Sustainable Ag Courses at Penn State in Spring 2010

Posted: November 23, 2009

Penn State offers a wide range of courses related to sustainable agriculture for undergraduate and graduate students. From across several majors and departments, here are a selection of course offerings for the Spring 2010 semester.

AGECO 197A: Principles and Practices of Organic Agriculture

This class focuses on organic agronomic, horticultural and livestock systems. Topics will include:

  • History, principles, and policy of organic agriculture
  • Organic soil, crop, and pest management practices
  • Lectures, fieldtrips, hands-on activities, guest speakers and discussions

Taught by Heather Karsten (Plant Sciences) and Mary Barbercheck (Entomology). For more information contact Heather Karsten at or 863-3179. Note: This class will be a General Education Natural Sciences Course as of Dec. 18, 2009, when course number will be AGECO 144.

AGECO 461: Emerging Issues in Agroecosystem Management

This discussion based capstone course considers the prominent issues that influence agricultural production and the impacts of agriculture on the environment and society.

Discussion topics include:

  • Global food security
  • Implications and management of soil quality
  • Pest resistance to management
  • Biotechnology in agriculture
  • Agriculture, food and health
  • Agriculture and water quality
  • Local food systems

The class is taught Tuesdays at 2:30-3:45 and Thursdays at 2:30-4:25. For more information, contact Rob Gallagher at or 865-1547.

AGRO 510: Ecology of Agricultural Systems

This course covers agroecological components, processes, and dynamics. Emphasis is placed on learning via reading and discussing the recent agroecological research literature. Students also gain experience interpreting and critically analyzing scientific papers and theories. Students lead some of the class discussions on the assigned readings. They identify one or two articles that are relevant to their graduate research subject to read and discuss with the class. Students write a review paper on one of the course agroecology themes and on agroecology research that is relevant to their graduate research topic. The course is offered in alternative years during spring semesters.

Meeting time is scheduled to fit the schedules of registered students. Taught by Heather Karsten,

Forestry 418: Agroforestry- Science, Design, and Practice

Agroforestry is the intentional design of ecological systems that carefully combine long term tree crops with plants and/or animals. The objective of this course is to foster a practical working knowledge in the design and function of agroforestry practices as they are applied in the United States and throughout the world. Agroforestry practices that will be covered include riparian forest buffers, windbreaks, alley cropping, silvopastures, and forest farming including American ginseng, maple syrup, and edible plants and fungi. As a student in this course, you will also learn about agroforestry in tropical and developing countries covering topics such as bioenergy, fallow trees, fair trade and certification, community enterprises, sustainable landscape use, rural development, and the commercial harvesting, management, and production of non-timber forest products.

The class meets Tuesdays & Thursdays, 1:00-2:15 pm. Taught by Mike Jacobson ( and Eric Burkhart (

SOILS 071: Environmental Sustainability

This class provides an introduction to environmental sustainability for students with no background in environmental science or soils.  As we explore the concept of sustainability, we will discover the role of soil in mediating human-environment interactions by determining natural plant and animal abundance, supporting agriculture, and buffering the environment against modern pollution.

The five themes of the class are:

  • The science of nature and the nature of science, which introduces students to the scientific method and value systems that affect environmental choices
  • Population and consumption, where we consider these challenges to global sustainability
  • The Malthusian dilemma of how we can feed billions of people in the near future
  • The conservation dilemma of how we can maintain a healthy environment (while feeding billions of people)
  • Success stories in sustainable environmental science and policy

The class is taught by Jason Kaye and meets Tuesdays & Thursdays, 1:00-2:15 pm.

SOILS 402: Soil Nutrient Behavior and Management

Soil Nutrient Behavior and Management is a senior/graduate level course that covers the chemical and biological processes that determine the behavior of essential plant nutrients in soils. As this understanding of basic nutrient behavior is developed in the course, it is applied directly to explain the basis for management of nutrients for optimum plant availability. This same nutrient behavior is linked to the fate of nutrients either applied as sources of plant nutrition or through disposal of nutrient containing materials on soils, which is a major environmental issue. Management practices necessary to minimize environmental impacts from nutrients are also covered. From this background students will be able to understand nutrient behavior and management recommendations and adapt management to a variety of soil-plant systems and situations both for plant growth and environmental protection. Real world examples of developing and adapting management systems are used to illustrate this process. The laboratory exposes the student to common soil testing procedures, methods for studying soil nutrient-plant interactions, and examples of practical application of management practices in the field.

The class is taught by Doug Beegle and meets Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays from 9:05-9:55 am and Mondays from 1:25-3:20 pm.

SOILS 497U: Soils, Civilizations and Societies

This course will study environmental and agricultural issues across diverse landscapes, climate and soil regimes, and cultures over time.  We will look at the effect that soils and other natural resources have had on the development of civilizations and societies throughout history, and, in turn, the impact that these civilizations and societies have had on native soils and other natural resources.  The course will discuss aspects of sustainable agriculture from ancient times up to the present. The class has an optional 3-week student study tour to Jordan to visit sites of ancient civilizations.

The class is taught by Kate Butler and meets Tuesdays & Thursdays, 2:30-3:45 pm.