Activities for Module V – A Growing Market: Organic Agriculture
Activities for Section C: Organic Agriculture in the Agroecosystem
- Activity 1: Soil building practices
- Activity 2. How will you feed your crop?
- Activity 3: Resource or pollutant
- Activity 4: Check it out!
- Activity 5: Take stock
Activity 1: Soil building practices
Purpose: Students will learn how cultural practices conserve and build soil.
Advance preparation: Print out the soil building worksheet and make copies if you want the students to fill the worksheet out on their own. Print out reference materials suggested in the worksheet key or assemble other references to help students find the answers.
Estimated time: 15 to 40 minutes
This activity can be run either as a class discussion or as a small group or individual activity, depending on the knowledge level of the students and access to reference materials.
The class discussion version will work if you think your students already have some idea of what these practices are. If you run it as a class discussion you can ask a different student to come up and act as scribe for the answer for each term on the board or a flip chart.
The small group or individual approach will work better if your students are not already familiar with the practices. You can either ask each group or student to explain all the terms in writing on the worksheet, or you can ask each group or student to find out about one or two terms and present their explanation to the whole class.
Activity 2: How will you feed your crop?
Purpose: Students will apply the organic regulations to the development of a nutrient management plan.
Advance preparation: Print out and make copies of the How will you feed your crops? worksheet. This activity builds on Activity 1 above and presumes students know something about the nutrient contributions of green manures and animal manure.
Estimated time: 30 to 50 minutes
Have students develop a nutrient management plan for organically grown sweet corn, either in groups or individually. Optional: invite one or two students or groups to present their plan to the class and let the class discuss
- Whether the plan will provide the recommended nutrients
- Whether the plan follows organic standards
- The potential for the plan to result in water pollution
- The overall sustainability of the plan, including impact on soil quality
- Alternative suggestions for nutrient management
Activity 3: Resource or pollutant
Purpose: Build understanding of agricultural pollution sources and the relationship between agricultural resources and pollutants.
Advance preparation: None
Estimated time: 15 minutes
- Have students brainstorm a list of agricultural pollutants. List the suggested pollutants on the board or on sticky notes.
- Ask them to consider whether any of them can also be considered as resources. Discuss what determines whether the chemical is a resource or a pollutant and how it could be kept in the “resource” category.
- Describe the source and the sink for each pollutant.
- Discuss how organic standards would affect the likelihood for that resource to become a pollutant.
- Nitrates and nitrites : key plant nutrients in the soil, pollutants in drinking water and surface water. Sources include fertilizers, manure, and human sewage; sinks are ground and surface waters. Organic standards prohibit use of synthetic N fertilizers, and in most but not all cases, N leaching seems to be less common in organic systems than in conventional systems.
- Phosphorus : key plant nutrient in the soil, pollutant in surface water. Sources include manure, soil erosion, and fertilizers. Organic standards limit use of some highly soluble P fertilizers, but reliance on manure for fertility can raise the potential for phosphorus runoff in some organic operations.
- Manure : beneficial soil amendment at moderate levels, pollutant in surface water and potential source of nitrates, phosphorus, and bacteria in surface and ground water. Source is livestock. Organic standards regulate the use of raw manure and encourage composting, which reduces the chance of contamination of food crops by pathogens, but overall the potential for pollution from manure storage and over-application is probably similar to that from well-managed conventional agriculture.
- Pesticides : can provide a convenient and economical way to manage pests, pollutants for non-target species from humans to beneficial insects, birds, fish, etc. Sources are purchased pesticides. Organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides. Both the regulations and the high cost of most pesticides allowed in organic agriculture discourage most organic farmers from heavy use. Also, most but not all allowed pesticides degrade quickly in the environment. Some potential for pollution from allowed and restricted pesticides exists.
- Pollen : necessary for growth of crops, genetically modified (GM) pollen is a pollutant for non-GM crops, especially organic crops; pollen can also be a pollutant for people suffering allergies. Source: all plants produce pollen, and genetically engineered crops produce GM pollen Use of GM crops is prohibited in organic agriculture, and if organically grown crops are contaminated by GM pollen they can not be sold as organic.
- Soil and harvested crops : critical resources, but can produce dust and sediment, causing air and water pollution. No difference between organic and conventional agriculture.
Activity 4: Check it out!
Purpose: Students will learn about allowed, restricted, and prohibited materials in organic agriculture. Students will also learn about information sources on agricultural inputs, including the labels, material safety data sheets, and the OMRI list.
Advance preparation: Assemble a list of agricultural inputs for students to research. Try to include inputs already used in your program as well as other products to get some products that are allowed, some that are restricted, and some that are prohibited in organic production. Print out copies of the Check it Out Worksheet. To do the full activity, students require access to the web. If your students do not have access to the web, print out sample pesticide reference materials for them to use.
Estimated time: 30 to 50 minutes
Divide students into small groups. Give each group 3 products to research, one that is prohibited, one that is restricted, and one that is allowed in organic agriculture. The groups can all research the same products or they can research different products. Give the groups 15 to 20 minutes to fill out the worksheet for their products.
When most of the groups are done filling out their worksheets, discuss the some or all of the questions below as a class.
- Overall, were the products allowed in organic agriculture more or less toxic for humans than those that are prohibited?
- Overall, were the products allowed in organic agriculture more or less likely to damage the environment than those that are prohibited?
- Why does organic agriculture have a category of restricted pesticides?
- How many students have used a labeled pesticide? (Remind them to include pesticides used in the home such as ant and roach killer and many disinfectants, as well as garden pesticides.)
- How many read the label and followed all the directions for proper use, storage, and disposal? Do they know that it is legally required to follow the label?
- Did the students understand all the terms used on the label? Ask students to list any terms they do not understand and explain those terms or get students to find out what they mean.
- Do students think most users understand all the terms? Is it realistic to expect all users to read and follow pesticide labels?
Activity 5: Take stock
Purpose: Students will apply principles of managing a property for biodiversity.
Advance preparation: Provide as detailed a map as you can of the school property. In addition, if possible, provide an aerial photo or detailed map of the school and surrounding area. You can find aerial photos and topographic maps on the web at http://terraserver-usa.com/advfind.aspx by typing in the address of your school, or you may be able to order them from your state Department of Natural Resources, Geological Survey, or a private supplier.
Estimated time: 1 hour
Divide your class into groups.
One group will be responsible for mapping the current biodiversity features of the school property (e.g., what areas are paved, what areas are in lawn, what areas have other plants).
One group will note areas of special biodiversity potential, such as a stream or wet area or dead tree, and also areas of biodiversity concern, such as invasive species or erosion problems.
One group will be responsible for collecting a detailed species list for the school property. If they cannot identify the species, they should still list it (e.g., 3 different kinds of grass in lawn; small shrub with smooth reddish bark). Whenever they can, they should note if the species is native or imported.
One group will use the aerial photos, maps, and student knowledge to identify important biodiversity resources in the area such as nearby natural areas or water bodies.
Depending on how large your class is and how large the school property is, you may want to give several tasks to one group (for example assign the first two sets of tasks to a single group) or divide one task among several groups (for example ask two or more groups to inventory species on different parts of the school property).
Give each group 20 minutes to a half hour to finish its task. Then bring the class together to share what they found and discuss the following questions:
- How is the school currently doing in terms of biodiversity?
- Are there areas where the school could do more for biodiversity? Where are they, and what could be done? (for example, landscaping with native plants; installing a rain garden, planting a school garden)
- How does the regional context influence what kinds of things should be done to enhance biodiversity?
- What are the constraints on the school in terms of managing for biodiversity? (Cost, maintenance, possible conflicts with other school activities, getting permission/support from the larger school community, etc.) How are these constraints similar to or different from those facing a farmer? (Farmers also have to worry about cost, labor, and conflicts with the rest of the farming operation. Though they may not need to get permission for biodiversity activities on their own land, most probably want to avoid raising concerns among neighbors who might perceive natural areas on the farm as “unmanaged” or “weedy.”)
Finally, think about having your class or FFA chapter take on the challenge of making and implementing a plan to improve biodiversity on your school grounds.