Class Dismissed!

We’ve reached the penultimate hurdle of the fall semester: the last day of class is finally here. The TJ Demo Garden wishes all of you Wahoos smooth sailing through your final exams and papers, and urges you to keep in mind the 7 Ps.

Now is the perfect time to reflect on a successful semester in the garden. Our wonderful fall interns, Chelsea, Emily, and Lily C., have impressed us with their creativity and enthusiasm, and we are excited to announce that they will be staying on to experience the spring season. Summer intern Erica finished up a few projects this fall, including the design and installation of our new hops trellis, which I hope you have all had time to read about and admire in person. We gained a few dedicated volunteers, and Hereford resident faculty fellows Nancy Takahashi, Jim Durand, and Elaine Durand have continued to show their support by participating in workdays and planning sessions. To everyone who has contributed to a productive fall season, we cannot thank you enough!

Lily and I had the pleasure of teaching an original short course this semester entitled Gardening with Mr. Jefferson: Sustaining an Independent Nation with Useful Plants. This course was designed to introduce students to the important plants in our collection and the basics of gardening while simultaneously considering Jefferson’s interest in bringing useful plants to the new nation. These rich topics allowed us to draw connections between Jefferson’s time and the present day by visiting the vegetable garden at Monticello, touring the Academical Village with one of its foremost experts, Richard Guy Wilson, Chair in Architectural History, and digging through early University documents and plans at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

Head vegetable gardener Pat Brodowski provided many insights into Monticello’s interpretation of Jefferson’s vegetable garden.

One of the highlights of the course was our garden workday, during which students helped us to harvest peanuts and cowpeas, collect flax and sesame seeds, weed, and plant winter rye.

Students prepare beds for winter rye.

Prior to our workday, students read excerpts from Jefferson’s Garden Book, and we discussed his propensity for keeping meticulous records of his gardening triumphs and failures. Students then completed a short “garden journal” writing assignment inspired by Jefferson and based on their own observations and experiences in the garden. Here are some of their words:

Working in the garden was a useful exercise, as it allowed me to take an active role in learning through participating. It was a good experience to recognize the labor required and attentiveness to details that gardening demands. … Actually working in the garden produced a satisfying feeling, since the results of my efforts were tangible and immediate. If I were more invested in taking care of a garden, I would probably develop a sense of pride at my efforts as well. –Ayesha Yousuf

It felt really good to finally get my hands in the soil and touch the plants and seeds. … We collected most of the ripe seeds from the flax in the garden. About seventy percent of the seeds were ripe already. … The ripe seeds are brown-colored and dark grey outside, while the [immature seeds] are light yellow, even white, with a little greenness. … It is interesting that the color of the seeds is like a sign given by the plant, telling us which seeds are ready to be collected. When we collect seeds, it’s like we are communicating with the plant. –Shelley Yanzi Wu

In addition, each student conducted research on the uses, histories, and cultural significance of one plant in the collection. We will be sharing some of their fascinating reports with you in the coming weeks. Students also participated in two enthralling hands-on workshops, “Plant-Based Dyes” and “Plant-Based Textiles,” each of which utilized actual plants from the garden.

For our final meeting, we prepared and devoured a meal featuring produce from the TJ Demo Garden. Our industrious students successfully shelled TEN pounds of lima beans. At least ten people participated in this task over the course of an hour.

Shelling limas…

…it takes an army!

On the menu were salsify cakes (an original recipe!) with minted garlic yogurt, an amazing, broth-y stew of cowpeas and onions, sauteed lima beans with fresh sage, winter lettuces from the Mini-Farm with lemon sumac dressing, crispy pan-fried jerusalem artichokes, cornbread, and halva ice cream with peanut cookies.

Jonathan (in the orange “tie”) learned that a delicious meal could be prepared sans meat.

Thanks again to Jim and Elaine for allowing us to take over their kitchen. Thanks also to our stellar students for their hard work throughout the semester, and for helping to prepare a memorable vegetarian feast.

–Rachael

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