Soil sustains life in many ways, but soil is also a limiting and non-renewable natural resource. Current best practices, including “organic” and “sustainable” agriculture, have become both movements as well as trademarks. At best these practices and associated regulations aim to protect this valuable resource. At worst, these practices are expensive and may be harmful to the sustainability of soil and ecosystems. In this class, we will take a critical look at the current state of organic farming at a local, national and international level, to critically evaluate the claims that organic is sustainable to soils, and that organic is more healthy for ecosystems and communities. As microbiologists, we aim to integrate our understanding of microbes with how they live in soil, and how they have become adapted to, and applied to, modern agriculture in organic and sustainable ways.
By the end of the class, students should be able to answer the following questions. What are the advantages to organic fertilizers, pesticides, GMO bans, bans on ionizing radiation and organic land management practices have over more “traditional” farm practices? How do these new practices affect ecosystem and community health? Is organic farming sustainable? Students should come away from this course with an appreciation of soils as a limiting natural resource, and an appreciation of the efforts of conservation from the perspective of farmers, policy makers as well as consumers.
This class meets on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from Sept 3 through Oct 1, 2014, and will fulfill one third of the GenEd requirement for the Integrative Experience.