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UW Assistant Professor to Build Organic Agriculture Curriculum Available to Anyone

November 10, 2015
woman and man in field with flowers
Randa Jabbour describes her research plots at the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center near Lingle this summer. The plots can draw beneficial insects for alfalfa production. (UW Photo)

A University of Wyoming faculty member who believes organic agriculture is often oversimplified and misrepresented has her opportunity to correct that by building a relevant student curriculum with a $243,000 Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Randa Jabbour, in the UW Department of Plant Sciences, and Eric Gallandt, at the University of Maine, will interview instructors across the country and use a video of several agricultural producers in different regions to create a curriculum free for anyone to use.

The focus is creating undergraduate and graduate curricula.

“A lot of people don’t understand the complexity and the rules behind organic agriculture,” says Jabbour, an assistant professor of agroecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “I’m excited to introduce the students to that complexity, and for them to decide whether or not that’s something they want to pursue.”

Organic is only one farming method among many, she notes.

“It’s one opportunity people have,” Jabbour says. “I don’t want people to think I’m saying this is the way all agriculture should be. This is just one approach to take.”

The goal is to provide relevant material to instructors across the country who may not be well-versed in current practices and rules for the National Organic Program, she says.

“We hope to fill a niche by giving the resources to those faculty members who don’t know much about the topic so they can address it in their classes,” Jabbour says. “Our goal is to work with experts to put together a curriculum that provides high-quality, science-based, farm-supported information that can be used across the country, even if instructors don’t necessarily have strengths in that area.”

The project has just started, but Jabbour says she has received letters of support from faculty members in 10 states saying they want to participate.

Once completed, the curriculum will be in a public Web location so other instructors can access the material. The curriculum draws from different agricultural regions to make it applicable across the country.

“The idea is to give people a better understanding of the diversity of agricultural operations in the United States,” she says. “Depending upon where you go to school, a lot of us teach with a regional emphasis because those are examples that are easy to include in the curriculum.”

The combination of interviewing instructors and creating the farmer video (it will include a producer from Wyoming) is to show students how different agriculture can be and also what operators or producers have in common.

That portion of the project will demonstrate the depth and breadth of agriculture in America, and help build a curriculum on critical concepts and skills pertinent to students no matter their locations, Jabbour says.

She will teach the modules online in fall 2016, and other instructors will test the material in face-to-face classrooms.

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