Students in sustainable agriculture (or agroecology) programs are big picture
people. They study the various factors that affect the health of the complex
ecosystem of a farm.
"[Agroecologists] may have to create their own job as consultants to agricultural
industries or they may be involved in agricultural industries directly," says
Judith Myers, a professor of agricultural sciences. "They could be teachers
or politicians or they may want to go on in law."
Brad Masi is the sustainable agriculture projects manager of the environmental
studies program at Oberlin College in Ohio. He says agroecology programs
cover ecology, botany, chemistry, economics and politics.
That's because the health of an agricultural ecosystem can be affected
by a range of influences, including soil types, soil fertility, diseases and
pests, government policies and market prices, Masi says.
"From handling pest outbreaks to reading a soil test or determining
an appropriate price for a product, a farmer must be competent across
a wide range of [disciplines]. That is why agroecology is an ideal area of
study for liberal arts or interdisciplinary studies."
What agroecologists do, Masi says, is examine a farm as a complex ecosystem.
They try to create the right conditions for the farm to sustain itself
-- without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
According to Masi, there are some high school subjects that will get you
off to a good start. "A good background in biology is always a plus,
He says a basic business background is vital. "Operating a farm requires
superior organizational abilities. Nature provides very small windows of opportunity
for you to step through, [so] you need to learn to organize your time effectively
and constantly shift your priorities according to what markets and climate
Matt Liebman is a professor of agronomy -- the science of soil management
and crop production -- at Iowa State University. He says that many volunteer
and paid opportunities exist for high school students.
"Students could get involved in some sort of food production on farms
or in garden plots," he says. "They could be part of environmental monitoring
teams taking water samples or counting wildlife on agricultural land."
Occupational Outlook HandbookFor more information related to this field of study, see: Agricultural
and Food Scientists
Sustainable Farming ConnectionA site where farmers can find and share information
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)Learn how sustainable agriculture works on diverse farms throughout
the United States