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Columbus-area students get sustainability lessons on campus

Ohio University welcomed 55 ninth-grade students on April 19 for an event focused on fun and sustainability.

Students from the Columbus International School took a field trip around the Athens area, including stops at Green Edge Gardens to learn about organic farming methods, local food producers Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACENET) and ShagBark Foods, and the Ohio University Compost Facility on the Ridges. The class, taught by Katie Kimnach, studied the environmental impact of conventionally produced foods and how choosing those foods affects consumers’ health.

The class’ final stop was supposed to be at the West State Research Site, a land lab maintained by the Environmental and Plant Biology Department, but was instead rescheduled to the multipurpose room of the Multicultural Center in the Baker University Center due to rainy and windy weather conditions.

Students took part in identifying various plants that grow in the West State Gardens through a photo slideshow, including blueberries, squash, broccoli, zucchini, wheat, basil, sunflowers and mushrooms. Arthur Trese, associate professor of environmental and plant biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, asked students about their experiences with sustainable farming methods and gardening.

“When I talk to students, whether they’re your age and older, and ask them ‘How would you grow your own food if you couldn’t afford to buy it or if it wasn’t available, would you find something to eat?’, most would say, ‘I would like to know but I don’t know how to be self-sufficient,’” Trese told the students. “So I challenge you to think about where food comes from and what skills it takes to grow food.”

After Trese’s presentation, the students learned about soil, the weather and the conditions different kinds of plants need to grow. Sarah Minkin, a graduate student in environmental studies, offered a slideshow on the West State Street Research Park’s educational programming.

The field trip and presentation were just one step toward the goal of making the West State Gardens into a classroom where local schools and OHIO students can learn about gardening and sustainable farming methods. Loraine McCosker, environmental studies outreach coordinator and academic advisor within the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, said that this is just one of the many initiatives taking place on OHIO’s campus.

“We need to look at higher education to lead the way toward change and innovation and a deep understanding of sustainability,” McCosker said. “In the past there hasn’t been this knowledge base about sustainability and our connection with the environment and that is becoming more prevalent every day. New initiatives are not just happening in environmental studies and plant biology, but they are happening in Art, the College of Business and in the College of Education.”

McCosker is involved in several of these initiatives, including the Common Experience Project and the Kanawha Project, an environmental sustainability literacy project aimed to educate faculty from diverse disciplines throughout OHIO.

Minkin, who also is involved with the Common Experience Project and helped develop the University’s Climate Action Plan, is working to establish projects and programming both for OHIO and the Athens community.

“Here in Athens, a lot of students may have seen gardens but haven’t ever been able to work in one or get their hands and feet in the soil and learn what they can do in a garden and how those experiences can extend into the classroom,” said Minkin. “The goal is to get younger students involved in engaged learning activities and foster an understanding of sustainability.”

Minkin has submitted an 1804 Fund grant proposal for support to build a pavilion at the gardens with seating to accommodate a large group. Her goal is to be able to have OHIO classes and community organizations use the resources at the West State Street Research Site as a way to learn about different environmental and sustainability issues. This goal is part of the Common Experience Project initiative that is trying to integrate sustainability into different curricula across campus.

“OHIO has a lot of resources both physically and within its students,” Minkin said. “There are so many students going out and working with people in the community so it seems that OHIO should have more shared spaces with the community and that we should work together towards common goals of sustainability. I think that this would strengthen OHIO and strengthen the relationship between OHIO and Athens. That is what the Garden Classroom Project would provide.”

Following Minkin’s presentation, students were treated to a meal catered by Christine Hughes from the Village Bakery, a local restaurant that gets its food ingredients from local farms in southeast Ohio. Catered dishes included herbal teas, smoked rainbow trout frittata, veggie frittata, salad and cookies.

Hughes was pleased that the students asked numerous questions about her business, her background in sustainable farming methods and the local food movement in Athens.

At the conclusion of the event, Kimnach said that the Columbus International School would continue to partner with OHIO for other lessons and field trips.