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Environmental journalism students Emily Floros (left) and Frances Pasquale transplant seedlings in the greenhouse at Fair Weather Farm in Fair Hill, Maryland.
At the University of Delaware, public
policy student Emily Floros is focused on public health and on finding
ways to help people improve their nutrition and access to food. Aidan
Leddy, with a major in criminal justice and a minor in journalism, is
always looking for new experiences that he can incorporate into his
Now, thanks to an environmental humanities class in which students
volunteer at a local organic farm, they both have new insights.
“When I heard about this class, I knew I wanted to ‘get down in the
dirt’ — literally — and see what it means to operate a small organic
farm and what that means to the community,” Floros said. “I realized how
little people know about how they get their food and how hard it can be
to make healthy choices.”
Leddy, who has had summer landscaping jobs to help pay for his
education, said he enjoys being out of the classroom occasionally and
working outdoors again.
“But now I see this kind of work as more than a way to make money,”
he said. “I see it as a way to learn about organic agriculture and what
it can mean to people and the environment.”
He and Floros are part of a journalism class focused on environmental
issues, taught this spring semester by McKay Jenkins, who is Cornelius
Tilghman Professor of English.
Students in the class, offered as part of UD’s environmental
humanities program, read, discussed and wrote about a variety of topics
related to sustainability, and about half of them also volunteered
regularly at Fair Weather Farm in nearby Fair Hill, Maryland. The final
requirement of the class was a personal essay incorporating one of the
topics covered in the course, such as organic farming, and the student’s
own experience with it.
“This project will allow students to build, tend and harvest their
own organic garden plot at Fair Weather Farm — and, in the process, see
for themselves (with their eyes and their hands) how local, organic food
production works,” Jenkins wrote in a description of the class.
On a warm spring day recently, he and four students joined the farm’s
owner, Nancy Bentley, at Fair Weather. They tilled a vegetable plot
with hoes, weeded between pea plants and prepared to transplant kale and
other seedlings from the farm’s greenhouse.
Bentley obtained organic certification in 2008 and sells produce at
the farm’s market and through weekly “community supported agriculture
(CSA)” shares, consisting of boxes of fresh produce.
Jenkins began taking students to the farm in February, when most work
was done in the greenhouse. He plans to continue offering the
environmental journalism class in future semesters and encouraging
students to learn firsthand about food production.
“The group this semester is doing the grunt work of planting, hoeing,
weeding,” he said. “In the fall, I expect that about 50 environmental
humanities students will be out here, harvesting like crazy.”
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Aidan Leddy, who has a major in criminal justice and a minor in journalism, says firsthand experience has provided new perspectives for his writing about organic agriculture.
Students, many of whom had taken previous classes with Jenkins, said
the work at the farm added an important perspective to what they learned
in more traditional ways.
“When I took this class, I knew it was going to be a treat — a chance
to do really interesting things in the classroom and outside of it,”
said Kelsey Burke, who has a major in energy and environmental policy
and a minor in environmental humanities. “I feel like what we do here at
the farm engages us in the land and in the process of learning about
the issues we’ve been studying, like where our food really comes from.”
For Leddy, working at the farm is enjoyable as well as educational,
but it also provides material for his interest in journalism.
“Students who like to write are always being told to write about our own experiences, but then we sit in class and don’t have
those experiences,” he said. “I like this class because it gives you
the chance to do different things in addition to regular academic
The “Environmental Humanities Farm Plot” project has been supported by the College of Arts and Sciences’ Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center.
About the environmental humanities minor
The environmental humanities program was established because,
although the sciences provide basic insight into environmental issues, a
growing number of scholars, policymakers and environmental
professionals have recognized that many of the most basic environmental
questions are humanistic.
The 18-credit minor gives students from a variety of majors across UD
the chance to think more rigorously and imaginatively about
environmental issues by integrating the insights of many disciplines.
Course topics include environmental literature, nature and history, and
The minor is designed to be attractive to two distinct groups of
students: those in the sciences hoping to deepen their understanding of
environmental issues and to learn more effective means of communicating
their own work; and those in the humanities wishing to study complex
environmental issues without having to major in the sciences.