Science opportunities in new look at old practice

Cover crops are catching on in grain-growing regions. So considerable is the trend that the New York Times reported on it in a front-page story in Sunday’s business section. Kinda surprising that the article didn’t mention that we have been dabbling with cover crops at Myers Middle School and Albany High School. Cover cropsBut it still serves as a helpful reminder that this is a subject worth considering for a moment.

So first, what the heck are cover crops? In short, cover crops are plants whose purpose on the farm has more to do with protecting or improving soil than harvesting for a market or feedstock. Their use over a few centuries, however, went out of style with the adoption of industrial fertilizers and pesticides. In other words, modern science and technology eclipsed traditional methods (well, maybe not in organic and hippie circles).

Except that now some growers are taking another look at the old-fashioned ways. And some of those growers think there’s something to crops that among other things reduce erosion.

So what does this have to do with the Vegetable Project? For one thing, we are thinking, or at least hoping, that our experimenting with buckwheat, peas, oats, clover and a couple of other plants offers science teachers opportunities to organize some classes around meaningful measurement of soil properties before and after we grow these cover crops. We think we can learn so much together.

Better yet, we believe, or at least are hoping, that our work offers science teachers opportunities to bring science – the deliberate process of moving from observation to theory to better understanding of the world we live in – to life. Science unfortunately feels to many students like an endless list of immutable facts. Pushing back against that notion just might engender great engagement in the classroom.

–Bill Stoneman


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