While trying to analyze curriculum for Environmental Biology Lab, I contemplated the starting point with much effort. In teaching nonmajors, one must contend with the fact that not everyone in the class is going to be automatically interested in the environmental concepts. The pressure of making a good grade is certainly helpful to induce study, but I do not find it to be reason enough for one to truly care about the concepts I teach in the long run. Learning for a test is temporary. I think we learn better when we have a more substantive reason to to do so. For numerous reasons, I think the Sustainability Garden has a better chance of harnessing true and long lasting interest in the students. Below are more specific reasons for starting this project.
- It is relative: To influence others, I think one needs a point of entry. Many of my students have not walked through the woodlands and exposed themselves to what most of us consider the natural environment. However, they do eat food from this environment on a daily basis. Because of this action, they have engagement with the environment, and I have a place to start when teaching them about the environment. In addition, it is often a challenge to devise labs that will have some true meaning to the students in the future. I can spend the whole semester showing them what environmental biologists like myself do in the field, and I will always do that to some extent. But many, indeed most, of my students will not go into an environmental field. Therefore, it also makes sense to give them some knowledge they can and may actually put to use in the future. Gardening accomplishes this task.
- Environmental Appreciation: If we narrow down the reasons why we need the environment, one of the foremost is that it provides us with food. If we agree that we need food, we agree that the environment is important. Knowing how the food is grown and seeing it move from seed to table gives one a more complete appreciation for the environment.
- Curriculum: The garden happens to be a GREAT laboratory for most environmental course concepts. Through our garden labs, we study the following:
- Scientific Method
- Reducing Ecological Footprint
- Water Conservation
- Soil Conservation
- Conventional vs. Organic Agriculture
- Feeding the World
- Reducing Landfill Waste and Greenhouse Gases (through composting)
- Nutrient Cycles
- Soil Chemistry Analysis
- Selective Breeding
At the end of the semester, we share a meal together that has been harvested from our garden. You may consider this trite, but meals bring us together, and togetherness will be needed in order to address the environmental challenges of the future. Indeed, this may be the most important lesson of all.
Special thanks are in order for the professors here in the division that were helpful in the setup. Jeff Lingfelt and his grounds crew have been incredibly patient with me. A local company donated our mulch, and we are grateful for their support. Most importantly, the students have worked hard to till this earth for perhaps the first time and I am PROUD of them.
I look forward to expanding and enhancing this project in semesters to come and watching as the students and the garden grow, together.
The views and opions expressed in this page are strictly those of R. Austin Jenkins. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of South Carolina.