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5 Students Finish Summer Intensive

by Kate Wolford

Published: Friday, August 10, 2018

Five college students have just finished the Agroecology Summer Intensive program at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center's Rieth Village. It's been a broad ranging experience for them, from visiting area farming enterprises to leading lunch discussions to caring for goats.

John Mischler is a professor at Goshen College who teaches environmental science and oversees the Sustainability and Environmental Education Department (SEED). He directs the summer program, and explained that Merry Lea, near Wolf Lake, is "the field station for Goshen College."

While enrolled in the summer intensive, which can have between four to 10 students (and currently has five), not only do the students, eat, work and live at Merry Lea for part of the summer, they earn college credit in the process. And while the program is a Goshen College offering, students from other colleges are welcome and are usually represented during the intensive.

Mischler explained that "agroecology is nothing new and is an approach that many farmers in the area are using." It can involve, for example, using cover crops, earthworms and beneficial insects. And a variety of farmers, from those with large operations to "market garden farmers," benefit from these ecologically favorable techniques. He added, "Our students go beyond farming methods and also learn about things like food banks, farm labor and food access."

A typical day for the students starts with farm chores that need to be completed by 8 a.m. Next comes a practicum on the farm, during which the students might learn to prune fruit trees or trim an animal's hoof. Or they might have a student-led roundtable. Lunch might include a "lunch and learn" with perhaps a guest speaker who works in food systems. Once a week, everyone comes together for lunch.

After lunch comes class time, split among topics like food systems, agroecology, soil management and animal husbandry. This could involve a classic lecture format or a field trip to one of the many farms close by, who, Mischler emphasized, are very helpful and open to the students. Fridays have been fun days, where they could "learn fun activities that have fallen by the wayside," like canning foods.

Wednesdays have been field trip days, which could take them to any type of agricultural or food systems enterprise within a few hours' drive. The variety of destinations reflects the variety of job opportunities that students who take the summer program can expect to find with some sustainability and agroecology learning under their belts: working in a big animal operation or a thousand acre farm or working for a hospital system, where, Mischler noted, "Food is becoming one of the pillars of preventative care."

For those who wonder about how useful studying agroecology is, Mischler said the jobs that are available are all across the board." Since Goshen College offers majors and minors in sustainability management, sustainability studies, sustainable food systems, as well as a minor in agroecology, students can major in, say, journalism, with a minor in agroecology and end up as a food writer or working in social media connected to food and farming.

Ryan Miller, a Goshen College senior who will graduate in December with a degree in sustainable food systems, said, "I have an interest in agriculture as a whole." He also has a interest in hay and pastured beef, and while he doesn't necessarily want to be in dairy full-time, a job that offers a mix of working with animals and feed would be appealing.

For Ryan, the best part of the summer program has been "getting out (on field trips) and seeing what is out there," like plant diversity and different varieties of hay.

Gabriel Miller, who is a Goshen College junior, is majoring in sustainable food systems. He finds that his studies allow him to "explore the intersection between the environment and social issues." Miller is from Ithaca, N.Y. and was drawn to Goshen College for the environmental and sustainability programs, as well as its music program and the fact that he has family in Goshen.

Gabe said that the best part of the summer program has been "learning concrete skills that I need in order to grow food." He has also enjoyed living in a community of other students and knowing that in being at Merry Lea, "People see problems and we want to solve them."

Both Gabe and Ryan, along with their peers, will have finished the Agroecology Summer Intensive but a new class of students will start in the fall.

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