Diverse approaches in agriculture and education enhance problem-solving capacity

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Montana State University - Bozeman, The Graduate School


As humanity faces challenges to feeding itself amidst increasing rates of environmental degradation and disconnection from our food growing ways, we have a responsibility to not only work towards transforming our agricultural systems to be more sustainable, but to prepare the future generation of leaders with the skills, knowledge, and problem-solving approaches that are necessary to handle these challenges. This interdisciplinary dissertation utilizes mixed methods including quantitative and qualitative methodologies to examine problems that range from management of small-scale vegetable systems to pedagogical and systemic approaches in our post-secondary educational systems. An overarching theme emerges that calls on diversifying the way we manage soils and classrooms alike. Chapter One discusses philosophical assumptions and interpretive frameworks that underlie our institutional inquiry apparatus. It also discusses my positionality as a researcher working in this problem space. Chapter Two outlines the foundation of literature that supports the three primary research chapters. Chapter Three reports on research on soil fertility in organic high tunnel vegetable production and concludes that utilizing organic amendments that provide rapid short term Nitrogen release are important to crop yield. Chapter four investigates the effect of an active learning intervention on the capacity for upper-level cropping systems students to quantitatively reason and critically think about complex soil health concepts situated in real-world contexts. The evidence in support of active learning to compliment didactic instruction is clear. Chapter Five explores undergraduate student perceptions of sustainability using a grounded theory study approach. The emergent conceptual model describes one's background knowledge, life and educational experiences, point of view, and existing interest as the primary factors affecting how they evaluate sustainability in any given context. These findings support the use of campus farms for deep learning. Chapter Six includes personal reflection and ties together themes that identify the importance of using diverse approaches in our agricultural management, pedagogical and curricular development, and systemic models of knowledge construction in order to advance society towards a more sustainable future on this planet.




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