Garden of TU class digs in more than dirt
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With recent Lexington temperatures topping eighty degrees, the idea of taking a May term class outdoors has appealed to many students. Chemistry professor Dr. Eva Csuhai’s Garden of Transylvania class is doing just that and more – turning an unused plot of land on campus into a community garden while learning about various disciplines at the same time.
The garden class meets outside two or three times a week. The other days, the 13 students meet in Brown Science Center. Csuhai makes tea for the students to enjoy while they discuss books like “Second Nature” by Michael Pollan and readings by Wendell Berry.
Professors from other disciplines are invited to speak to the class as well. Dr. Scott Whiddon, assistant professor of Writing, Rhetoric and Communication, has spoken about gardening poetry and Dr. Wei Lin, assistant professor of Art History, has presented on Chinese gardening.
Students learn about the physical act of gardening, food preservation, community supported agriculture, as well as the philosophy surrounding gardening. All the while, they are getting fresh air and exercise. Studies show that one-hour of gardening burns up to 250 calories and increases mental alertness.
But what many say really draws students to this class is the opportunity to spend their mornings in May away from the classroom and in the sunshine. Students build and repair structures in the garden like sheds and rain barrels. They put up signs to label plants, as well as work to develop a composting program. On the class’s “inside days”, students read and discuss newspaper articles, write informal essays, give presentations, and create projects.
While this is more academic work than some students expected, the class does not have a final exam.
“It’s a lot of work,” said rising sophomore Stevie Morrison, “but I’m really enjoying the variety of topics. Plus, I get to play in the dirt.”
The Garden of Transylvania class was started four years ago by a group of faculty and staff.
“We wanted to do something better with the land we already have,” said Csuhai.
The university owns plenty of land around the existing campus that will eventually be used for expansion, but until that land is needed, much of it goes unused. The plot now taken over by the garden has been used as an occasional meeting place for classes from Nature Writing to Ornithology to Spanish.
Once May Term ends and students depart for the summer, the garden is sustained by those who have paid for plots. Ten dollars buys a four by twenty foot private plot to use as a personal garden. For five dollars, anyone can be a member of the community plot. These are the people who will take care of the garden – they are also the ones benefitting most from it. Members of the community garden have access to everything grown in the plot.
For those who are not current members of the community garden, there are other ways to participate. Besides actually joining the garden, the rest of the Transylvania community is always invited to stop by and help the class in their work. Csuhai’s class meets from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. every day during May Term.