Ecological Agriculture: The Chemistry of Agroecology and Soil Science

Fall 2021
Winter 2022
Sophomore - Senior
Class Size: 50
16 Credits per quarter
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A battle for the future of our food system is being waged between competing paradigms. On one side is the global, industrial-based system that provides large quantities of inexpensive food along with significant environmental, social and dietary impacts. The competing vision is a local, community-based system that produces higher quality food while seeking to minimize environmental and social impacts. We will explore the underlying chemistry as well as the agroecology of these competing paradigms, as skills in chemistry are developed over two quarters. Critical questions that will inform our inquiry include: Can a humane, agroecological sound agricultural system that minimizes environmental degradation meet the food needs of the world? Can we grow high-quality food that is available to everyone? How did we get into this food system predicament anyway? What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the US food system?

In this two-quarter interdisciplinary study of agriculture and its chemical underpinnings, we will emphasize developing "systems" thinking as well as the skills associated with laboratory work and quantitative reasoning in chemistry, as well as expository writing. Lectures will focus on ecological principles applied to agroecosystems, soil science, soil health and fertility management. We will begin the exploration of chemistry with emphasis on learning models for the atomic structure, importance of the periodic table, and bonding models in the fall quarter while also gaining expertise in quantitative work. If possible, labs will provide a hands-on introduction to chemistry and soil fertility, though may not be possibly due to public health concerns in which case they will be virtual. If possible, day-long field trips will allow students to visit farms working toward sustainability. The program plans to remotely attend relevant meetings such as the Eco-Farming Conference in Asilomar CA in winter.

Fall emphasis : The agroecology portion of fall quarter will emphasize energy flow and biodiversity as applied to agricultural systems, using Steve Gliessman's textbook, Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems, third edition. We will begin the exploration of chemistry with emphasis on learning models for the atomic structure, importance of the periodic table, and bonding models in the fall quarter while also gaining expertise in quantitative work. Lab will consist of a quarter-long experiment on carabid beetles and underlying Microsoft Excel skills for statistical analysis. Chemistry labs will focus on skill-building with qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis. Seminar will focus on the history of US agriculture and critical reading of scientific research. Day-long field trip to local farms are planned.

Winter emphasis : The agroecology portion will focus on soil science, soil ecology and nutrient cycling. In the winter quarter, the chemistry portion will focus on understanding chemical equilibrium and acid/base chemistry. The goal of this work is to support the study of soils and water in natural environments. In lab we will examine physical, chemical and biological aspects of soil, and attempt to measure heavy metals in soil and compost. Seminar will focus on books on relevant scientific articles. We will remotely attend the Eco-Farm conference and visit local farms on day-trips.

Students interested in continuing their studies of agriculture in spring quarter can continue with Ecological Agriculture: Crop Botany, Genetics and Development with Donald Morisato and Martha Rosemeyer.


Fall 2021 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 10207
Winter 2022 Registration

Signature Required

Dependent on having taken equivalent chemistry and ecology or agriculture experience. Please contact faculty by email.

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 20172

Academic details

Preparatory For

Farming, agricultural research, agricultural education, governmental agencies like Washington Department of Agriculture, non-profit food system and environment work.

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing

$250 for lab fee, museum, conference and farm entrance fees in fall;  $350 in winter for an Eco Farm conference and lab fee. 

Special Expenses

Expect up to $250 for lab kits if we are not able to be in-person for labs

Upper Division Science Credit

Offered in Agroecology in the fall and Soil Science in the winter quarter parts of the program (6-8 cr per quarter). Additional assignment as part of UD in winter.


In Person or Remote
Hybrid (F)
Hybrid (W)
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting