Towards a Sustainable Agriculture: A Curriculum for High School Classes

Created with SARE support
Douglas Maxwell, Diane Mayerfeld | 2015

This free high-school curriculum addresses the social, environmental and economic impacts of agriculture. The curriculum provides a critical analysis of agricultural and food systems, and helps students understand new concepts through hands-on examples. The curriculum includes six modules, designed to be incorporated into existing classes.

This curriculum was developed by the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS). Development of this curriculum was funded in part by a grant NCR-SARE.

The following key themes inform the whole curriculum:

  1. Sustainable agriculture addresses social, environmental, and economic impacts. 
  2. Food system and agroecosystem analysis offer critical theoretical frameworks for understanding agriculture. 
  3. Sustainable agriculture is defined and driven by goals. Practices are sustainable only insofar as they support those goals. Thus the same practice may be sustainable in one context and unsustainable in another.
  4. Real world examples provide the best opportunities for understanding the potential and the challenges of sustainable agriculture. The curriculum provides some case study examples, but teachers are strongly encouraged to introduce students to people engaged in sustainable agriculture or food businesses in their immediate area.

The curriculum is divided into five different modules (a sixth module is under development). Each module is designed to be taught in as little as 5 hours of class time (or one week), though if you choose to use all the material in the module, it will take longer. The modules are designed to be taught independently, however, we strongly recommend that teachers ensure that their students are familiar with the basic concepts covered in Module I before proceeding to any of the other modules. These basic concepts can be introduced (or reviewed) in as little as two hours. 

  1. Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture
  2. Corn, Beans, and Burgers: field crops in sustainable agriculture
  3. Flesh, Fish, and Fowl: animals in sustainable agriculture
  4. Apples, Beets, and Zinnias: sustainable horticulture
  5. A Growing Market: organic agriculture

Educators are welcome to adapt and reproduce curriculum sections for non-commercial use.

Want more information? See the related SARE grant:

This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.