Students have investigated how the watershed, property lines, and cost will influence the placement of the compost pad they design.

Through partnerships with MSU Extension Educator Monica Jean, NRCS District Conservationist Tom Berendt, and MAEAP Verifier Erin Satchell, students planned an optic survey of the site and made recommendations about compost pad placement and design.

Providing fresh produce

GOISD Career Technical Education - Agriculture and Taiga Farm and VineyardsFresh produce

Students from Bob Genisot's classes worked with farmer Darrin Kimbler to assess the risks and opportunities associated with adding a CSA enterprise to an existing farm business. 

Students met with Kimbler to create a personalized newsletter template and marketing materials in anticipation of the first CSA delivery. Interns Vai Triggiano and Reiley Hollenbeck spent time on the farm over the 2018 growing season to learn about managing animals and diverse vegetable crops in a direct-marketing context. After visiting the farm in the fall, students created a social media campaign to promote an Open Farm event, which welcomed CSA members and the community for a celebration of the local food in the harvest season. 

In 2019, students partnered with the farm to learn about transplant production and crop planning in preparation for using these skills in greenhouses located on school grounds. By starting transplants in partnership with the farm, students learned about cold hardy varieties, season extension practices, and job skills that are applicable outside an agricultural context. Treating the farm as a living classroom, students investigated how the business principles of a successfully managed small farm translate to producing transplants that improve access to fresh food and support further school agriculture projects.


Land-Based Learning Research publications

​McKim, A. J., Raven, M. R., Palmer, A., & McFarland, A. (2019). Community as context and content: A land-based learning primer for agriculture, food, and natural resources education. Journal of Agricultural Education, 60 (1), 172-185.

North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Conference 2019 Poster and Abstract

McKim, A. J., Raven, M. R., Palmer, A., McFarland, A., & Isleib, J. (2019). Land-based learning: A learning paradigm for building community and sustainable farms. Journal of Extension, 57(5).

Raven, M. R., McKim, A. J., & Palmer, A. (2020). Land-based learning centers: A multi-generational educational approach to promoting on-farm sustainable agriculture. Proceedings of the Posters at the American Association for Agricultural Education Research Conference, Virtual Conference, 105-108.