Fresh air, fresh vegetables offered in new course


Courtesy of Dr. Mark Rieger
Students in Dr. Rieger’s organic and sustainable farming class work in teams to grow crops.

Spending their Fridays in an unheated greenhouse, students tend to broccoli, cauliflower and other crops to apply what they learned about organic and conventional farming in the classroom on Wednesday.

Taught by Mark Rieger, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences, the class, called “Organic and Sustainable Farming,” aims to teach students about the benefits and drawbacks of both organic and conventional farming.

In addition to being held outdoors, the class is hands on. Rieger’s students are broken into six teams of four to grow their own crops by the semester’s end.

The students work with their crops every Friday and team members take on different roles like conducting research on pestilence or tending to the crops, Rieger says. Each crop is grown in its own row, 40 feet long. Although Rieger does not expect that the class will produce a large harvest, that outcome better suits the purpose of the class.

“Had we expanded the production, I don’t know that it would take more time to tend to that,” Rieger says, “but it probably wouldn’t teach [the students] more and so we’re on a very, very small scale.”

Half of each team’s crops are grown organically and the other half are grown conventionally. The organic and conventional crops are planted separately, but placed side by side for comparison. Rieger says it is important to him that students be able to analyze the pros and cons of the two ways of farming.

Junior Nicholas Villari recently changed his major to plant sciences. As a student in the class, he has learned from the hands-on curriculum.

“We’ve been growing conventional crops versus organic and already you can see the differences between them,” Villari says.

The biggest difference he has noticed between the two sets of crops is the faster growth of the conventional plants.

The class will be enjoyable for anyone with an interest in plants, gardening and working outside, Villari says. He also says Rieger’s students, whether they have a background in agriculture or not, will learn enough about the subject to work in the greenhouse.

“This is one of many courses that I’d love to see students from other colleges take,” Rieger says. “[…] There’s a lot of different things that might be interesting to students if they gave a look at types of introductory offerings that we have.”

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