Zena Forest and Farm

Summer Institute in Sustainable Agriculture

Zena Farm, West Salem, Oregon


The Summer Institute in Sustainable Agriculture at Zena Farm is a residential program designed to offer students hands-on organic farming experience and interdisciplinary academic coursework that examines the ecological, social, economic, and ethical implications of our food system, while living in a sustainable community in the heart of the fertile Willamette Valley. Students will learn about the challenges and benefits to establishing a sustainable farming system, get dirty implementing farming techniques and will participate in midday workshops and seminars on sustainable living, which cover such topics as food preparation and preservation, energy conservation, and DIY homesteading methods. In addition to two academic courses and valuable field experience, the program includes field trips to local farms, dairies, food processing plants and markets, as well as free time for hikes through the property.

Sustainable Agriculture Summer Program: At a Glance

  • Program: Introduction to sustainable agriculture practices, plant management, composting, and more!
  • Dates: May 18-June 28, 2014
  • Location: Zena Farm, Salem, Oregon
  • Courses: Earn up to two (2.0) Willamette credits
  • Field Trips: To local farms, dairies, food processing plants, and markets
  • Workshops: On whole food preparation and preservation
  • Housing: Willamette University's Zena Farm House and/or mobile unit on the Zena property
  • Meals: Included with program costs
  • Cost: The total cost of the 2014 program is $3,850, which includes tuition, lodging, meals, medical insurance, and field trips to local farms.
  • Application: The 2014 application deadline: February 10th, 2014. Accepting applications on a rolling basis until the program is full.

The Program

The sustainable agriculture summer program offers a variety of exciting experiences:

  • Two classes will be offered: Agroecology, which has an Understanding the Natural World designation, and Ethics of Agriculture, which has an Understanding Society designation;
  • Gain practical experience participating in discussions on the philosophical basis of organic agricultural methods and put those philosophies to practice with hands on work in our fields;
  • Take advantage of the 300 acre Zena Forest for on-trail hiking and running, a grassy field for volleyball or soccer, and a fire pit available for s'more-making; and
  • Two optional field trips will be offered depending on students' interest. Last year, we explored Mt. St. Helens and the Opal Creek National Wilderness Area.


The program lasts from May 18-June 28, 2014. Students will be expected to arrange their own flights or transportation to Salem on May 19, where they will be picked up at the airport HUT shuttle station or Willamette University campus. Students will be released from Salem on June 29.


Zena Farm is a living laboratory! Located just 10 miles west of Salem, Oregon. It is a perfect starting point for visits to the Oregon Coast and Cascade Mountains. Zena Farm itself is located adjacent to a beautiful 300 acre tract of forest, perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and running adventures. Zena's location in the valley is perfect for possible field trips to other sustainable farms.


Two courses will be offered during the six weeks of the program. Upon successful completion of these two courses, students will earn 2.0 Willamette credits (equivalent of 8.0 credit hours). We will work with non-Willamette students to transfer credits to your home institution.

The first class is listed in Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) and is called "Agroecology."  This course covers the ecology of farm systems, from basic inputs of energy and fertilizer to complex interactions between farmed and wild land. Topics include the management of soil fertility, plant breeding, pest and weed management, and sustainability of organic and conventional farming systems. We will focus on scientific findings that are useful for farmers, but also explore how the scientific method can be used to answer new questions as they arise. These topics will be explored both through chapters from scientific textbooks and through writings by farmers themselves describing their farms and choice of farming practices. Farm systems considered will including traditional native American farming, contemporary conventional and organic farms in the US, pre-industrial Chinese farming, contemporary sub-Saharan African farms.

The second class is also listed in Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) and is called "Ethics of Agriculture."  It will explore the historical, political, and ethical context of sustainable agriculture. Through the analysis of texts, field experiences, discussions, and reflective writing, students will examine the historic foundations of texts, field experiences, discussions, and reflective writing, students will examine the historic foundations of domesticating plants for agriculture, analyze the cultural structures, practices, and values that have shaped their cultivation, evaluate the ethical implications in varying types of agriculture, and formulate their own ethic of sustainability with regards to food and agriculture. Special attention will be given to the environmental consequences of conventional and sustainable agriculture, interrogating the public values reflected in our agricultural systems, and analyzing the structures in the local food movement.

Field Trips

To better understand our food system in the U.S., participants will visit local farms, organic and conventional, a dairy, a food processing facility, and local markets. These visits will give a holistic picture of the journey food takes from field to fork.


Workshops will be offered in whole food preparation and preservation to augment course material. Learn everything from how to make homemade bread and granola, to cook with whole grains and dry beans, to make your own cheese and crackers, to canning beans and jams. Seminars will cover information from weather proofing your home and making your kitchen a model of sustainability, to raising chickens and building cold frames.


Housing will be offered through Willamette University throughout the six weeks of the program. An old historic house sits directly adjacent to the Zena Farm, which may act as housing and/or classroom space. Mobile units throughout the property may also be available.


All meals will be included in the cost of the program. Students will be learning how to cook with the food grown on Zena Farm: talk about enjoying the fruits of labor! Must-have comfort food will be provided by students for themselves.


The cost of this program is $3850. This covers tuition costs for program fees, the two courses, lodging, meals, medical insurance, and field trips. Other costs not included are transportation to and from the students' hometown, side trips taken during the session, and other personal supplemental items such as work boots, a sleeping bag, or extra spending money.


Download application materials: PDF Application. If you would like a hard copy, please contact Jennifer Johns. Completed applications, including the faculty and personal reference recommendations. Please return completed application to:

Joe Abraham, Ph.D.
Willamette Sustainability Institute
Matthews 111
Willamette University
Salem, OR 97301

If you are a Willamette University student, you may send the application through campus mail or walk it over to the Willamette Sustainability Institute in Matthews (112)


  • Joe Abraham
  • Director, Willamette University Sustainability Institute and Zena Forest & Farm
  • (503) 370-6840
  • jabraham@willamette.edu

Students! Sign up for:

Sunday Work Parties!

Other Opportunities for Involvement Include: