Anna Smith thought she was just signing up for yet another online class when she enrolled in a philosophy course titled “Our Values in the Environment” for the fall 2020 semester.
Smith, a political science nonprofit management major, said she was pleasantly surprised to learn the class would involve more than just those tiny Zoom squares.
“I didn’t even know it would have a community outreach or involvement,” explained Smith, who is minoring in philosophy and environmental science. “I actually got to get outside of my house and be around other people, and that was quite a novelty.”
Beginning fall 2020, Smith and her classmates in the philosophy and environmental science course volunteered with Grow Hope Farm, a community garden maintained by Hope for the Inner City in East Chattanooga. The partnership continued into spring with a philosophy course titled “Exploring the Benefits of Urban Farming.” Both courses were led by philosophy lecturer Lucy Schultz.
During the height of the pandemic last year, the farm wasn’t tended, so the students’ first task was to help Grow Hope staff and volunteers reclaim it.
From pulling weeds to painting murals, they sowed seeds, harvested collard greens, built a greenhouse and shared fresh produce with the farm’s neighbors, they watched as the gardens slowly came back to life.
Without the class, Nia Alston doesn’t think she would have ever been one to volunteer on a farm.
“I don’t think I ever would have been like, ‘Oh yeah, let me go,’ because I was pushed to kind of go and do it. I really have seen how much I enjoy just being out there,” explained Alston, an environmental science major concentrating in engineering science.
Practice what you teach
Schultz sees the course as fulfilling the University’s mission to incorporate more experiential learning into the curriculum but, more importantly, getting students engaged with the community as they help address local food insecurities.
“I want students to understand how philosophy is not just sitting back, reflecting on abstract ideas. It really does make a difference in the way that we live in the world and how we relate to each other and the environment,” Schultz explained.
“This is a real hands-on way to see those ideas in practice.”
From the mental and physical benefits of working with the gardens, to gaining practical skills and new hobbies, to better understanding the socio-economic impacts the urban farm has on its community and more, Schultz’s list of ways students benefited from the course is a mile long.
“I think that what students took away from the experience is varied and personal depending on what their background is,” Schultz concluded.
“That was really exciting to see and experience because I couldn’t have planned it. We just dove right in and developed this partnership and now we’re seeing the fruits of it, and I’m really eager to see what else will come of it.”
Not that unique
Tony Houston, senior philosophy major with an environmental science minor, said his experience in the course has caused some serious self-reflection. Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, he lived in a similar neighborhood and had a detached relationship with food.
“I didn’t even know what a potato was beyond something that can be consumed. What I mean by that is: I had no idea how a potato was grown or where they were grown.
“I remember growing up, that’s how it was. You go to the corner store. You get your bag of chips. You’re going to eat the chips, split the bag open, lick the crumbs. Then you’re just going to toss it.
“You don’t really value your environment at all. It comes from a sense that your environment doesn’t really value you because of where you are, how you’ve been treated, how hard it is, the situations and opportunities you’re presented.”
When he interviewed Grow Hope Farm neighbor Charlie Bell for an assignment, the conversation was eye-opening.
“She told me, ‘Some of these children don’t know where their food comes from.’ That grounded me. My experience wasn’t that unique. Children are facing the same problems I did when I was younger, two states away from my hometown. It made me realize that this lack of nutrition affected a lot of low-income communities.
“I greatly enjoyed my experience on the farm this semester, and it has changed my relationship with food as well as my understanding of it.”