Aside from the opportunity to develop practical, transferable skills, there are deeply layered components to the academic purpose of the farm placements (and other hands-on learning) in the SAFSA program.
If our students are to become agroecologists, be they academics, policymakers, or practitioners on the land and in the food chain/food systems, then fundamental to them is the ability to engage at the farmer-to-farmer level through relationships of trust, based in large part on respect for practical experience. They need to be able to work next to someone, to understand at a practical level their economics, and to engage with their kaupapa or purpose.
Related to this is that a deep understanding of any agroecological system requires that the observer be able to become part of it, to live and work in it. Not all (perhaps not many) phenomena can be contrived into existence for the casual (or even scientific) observer. They must be collected as the world is moving, like flakes of gold in the sand, and woven into a tapestry of place.
There is another valuable kind of practical experience that students gain, which is that of cross-cultural communication.
Willy Cameron, lead academic for the EcoQuest SAFSA program