Imagine stepping on campus and walking toward Townsend Hall, the home of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). It is where students are able to work on a 350-acre farm, study botanic gardens, research the Ecology Woods and watch over several different wetland habitats for local wildlife. For decades, South Campus has also been the primary location for Ag Day.
Ag Day is a community event that brings agriculture and natural resources to life for approximately 8,000 people who attend each year. Through educational exhibits, tours and activities, exhibitors educate everyone from schoolchildren to homeowners, senior citizens to teenagers, about the world of agriculture and natural resources.
On a typical Ag Day, participants would find tents with vendors and exhibits spread over nearly 80 different rectangular tables. Ag Day is an opportunity to showcase what CANR means to the community.
Due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, CANR was unable to host an in-person Ag Day event for the second year in a row.
But this year, the college brought the fun online.
The 2021 Ag Day theme is “One World, One Health” and highlights college-wide research pertaining to this concept. One Health is a research perspective that considers the health of animals, humans and the environment as a single, integrated whole.
Dr. Kali Kneil, a university professor of microbial food safety, says that One Health is the collaborative approach of considering the health of humans, animals and the environment as one thing we all share.
“If we only consider the health of one aspect, we’re missing out on the rest of this interconnected being that we have on this planet,” Kneil says in a Ag Day promotion video. “And thinking about the health of animals and our environment is critical when we want to ensure our own welfare and health.”
On the Ag Day 2021 website, you will find virtual tents from community partners, the CANR campus, student clubs and the cooperative extension, an effort by the university that offers knowledge, research and resources on agricultural and environmental topics. Within each tent are video tables, where individuals and groups will have an opportunity to talk with you about what their research, program or organization is all about.
Along with information pertaining to each facet of what makes up the CANR community, videos of demonstrations can also be found on the website. Similarly to in-person Ag Day, you have a chance to learn about everything from cow milking and sheep shearing to beekeeping and plant-based crafts from the Kid’s Corner. Print-outs, like Earth Day-themed coloring pages, crossword puzzles and scavenger hunts, are also available.
On Thursday, April 22, CANR wrapped up its week-long, online celebration of Ag Day by inviting the university community to attend a special Earth Day lecture on Zoom, “Gardens are Good for You,” presented by Dr. Sue Barton. A professor in the department of plant and soil sciences and an extension specialist in ornamental horticulture, Barton is also a recipient of the 2021 George M. Worrilow Award. The annual award is given to CANR alumni with esteemed careers in academia, public service and government.
Spending time outdoors in nature can help reduce stress, heal what ails you, build social and community bonds, help children learn and even help businesses make more money. In her talk, Barton incorporated the theme of “One World, One Health” by discussing the health and social benefits of green spaces as well as how to learn to appreciate the value of a sense of place.
Citing numerous studies done within and outside of the university community, Barton explained the positive physical and mental health effects of being connected to the natural world. According to Barton, gardening is good for our physical health. For example, it reduces blood glucose, the stress hormone and makes your heart rate more stable. Working with your hands also reduces stress, depression and anxiety, as well as giving you a sense of accomplishment.
“When we’re reminded that the natural world is so much larger than ourselves and our individual problems, that can be a real plus,” Barton says.
Many people don’t often think about their relationship with plants due to the unconscious way our minds sift through external information, a phenomenon which is called “plant blindness.”
“If you’re a college student, you might be focusing on the people walking by, seeing your friends and what’s happening on your cell phone,” Barton says. “Plants and human culture sort of helps people bring plants out of the blindness and into our consciousness.”
Barton says that by paying more attention to nature and all of its benefits, we can start to take action for more change in bettering ourselves and the world around us.
“Henry David Thoreau said a park near every doorstep, where people can gather and gain a healthy dose of nature, is a remedy that we can never have enough of,” she says. “So the more city planners that understand how important this connection to the natural world is, I think, the healthier our society will be.”