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OHIO, local community packs Alden for Founders Day Symposium [PHOTO ESSAY]

Event officially marks beginning of University Libraries’ bicentennial festivities


Ohio University Libraries officially kicked off its bicentennial celebration on Tuesday, March 25, with its Founders Day Symposium.

Titled “Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation,” the symposium held on the fourth floor of Alden Library featured a New York Times best-selling author, as well as an OHIO professor and student. More than 100 members of the Ohio University and surrounding community packed the room to hear the speakers share their thoughts and research on gardening, farming and cuisine and how those topics helped shape the founding of our nation and continue to play a political and economic role in our local communities.

Here are some highlights from the symposium:

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University Libraries Dean Scott Seaman welcomes those in attendance at the Founders Day Symposium by noting the “extraordinary achievement” OHIO’s library system has seen in its growth over the past 200 years, evolving from a small collection of books to one of the top 100 research libraries in North America. “Anniversaries underscore the value we place on heritage, tradition, perseverance and the understanding of our past,” Seaman said. “For 200 years, Ohio University Libraries has been the keeper of things that endure.”

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The symposium’s keynote speaker, Andrea Wulf, discussed her most-recent book, “Founding Gardeners,” and the research she’s conducted on the history of gardening in America as it relates to this nation’s earliest days and its founding fathers. Her presentation focused on America’s first four presidents as “revolutionary gardeners” and how their passion for nature, plants and agriculture is deeply woven into the fabric of our nation, leading us to economic independence and solidifying our national identity.

In her presentation, Wulf also discussed a prominent figure in OHIO’s history – Manasseh Cutler, Ohio University’s founding father. She explained that it was Cutler who organized a visit for seven delegates of the Constitutional Convention to early American botanist John Bartram’s garden outside of Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. At the time, the delegates had been unable to come to an agreement regarding the delegation of power between the newly-formed nation’s larger and small states. According to Wulf, those seven delegates, accompanied by Cutler, toured Bartram’s garden where they saw a collection of trees, shrubs and other plants from all 13 of the nation’s colonies thriving in harmony. “It seemed like the whole of America’s flora assembled here and thrived together,” Wulf explained.

Two days later, the Constitutional Convention reconvened to vote on the Connecticut Plan, which established the delegation of power amongst the states through a House of Representatives and a Senate. Previous votes on the plan had been unsuccessful, but on this day, three delegates, all of whom had participated in the garden tour, switched their votes, and voted in favor of the plan. While Wulf admitted that there is no concrete evidence that the garden tour had influenced those delegates’ change of heart, she believes it did.

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David Holben, a registered dietician and nutritionist and an OHIO professor of nutrition, elaborated on Wulf’s presentations, speaking on “Thomas Jefferson: Gardener and Gastronome,” a Tier III class he teaches at the University. Listed as one of the University’s “weirdest classes” in a 2013 article in The Athens News, Holben explained that this course explores gardening and cuisine from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Holben said that through this course, which he created after receiving the University Professor Award in 2006, he seeks to teach his students a little about the nation’s third president, who understood the social value of food, and to encourage students to embrace Jefferson’s passion for life-long learning. He also showed the creative and ingenious ways in which students who have taken the course have applied the course’s objectives to their particular fields of study.

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OHIO student Lauren Cohen was the last speaker to take the stage. A senior studying applied nutrition and a research assistant for Holben, Cohen’s presentation focused on the Athens Locavore movement, what it means to be a locavore and how the movement relates to the gardening and farming skills and passion of our founding fathers. The presentation included a documentary produced by Cohen and titled, “Made in Athens: The Local Food Movement.” The documentary touched on the history of agriculture in Ohio, the history of Ohio University and how Ohioans, and particularly Athenians, are gravitating back to locally produced food. The film included interviews with Athens County farmers and business owners involved in the locavore movement, which has created a rich and vibrant local food system in the area. “I think our founding fathers would be extremely proud of Athens,” Cohen said.

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Athens resident John Ray asks a question following the presentations at the Founders Day Symposium. The event, marking the official beginning of University Libraries’ bicentennial festivities, was well attended, and extra seating had to be brought in to accommodate the large crowd.

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Holben and Wulf answer questions from the audience following their presentations. Much of the post-presentation discussion focused on more modern-day examples of politicians and the American public embracing gardening. Some of those examples included the Victory Gardens Americans planted during World War II and the garden First Lady Michelle Obama has created at the White House. “I’ve been coming to American for the last 10 years,” Wulf, who resides in Britain, said, noting the change she’s seen in American attitudes toward gardening and locally produced food.

Wulf noted that the environmental movements in America today can be traced back to the founding fathers who talked about nature as a fragile ecosystem. “I think gardens are still political because they can empower people and local communities,” she said. “If you have a garden, you are making a political statement.”

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Theodora Lee Gregg asks a question during the Founders Day Symposium. A resident of Athens who holds a doctoral degree in botany from OHIO, Lee Gregg is involved in several gardening and environmental initiatives in the area, including sitting on the Athens Tree Commission and the Community Food Initiatives Board. She is also a Master Gardener.

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Wulf speaks before a packed room at University Libraries’ Founders Day Symposium, held in the fourth-floor 1951 Lounge at Alden Library. The symposium was funded by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

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Deborah Kirlin, an instructor in the Ohio Program of Intensive English (OPIE), asks a question following the presentations at the Founders Day Symposium. Those who attended the symposium were treated to special refreshments provided by University Catering. The refreshments included macaroons, bread pudding and a chocolate drink – which were all popular during Thomas Jefferson’s era – but no tea for fear of being taxed by the British!

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Wulf stuck around after the Founders Day Symposium to sign copies of her books.