Academic journal article Honors in Practice

From the White House to Our House: The Story of an Honors College Vegetable Garden

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

From the White House to Our House: The Story of an Honors College Vegetable Garden

Article excerpt

When Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine announced in December 2008 his "Renew Virginia" initiative for the Commonwealth, state agencies responded with their own programs "promoting renewable energy, creating green jobs, and encouraging preservation of the environment." At Longwood University in Farmville, a state-assisted co-educational comprehensive institution, the Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars proposed a rooftop vegetable garden on its newly renovated honors residence hall to address these issues. The university's signature "Citizen Leader" program would be enhanced by a working garden that demonstrates to those on campus and in the larger community the advantages of organic farming, composting, rain water usage, and other important sustainability principles. it would also allow hands-on learning consistent with honors pedagogy. Putting the garden on top of a building would provide exciting promotional material and stress the application of such programs even in urban environments. What was first viewed as a setback--the university's initial rejection of the plan--led to the discovery of a compelling piece of history that made the garden project distinctive. Furthermore, this discovery institutionalized an example of the "place as text" focus in honors programs throughout the country.

To give added strength to their initial proposal, the honors staff linked their effort to President and Michelle Obama's decision to establish the first vegetable garden on the White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt's World War ii Victory Garden of 1943. The connection to this presidential initiative and to history was particularly important to the mission of Longwood's Honors College for Citizen Leadership, a program designed to meet the needs of academically gifted undergraduate students by offering challenging courses that enable them to expand their intellectual horizons. in keeping with the university's mission, the honors college strives to develop citizens who use their learning to provide service to their community. This linking of citizenship and learning is the hallmark of honors at Longwood.

The unexpected and severe economic downturn of 2009, the growing awareness of the importance of preserving the environment, and the strain of rapidly increasing global populations have made many believe that a coordinated national effort like that which sustained the country during wartime is needed now. Indeed, the garden could create opportunities to highlight or discuss what may be radical differences between World War Il's sense of shared national purpose and the situation brought about by today's War on Terror, which many think is creating an unacceptable level of sacrifice from military families. Many Americans, as well as most of our students, do not have family members and friends serving in the war and are therefore even further removed from a first-hand understanding of such sacrifice. As Kristin Henderson writes in While They're at Wan The True Story of American Families on the Homefront,

   In a country of nearly three hundred million people only two and a
   half million serve in the armed forces ... A year after the Iraq
   War started, if you looked at the people who were laying down their
   lives for the country ... you found yourself looking across America
   at small rural towns, at decaying urban cores and close-in suburbs,
   past their prime, and at minority and immigrant communities....
   Virtually none of those who serve come from America's elite
   classes: business executives, politicians, academics and
   celebrities--their children do not join the military. (4)

These "children [who] do not join the military" generally attend college, and they need to consider whether the United States now has a shared national purpose. In establishing the White House Garden based on the heritage of the World War II Victory Garden, Michelle Obama made specific reference to the shared goals that the garden would represent. …

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