4 steps to teaching sustainable farming practices

4 steps to teaching sustainable farming practices

According to the United Nations, the world’s population is projected to exceed 9 billion by 2050. As space becomes more limited and farmable land gets lost to urbanization, food production could become a challenge on a global scale. Teaching your students now about sustainable farming practices, such as vertical farming, can inspire them to become part of the solution in their future careers. 

What is vertical farming? 

To meet the increased food production demands of the growing population in the years ahead, agricultural specialists have developed a technique called vertical farming. 

In traditional farming, crops are produced seasonally on a single level of land in large fields, which requires a lot of soil and water resources. Vertical farmers produce crops in stacked layers in controlled environments using soil-less methods like hydroponics and aquaponics. While vertical farming is in the early stages of its impact, it has a lot of potential to impact global food production.  

In the coming years, sustainable farming practices will offer numerous job opportunities for students interested in agriculture. Use the steps below to spark their interest and get them started down a path to a future career. 

1. Spark a discussion about sustainable farming practices with students  

Start by talking to students about the food production problems that already exist and will further result from urbanization over the next century. Then, ask students to brainstorm some costs, issues, and resource constraints that traditional farming methods pose, such as pesticide use, water use, and impacts of poor weather or soil conditions on crop availability.   

Then, discuss the benefits of vertical farming with your students: 

It maximizes crop output in a limited space. It uses up to 90% less water than traditional farming. Systems can be designed, built, and operated in any climate or location.  Crops can be grown year-round without worrying about bad weather. It drastically reduces or eliminates the need for pesticides, allowing more organic crops to be grown. It reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed to operate traditional farming equipment. It decreases common occupational hazards for agricultural workers, such as exposure to chemicals and heavy machinery.  It reduces the cost of transporting food because crops can be grown closer to more populated areas.  

2. Have students investigate vertical farming practices 

Have students pair up to research sustainable farming methods. Assign each pair either hydroponics, aquaponics, or aeroponics and have them conduct research to answer the following questions:  

How does this method of farming work?  What are the advantages over traditional farming methods? What are some of the issues or disadvantages? What crops work best with this system?  Where in the world is this system being used already? 

When students are finished with their research, have each member of the pair form a group with two others who studied a different method and share the answers to their questions with each other.

3. Explore career opportunities   

Next, discuss the types of careers that are available for students if they want to pursue sustainable farming practices, such as the following: 

Vertical farming architect Agricultural engineer  Agricultural or food scientist Software engineer  Horticulturist  Harvester  Production and logistics Food safety expert Pest management  Facilities maintenance  

4. Bring sustainable farming practices into the classroom  

The best way to get students interested in future careers in agriculture is to give them hands-on opportunities in the classroom.  

You can introduce your students to hydroponics now by having them grow vegetables and herbs inside of the classroom using a vertical grow wall. This all-in-one system is designed to give your classroom many of the same benefits of vertical farming, such as saving space, providing fresh oxygen, and using 90% less water than a conventional garden. You and your students can garden year-round with five different levels, creating a visual display of living and breathing plants. For tight spaces, consider smaller wall-mounted and tabletop hydroponics systems. 

If you want to add aquaculture into the mix, set up a small aquaponics garden. Students will be able to observe how plants and fish support each other in both natural and manufactured ecosystems. The water-recycling system takes just 10% of the water that would be needed in a traditional setting, and the entire setup lets you grow food in a small footprint at any time of the year. Aquaponics systems are available at every price point. 

By using these systems, you can expose your students to nature and modern farming techniques while inspiring them to pursue AFNR careers so they, along with the rest of the world, can live in a more sustainable future. 
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