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Liberal arts to get dirty on Campus Farm

Ashley Conard

Published: Monday, November 7, 2011

Updated: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 02:11

For the past semester, we have been working with many dedicated students, faculty and staff to create a DePauw University Campus Farm.  The current plan is to have a 1-2 acre plot in a field close to The Prindle Institute for Ethics.

One of the farm's goals is to provide a variety of sustainably grown produce.  Sodexo, a main partner on this project, plans to use much of the produce in DePauw's dining services to increase local and sustainable food available to students.  

The Office for Spiritual Life, one of the "founding" members of this idea, became interested in the farm not just for sustainable food, but rather due to President Obama's Food Security Initiative: a call for reducing global hunger and food insecurity.  They hope to use the farm to reduce hunger in the Greencastle area as well as teach the community how to grow and preserve their own food. 

Another aim is to provide educational experiences for DePauw students.  For example, there is interest from the Biology department about incorporating this farm into labs and classroom learning.  Other departments outside the sciences have also expressed interest in using the farm as a teaching tool, such as in English and Philosophy.  

Additionally, this farm could be used in programs of distinction such as, but not limited to, the new Environmental Fellows Program and the Science Research Fellows.  Other possible benefits include work-study for students, volunteering for students, community outreach, and sustainability education. These aspects of a campus garden are equal or greater value to the produce that will come from it.   

With our experience working on this farm project, one thing has stuck out in our minds: How closely this project aligns with the values and educational methods here at DePauw.  

This farm is the definition of the liberal arts — it is interdisciplinary, experimental, hands-on, provokes discourse and most importantly, it dares students to think about questions that normally would have gone unnoticed.  

For example, perhaps in Professor Ellen Bayer's first-year seminar, The Ethics of Food, students would get the chance to grow their own produce in order to experience the difficulty in making a tomato or carrot, something that most of us take for granted.  

Or maybe Professor Dina Leech in her Aquatic Ecology class would use the farm to have students study the effects of agriculture run-off on water quality, something that has drastic effects on the aquatic ecosystems on which we all depend.

Also, Professors Jim Benedix and Michele Villinski could have Environmental Fellows students explore the question of development: can humans maintain their interests while also maintaining the integrity of the environment? How can this be done?

Or perhaps a farm work-study student (that happens to be an Honor Scholar), who is motivated by his or her experience to conduct their senior thesis on whether with the world's current demand for food we can afford to farm in a sustainable way?  Is it even ethical to do so?

As shown, this farm is a tremendous opportunity for DePauw to expand its curriculum, specifically in an interdisciplinary way.  To us, the liberal arts are not just about gaining a well-rounded education, but rather producing students that are able to face and solve global issues.  

As the world becomes ever more interdependent, so too do the issues we face, especially those related to anthropogenic climate change.  A DePauw Campus Farm will help students ponder larger questions about food, the environment and related socioeconomic issues.  It will make students more globally aware by integrating what we learn in the classroom to the larger community. This farm is what the liberal arts are all about. 

Hesterberg is a junior biology major and Science Research Fellow from Cincinnati.

Conard is a sophomore biochemistry major, Science Research Fellow and member of ITAP from Indianapolis.

opinion@thedepauw.com

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