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Courses That Change Your Life: Ecological Agriculture (Biol/Agric/Geol 303)

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Mar 05, 2015

There are few skills more practical, or more biblical, than that of growing your own food, and doing it the right way. Adam’s first responsibility was tending a garden. Today, amidst all the technology and complexity of modern life, understanding the basics of an ecological approach to agriculture has never been more important. That practicality is vividly presented to students in Au Sable’s course, Ecological Agriculture. Offered at Au Sable’s Pacific Rim Campus in the central portion of Washington’s Whidbey Island, a region of active and diverse agricultural activity, Ecological Agriculture, Ecological Agriculture offers students an opportunity to learn how to make an agricultural system as productive and an environmentally valuable as the natural system it replaces. Instead of the usual one-dimensional approach typical of modern industrial farming, Ecological Agriculture shows students how to design agricultural systems that can achieve multiple outcomes that not only produce food, but create stable communities, vibrant and diverse economies, and healthy environments.

Just as few skills are as personally practical as that of growing food, so few skills are as useful and foundational to Christian missions and development efforts worldwide. Few scholars or scientists could offer depth of experience, research and practice that combines technical knowledge of agricultural systems with an understanding of their essential role in missions and development, but Au Sable has one of them on its faculty. Ron Vos, Professor of Agriculture at Dordt College (Iowa), brings to his students the benefit of worldwide travel and consultation in developing agriculture systems, graduate education and research in agricultural science, and in-depth Christian reflection on the problems of agriculture and its role in Christian life and community through books like Biblical Holism and Agriculture (2002), Theocentric Sustainable Agriculture (2004),Just Agriculture (2005) and (with Del Vander Zee), A Christian Perspective on Sustainable Agriculture (in Signpost of God’s Liberating Kingdom (1998). From this unique combination of life experience, scientific study and biblical reflection, Ron notes that “the greatest value for students who take Ecological Agriculture is that they can take a course that is not available on their own campuses.  Many students have commented that the course has transformed their lives and opened up career opportunities and graduate school possibilities that they had not thought of before.”

Students who have taken Ecological Agriculture wholeheartedly agree. As one noted, “Before I took this class, I knew nothing about farming or agriculture. I am not a biology major, I have never planted anything that survived more than a week, and I'm freaked out by soil organisms. But this class really gave me an appreciation for agriculture, and for farming in general. I knew that farming was hard, but I never knew just how difficult it was or how important it was until after taking Dr. Vos's class. Although I will probably never be a farmer, I can now appreciate the role that farmers play in my community and to my survival.”

Ecological Agriculture is a course filled with “take home lessons”.  Or, perhaps, “take back to the garden lessons”.  It is an experience that can change the way a person goes about living at the most basic level and in one of the most universal and essential human activities: eating. Few changes can be more foundational than that. These changes can happen in Ecological Agriculture.