Section B: Real People, Real Farms: Case studies of organic agriculture

Projected outcomes:

  1. Students will learn about examples of organic agriculture in-state and around the country.
  2. Students will be able to apply the concepts taught in the module to real situations

Background /Lessons:

Farm Visit

The best exposure to an organic farm or food processing operation is a visit. The next best thing is to invite a farmer to speak to your class in the school. To get suggestions of nearby organic enterprises to visit or speakers to invite, contact your local Extension agent or one of the organic organizations listed in the Upper Midwest Organic Resource Directory. Make sure your host or speaker knows in advance what aspects of the operation your class is interested in. You might want to discuss some possible activities that would be appropriate for your class to do.

Prepare your class for the visit by reviewing what you know about the enterprise and having them figure out what questions they want answered. The questions should address some aspect of sustainability, but they may range from questions about values and quality of life to technical questions about how crops are grown.

If you wish, you can assign the class the task of writing up a case study of the farm or enterprise based on the field trip. They can use the farm interview form as the basic template for the case study. They can also take pictures or videos, provided they get permission from the host. Farm Interview Form (MS Word Document)

If a field trip or guest presenter is not feasible, use one or more of the case studies suggested below.

Activity 1: Evaluating Sustainability


Back to the Land … Again is a 60 minute video that provides a brief overview of a variety of Wisconsin organic farms. To order a copy of the video, e-mail your request, contact information, and mailing address to to Gretta Wing Miller at Cost is $20, including shipping. The Back to the Land worksheet can be distributed to students before you show the video so they will know what information to look for. Or you can use the worksheet questions to guide class discussion after watching the video. Worksheet Key

Written Case Studies

Harmony Valley, Viroqua, Wisconsin is a diverse organic vegetable farm in southwestern Wisconsin. They direct market through a CSA and at farmers’ markets, and also sell some crops to natural foods retailers. SARE case study htm or pdf (p. 15), Sustainable Times article

R. & G. Miller and Sons organic dairy farm in south central Wisconsin milks 370 cows and grows organic feed and pasture on 1,600 acres. Fran O’Leary writes about the farm’s work with no-till in the Wisconsin Agriculturist.

Chris Malek runs a small organic CSA in Rosholt. Lynn Markham discusses his decision to farm organically and the impact of pesticides on groundwater. @2011 Bay View Compass. Republished with permission of Bay View Compass.

Case study of an organic consumer: Sandra Steingraber’s essay on organic pizza offers a thoughtful perspective of why she, as a scientist and a mother, chooses to buy organic food. The essay is long but entertaining and highly informative. There is one reference to her living with her boyfriend in the first part of the essay.
Another piece by the same author, The Organic Manifesto of a Biologist Mother, covers many of the same issues but with a more serious tone.

Tom Frantzen’s system for producing pigs organically on pasture and in hoophouses is profiled in Hogs Your Way (pp. 46-51).

A number of farmer members of the marketing cooperative Organic Valley are featured at

New Century Farm is a mid-sized organic egg farm located in Shullsburg, Wisconsin.

Dairy Your Way contains descriptions and case studies of several organic and conventional dairy production systems in the upper Midwest.

Other organic production profiles can be found in the SARE book The New American Farmer. If you choose the html version, you can search the book by commodity type (organic).

The farm profiles on the New Farm website include several organic farms from the Midwest.

Career Pathway content standards

Projected Outcome National Agricultural Education Standards
Performance Element or
Performance Indicators
Activity Number(s)
(in this section)
1. Apply a variety of measures of sustainability to real life examples of sustainable farms. PS.03.04 Apply principles and practices of sustainable agriculture to plant production. B-1
2. Identify examples of organic agriculture in your area, state and globally. PS.03.04 Apply principles and practices of sustainable agriculture to plant production. B-1
3. Develop critical reading skills. RST.9-10.2 & RST.11-12.2. Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; trace the text’s explanation or depiction of a complex process, phenomenon, or concept; provide an accurate summary of the text.
RST.9-10.10 & RST.11-12.10. By the end of grade 10 & 12, read and comprehend science/technical texts in the grades 9–10 & 11-12 text complexity band independently and proficiently.