The Farm at Butler as a Hub of Learning

Using a Campus Farm to Cultivate Environmental Literacy, Scientific Reasoning, Civic Action, and Place Attachment and Meaning

As part of two NSF-funded projects entitled, Cultivating Scientific Literacy and Action through Place: Expanding the Use of a Campus Farm as an Interdisciplinary Learning Hub, The Farm at Butler is being transformed into a hub for research and education through the creation of sustainable agriculture research modules in Butler courses. As part of this effort, students conduct real-world research that contributes to our understanding of the impacts of urban agriculture on environment and society. In 2016, the CUES and the STEM Education Innovation and Research Institute (SEIRI) at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) received nearly $300,000 from the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop, implement, and assess a cohesive program of place-based experiential research modules centered on the theme of sustainable agriculture in four Butler undergraduate physical and natural science courses. In 2019, the CUES received an additional $600,000 from the NSF to further research the efficacy and impact of farm-situated place-based experiential learning across Butler’s curriculum—expanding the project to five additional professional disciplines: pharmacy and health sciences, pre-service teacher education, business marketing, communications, and religious studies. Both of these grant-funded projects, innovating the way campus spaces are used for community-engaged civic education.

Each course introduced and compared environmental, social, and individual aspects of the global/industrial and local/sustainable food system to give students a context to their research. After this introductory material, students conducted real-world research on The Farm at Butler and at other urban farms related to their disciplines. Each semester, research findings from each class are presented to the Indianapolis community and data is provided to urban farmers in Indianapolis. Throughout this project, SEIRI is quantifying impacts of the modules to 1) student course engagement, environmental science content knowledge, scientific reasoning, place attachment and meaning, and civic mindedness, 2) faculty teaching and research, and 3) interdisciplinary collaboration across Butler’s campus.