Sustainable Agriculture

STOCKSCH 165 – Intro to Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems

3 credits

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Instructor – Jennifer Santry
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Course Description
This course explores the principles of sustainable agriculture for animal, crop, and garden production. We will study the ethical, practical and scientific aspects of agricultural sustainability including economic, social and environmental impacts of food and farming. We will use system thinking tools to compare industrial and ecological agriculture, and ultimately each student will develop a plan for a sustainable farming system based on personal and learned philosophies and forms.

In this introduction to sustainable agriculture, we’ll be delving into the essential production practices that will empower students to make a farm, homestead, or garden a reality or to make current agricultural endeavors more sustainable, efficient, and profitable. Students will learn sustainable theory and be able to apply this to the nuts and bolts of market gardens, food forests, livestock management, and farm finances.

Student Learning Objectives

Our goal by the end of this course is for students to:

  1. Define terminology and concepts related to sustainable farming practices.
  2. Describe the ecological, economical, and social implications of agricultural practices.
  3. Identify theories and forms of sustainable agriculture.
  4. Articulate principles and strategies of sustainable agriculture.
  5. Utilize a systems approach to analyze agriculture in your own backyard and/or community.
  6. Apply best practices for basic soil, crop, watershed, & livestock management.
  7. Identify resources for solving problems facing farmers, ranchers, gardeners, and consumers in order to reduce waste and energy consumption in agriculture.
  8. Describe strategies to increase profit and efficiency for sustainable producers.
  9. Design productive and ecologically sound land use plans.
  10. Expand consumer awareness and support of ethical alternatives.

Course Book
Restoration Agriculture: Real-World Permaculture for Farmers by Mark Shepard – ISBN 978-1601730350. Additionally, there will be various assigned readings posted to Blackboard for each weekly module.

Grades will be assessed as follows:

6 Discussions (“Food Blog”)                         360 points
2 Online Activities/Assignments             300 points
4 Quizzes                                                                140 points
Final Project                                                          200 points
TOTAL POINTS                                                   1000 points

Course Assessments: Each week’s assignments will be posted with details on Blackboard.


Online Discussions – “Food Blog”

Each week’s module (videos, readings…) are expected to be completed before you participate in online discussions. Using our online forum, answer discussion questions and complete assignments by posting on the class “Food Blog.” Discussion posts are due Wednesday by midnight (50 points). Comment on at least one of your peer’s posts by Saturday at midnight (10 points). 360
Activities & Assignments There will be two online activities or assignments in addition to weekly discussions. Each assignment will be detailed in Blackboard with a due date – 150 points each.Assignment 1 – Farmer Interview

Assignment 2 – Case Study on Managing the Whole System



There will be four online quizzes throughout the course that will assess your understanding of the course materials. Quiz questions will be taken directly from assigned readings, online presentations, and videos. Each quiz is worth 35 points. 140

Sustainable Farm Management Plan

Design and present your own farm agro-ecosystem. Throughout the course, you’ll be working on milestones that will help you complete your final project for this course – a Sustainable Farm Management Plan. This plan is for a self-designed farm for your family, a business, or a nonprofit organization managing local food projects in your community. Again, the components of your plan will be developed week by week as we address each topic. Components will include: goals, a fertility management plan, use of animals, and marketing and budgeting. Your paper is worth 150 points and your presentation is worth 50 points. 200

Course Outline and Weekly Topics:

  • Module 1:  Introduction and Principles of Sustainable Agriculture
  • Module 2:  Water, Energy, Soil and Plants
  • Module 3:  Fertility, Animal Production Practices & Livestock Systems
  • Module 4:  Organic Agriculture, Holistic Management, & Permaculture  and Polyculture
  • Module 5:   Restoration Agriculture, Biodynamic and Nature Farming, & Agroforestry and Agroecology
  • Module 6:  Financial Planning, Value Added, & Ag Economics

Jen Santry Photo

Instructor Bio:  Jen Santry attributes her connection with food and land to her Lakota and Choctaw heritage. She is an enrolled member of Choctaw Nation and she is Sičháŋǧu (Brule) Lakota, Bdewákaŋtuŋwaŋ (Mdewakanton) Dakota, and Iháŋktuŋwaŋ (Yankton) Dakota. She’s been involved in food politics, advocacy, and education for the last 20 years. Jen has a Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Management and a BS in Zoology. She’s in the second year of a doctoral program in Educational Sustainability at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Jen is researching best practices for braiding Indigenous knowledge into undergraduate sustainable agriculture courses through place-based and land-based pedagogies. Her love of nonprofits stems from working in the field for 15 years creating and implementing sustainable food programs including community gardens, K-12 educational programs, college student-run CSAs, and urban farming policies. She’s been a volunteer, a grant writer, a board member, an office administrator, and an executive director for several nonprofits over the years. This year, she moved with her family to Glorieta, New Mexico, to establish a high-desert homestead and permaculture farm. Jen is excited to share her experiences facilitating groundbreaking, local food and farming programs. She also teaches/manages the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems certificate program at Peninsula College (Olympic Peninsula) and UMASS Amherst’s STOCKSCH 354 – Non-profits Management for Community Food and Farm Programs. 


This class fulfills requirements for all three of the online programs offered by the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture in Sustainable Food and Farming:

All online classes cost $482/credit.

More Online Classes

NOTE: The UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Certificate has been declared eligible for Veterans Educational Benefits. For instructions see: Veterans Benefits.

If you are not interested in earning college credit, there are many non-credited workshops and short courses you can take outside of the university.  For a list see: non-university workshops and courses.

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