ERSC-2350H: Ecological Agriculture
Dr. Karen Thompson
At Trent, Canada’s future leaders in agriculture are being trained through the Trent School of the Environment to navigate these challenges and turn them into advantages.
In the Ecological Agriculture course, Dr. Karen Thompson is leading explorations into the environmental, social, economic, political, and cultural aspects of agriculture and food. Inside and outside the classroom, students examine ecological agriculture, soil and crop management, pests and diseases management, food policy, local food, and food security.
“I’m lucky to teach in an applied field where students are able to get outside, grow things, run experiments, and use some cool high-tech equipment in our teaching and research labs at Trent,” said Professor Thompson. “It is often seeing students have those ‘ah-ha!’ moments, where they understand how they may use ecological knowledge to improve the system or issue, are always great teaching experiences!”
Students in Ecological Agriculture learn to understand and take advantage of the inherent complexity of agroecosystems - a key factor in sustainable, ecological management of agri-food systems.
“The course allows me to explore ideas about agricultural methods in a way that I find approachable,” said Elias Abraham, a second-year student in the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SAFS) program and member of Champlain College. “During our class discussions Dr. Thompson often tells us that there are no wrong answers. I really appreciate this approach to teaching because it allows me to hear many different ideas from my peers. This often introduces me to new ways of thinking.”
Hands on learning outside the classroom
Partnering with local farmers allows students to connect with hands-on experience on real farms.
“Through my own connections and connections to our Trent Experimental Farm coordinator, Matt Porter, I'm able to provide the class the opportunity to get out and visit four local farms and learn about their operations and sustainability goals from the farmers themselves,” said Prof. Thompson.
Hearing the views and experience of full-time farmers is integral to understanding the issues facing the agricultural and food production industries.
“The most memorable experience was our field trip to four farms in the Peterborough area,” said Elias. “This was a great experience for me because we had the opportunity to see the production methods we discuss in class applied in the real world.”
Returning to Ecological Agriculture as a graduate student
In her 2018, Ruby Wetzel (Otonabee College) took the course as an undergraduate student in the SAFS program. Now a graduate student in the Environmental and Life Sciences (EnLS) program, Ruby has returned as a teaching assistant (TA) to help guide the next generation of students.
“The best part about SAFS courses is the emphasis on personal experience and experiential learning in agricultural systems. One of the main axioms of studying agricultural systems is complexity,” said Ruby.