For newcomers, the title of this post is also the title of an Experimental College course at Tufts University.  It was created because of the great need for ag-related curriculum at the undergraduate level and to train a crew to take care of the Tufts student garden. Read more about the garden project here. The class filled up in under 20 minutes when registration opened to start the semester and is still packed with excited and passionate foodies.

The class is going super well and has a great syllabus filled with guest speakers like famed Jennifer Hashley of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project and Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds. Last week the garden coordinators at the Tufts Community Garden gave us a tour of plots in the large, divided space adjacent to the student plot.  One of our teachers, Jeff Hake, and some students pictured in the community garden here at the left here. As a class we built a raised bed, filled three beds with soil and compost and planted seeds and seedlings in our own garden.  Every student is signed up for 2 days of garden maintainance as an assignment. Other assignments include sharing a food/agriculture-related news story, paper/presentation delving into a food topic that spikes interest  and a couple of food journals.  The first  journal was assigned as a self-reflection: to realize where you could stand to learn more about food (processing, distribution, etc.)  through recording and dissecting personal consumption.  Here is mine:

I care a lot about where my food comes from. When I’m shopping I consider a big list before looking at the price. I want my food to be local, organic, produced by small scale farmers or processors, fair trade if coming from abroad, and I want there to be few middlemen between the farmer and me. For these reasons I haven’t bought produce from the grocery store all summer. Instead I support the World PEAS CSA and frequent the Union Square farmers market. I get most of the vegetables I need from the CSA, but like to grab a couple extra tomatoes, winter squash, diva cucumbers, you know the luxuries. I also find important food items not distributed by my CSA at the farmers market like granola (from Cook’s Farm and Bakery), bread (Iggy’s), sustainable meat (Stillman’s Farm), mozzarella cheese (Fiore di Nonno) and chocolate (Taza).  For eggs, yogurt and milk I swing by Kickass Cupcakes on my way home. Almost every meal this summer I would sit down with a plate of colorful, fresh vegetables and think “Wow, this meal is 100% local”, and it made me feel great.

When you make the switch to local food there are some things to reconsider. First, you have to give up bananas and citrus. What a bummer, but I did fine. Next you have to think about what you are drinking. That was easy enough with all the local breweries around: Pretty Things, Wachusett, BBC, Clown Shoes, etc. And then it came to coffee. No way could I give that up. Luckily when I was studying abroad in Costa Rica we met a sustainable coffee farmer that is a member of a direct trade coop. These days I order in bulk from Coope Pueblos through the Community Agroecology Network. I’m expecting 5 pounds this week.

It kind of seems like I figured it all out, but there are still some things out of the local loop. Bulk items from Whole Foods like the sunflower seeds and raisins I added to my granola at breakfast come from god knows where. Or how about the couscous I ate with my CSA stir fry this afternoon? Even if I buy pasta from Dave’s Fresh, who grows that grain? How and where? How does it get from field to pasta press? And that granola I take so much pride in? Ingredients include coconut and oats. And the beer I take so much pride in? Who grows the hops? Is there local production of grain and I’m just not in on it? What is quinoa anyway?

Well, it is a grain that is mostly produced in Peru and Bolivia. Not a true cereal because it isn’t a member of the grass family, primarily the seeds are eaten.  Seeds are coated in a bitter shell that must be removed in processing.

I learned about rice in Costa Rica. It requires excessive amounts of water, fertilizer and some way to keep waterfowl away.

Pasta is made from wheat, which is grown industrially around the world, with Kansas and North Dakota leading the US.  I have no idea how wheat might become the gooey, flattened mass that is covered with cornmeal in my pantry. Certainly you have to gather the seed and then….er grind them? Or maybe soak and then grind?

I would love to find a way to eat local grains, hops and flour this semester and to learn about the processing that makes these foods what they are.

This has been a fun and exciting semester (well it’s not quite over yet) working on the garden project.  Click here to read about how our student-run garden initiative began.  After everything  that I wrote about in my previous post,  the campaign kind of hit a lull.  We weren’t sure what else to do besides just kind of wait around for everything to come together.

Yosefa and I are both members of Environmental Conciousness Outreach (ECO), the environmental group on campus, and we thought it would be a good idea to work on the garden initiative through the already established student group.  We used the ECO name to apply for funds from the university (secured!) and stirred excitement about the prospect of a student garden by hosting a documentary screening (The Real Dirt on Farmer John) and having a seed bomb table at our annual EarthFest. The film was great and the event was even better.  We had fantastic live bands including President Soup and Mornin’ Old Sport, recycled art, fresh dumpstered food, a petition to reduce paper use on campus, and Louis Vuitton spray painted bricks (to put in the backside of your toilet to make it low flow…pictured above).  We got a nice list of garden-interested folks and are excited to have a meet and greet as soon as possible.

Now here is the really good stuff.  We spray painted a plot for the garden near South Hall (on the ground, but very accessible) just the other day.  A fence will go up by summer.  The ExCollege course that Yosefa and I worked with a couple of Friedman School graduate students to submit has been accepted! Part of the course will be maintaining the new Tufts garden. We are all anxiously waiting to find out when the class will be held so we can secure a spot in our schedules.  The course is called Emerging Alternatives in Modern Agriculture.  Here is the course description:

Modern agriculture is the source of an immense majority of our food and is a foundation of the American economy.  However, it is an economic system that relies on cheap fuel, low labor costs, and ever-increasing consolidation. In recent years, these industrialized inputs and processes have been indicted as a root cause of many of modern society’s woes: hunger, obesity, disease, environmental degradation, climate change, economic injustice, and physical and mental estrangement from the land. And yet, alternative systems of agriculture have emerged. Some are the simple revival of “antiquated” practices while others apply agricultural principle to technological innovation. Cities and communities are becoming active players in these new systems, and food is being “slowed down”. This course attempts to outline and elucidate some of these emerging agricultural systems, providing theoretical background and discussion, as well as practical, hands-on tools for becoming a part of these new systems, and preparation for civic engagement.

Yosefa and I could not be happier….a student garden is actually coming!! We can’t wait to make signs and have picnics and be merry.  Although, perhaps building raised beds will be next.

Thanks to all the encouraging and supportive groups and people who helped push this project along:

Yosefa (duh)
Jeff and Mari (the ExCollege teachers)
the ExCollege
Office for Campus Life (funding)
Julie Lampie (Dining Services)
George Ellmore (Dept. head for Env. Studies and member of the ExCollege board)
Arielle Carpenter (Food Talks and working on the farmers market)
Marc Eichen and Dick Simon (skilled home gardeners in Newton)
Crafts House (for hosting the screening/potluck and being awesome)
John Vik (and the rest of Grounds/Facilities at Tufts)

…Yosefa, please tell me if I am missing someone!

I think this is the longest time in between posts yet, but I have a great reason.  I have been busy busy busy working on establishing a garden at Tufts.  The whole thing started at the beginning of the semester when I emailed Yosefa Ehrlich, whom I had never met.  We quickly became good friends and have been working as a solid team since.  We sent out a survey and discovered that 67 people (out of 100) would like to volunteer on a garden.  Now that’s what I call student interest.

Then we set out meeting with various people: the head of the Environmental Studies department, the nutritionist at Dining Services, the ground’s manager, people at Tufts Institute for the Environment, Tufts Office of Sustainability, everyone voiced their support, contributing to the project in the ways that they could.

The biggest concern among all people  was that I am a junior and Yosefa is a senior, what will happen to the garden once we are gone? Here’s what we came up with:

The Experimental College is a department at Tufts designed so that anyone can submit a course curriculum to teach themselves, about whatever subject they want.  Subject: Urban Agriculture, a component of which will be maintaining the garden.  Teacher: ?.  So we sent emails out to everyone that we thought could help find someone to teach this course.  Today we are meeting with 5 graduate students in the Urban Environmental Planning and Agriculture Food and Environment departments at Tufts Friedman School.  A solution to the summer problem (that no one is around) was offered by George Ellmore, the head of the Environmental Studies Department, who agreed to design an internship around the project.  Everything is coming together.

The current plan: throw a couple of 4×6 raised beds on top of the Tisch Library roof, where a current graduate student in biology is working on a green roof project (which spells out TUFTS, pictured above). Grow things that like it hot: peppers, tomatoes, etc. and lots of herbs for sale to Dining Services.  We can sell our veggies at the weekly farmers market that will take place at Tufts in the fall.

All of this is very exciting, but also a little overwhelming.  Afterall, we have never gardened before.  A really nice man I met at the NOFA conference offered to give us a jump-start.  We headed over to his house in Newton yesterday morning and he explained everything: how to build raised beds, what soil mixture to use (in fact he sent us home with some vermiculite and perlite), the importance of drip irrigation, he even asked if he could come and check out the space on the library roof, commenting that he had a roof-top garden in Brooklyn.  Then he took us to his friend’s place which is a serious operation. Raised beds covered with recycled windows (what they call a cold frame) bursting with kale, 4 huge compost piles, the dark damp place that will hold logs inoculated with mushroom spores, and grow lights under which sit teeny tiny eggplant and onion seedlings. These men were incredibly nice and full of information learned from years of experience and great books, the names of which they passed along.  It is so nice to know we have close allies that really want us to succeed, and that have the knowledge to help us.

More posts as the project goes on, wish us luck in making the ExCollege application deadline this Friday.