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ExCollege class gets hands dirty in community garden

Published: Monday, September 27, 2010

Updated: Monday, September 27, 2010 07:09


Meredith Klein / Tufts Daily

Students in the Emerging Alternatives in Modern Agriculture course regularly tend the garden.

Tufts' student garden, established last fall with an eye toward bringing people together to grow food, has given rise this year to a new Experimental College (ExCollege) class on agricultural issues.

Yosefa Ehrlich (LA '10) and senior Signe Porteshawver applied last year to create an ExCollege course on food and agriculture as a way of strengthening their efforts to bring gardening to Tufts. The result, Emerging Alternatives in Modern Agriculture, explores food systems, agricultural productivity and alternative farming ideas.

"We wanted a way to institutionalize the garden to ensure it would survive beyond us and to get more people involved in the process," Porteshawver said.

Two Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy graduate students, Marisol Pierce−Quinonez and Jeffrey Hake, teach the class. Both are pursuing degrees in Agriculture, Food and Environment.

"We hope to have students learn about the topics and use their skills to change the garden here," Pierce−Quinonez said.

Hake said that there are currently no other classes offered to undergraduates on agricultural issues. The ExCollege class, he said, attempts to fill that gap.

"There is nothing even close," Hake said, referring to the course's curriculum. "The other day we did a lecture on agricultural history in an hour and a half and went from the civil war up to today. We have a lot to cover."

"I've spent the last few years of my life learning about these things, so I thought it'd be great to share some of the things I've learned with my students," Pierce−Quinonez said.

A major component of the course is dedicated to policy and the theoretical aspects of food and agriculture, while the remainder of the curriculum is devoted to hands−on practical skills about gardening. Students in the class are required to spend two hours each week planting and maintaining Tufts' student garden, Porteshawver said.

Located behind Latin Way, the garden is currently only open to students enrolled in the class. Next semester, it is expected to open to members of student group Environmental Consciousness Outreach, she said.

A community garden is situated next to the student garden but is primarily for Somerville residents, Porteshawver said.

So far, the class has met with a warm reception among undergraduates. Within an hour of the start of registration, the course had filled its class capacity of 20 students and had a waiting list of five students, with more sending e−mails expressing interest in the class, Hake said.

The increased interest in gardening on the Hill reflects a national trend across elementary schools, nonprofit organizations and even colleges, including Harvard University, Boston College and Brandeis University.

"It's hard to tell why it's taken off so much," Hake said. "It seems like a confluence of various concerns — issues with food safety, concerns about the environment and incoming quality. And I think it's working so well at colleges because college is a great place for incubating new ideas."

While Porteshawver was unsure of plans for the student garden after the course is complete, she remained hopeful of the garden's longevity.

"The destiny of the garden after the class is over is up in the air," Porteshawver said. "However, I'm sure members of the class will consider the garden their own and want to see it continue."

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