Perspectives Online

Learning Through ServiceCALS soil science and nutrition science students make the community their classroom. By Natalie Hampton

Student Chelsi Crawford teaches a composting lesson in a Raleigh community garden.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

Two College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty members have found that the community gardens and nutrition education initiatives of Raleigh’s Inter-Faith Food Shuttle are good places for students to conduct service-learning activities. This past fall semester, students of Dr. Julie Grossman, Department of Soil Science, and Dr. Suzie Goodell, Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, took part in teaching experiences related to two Food Shuttle community gardens.

It was at N.C. State’s 2008 new faculty orientation that Grossman and Goodell learned about opportunities for grant funding through the university’s Office of Extension, Engagement and Economic Development. The Center for Excellence in Curricular Engagement, which has since closed, offered training for faculty members who wanted to engage students in service learning. The two CALS faculty members were able to obtain an EEED grant for service learning.

Service learning is more than just volunteering, Goodell said. “Students go out and engage in a civic activity, then they come back and reflect on what they learned from it.”

Before the funding, the first challenge was finding a place where students could engage with the community through soil science and nutrition. Grossman remembers attending a community partners fair sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Curricular Engagement. She was looking for an organization that needed help with community gardening and with whom her soil agroecology class could work to provide needed soil management skills. But at the event, she found nothing that met her needs.

Meanwhile, in nutrition science, Goodell was looking for teaching opportunities for her community nutrition class. She learned about the Food Shuttle’s Operation Frontline and Hands on Health programs, both designed to improve access to local food and teach people how to prepare these foods healthfully. Coordinated by Katherine Andrew, the Food Shuttle runs Operation Frontline, a cooking-based nutrition education program.

The Food Shuttle’s Hands on Health program was created to make an impact on childhood health by saturating communites with as many healthy living programs as possible, focusing on the development of their own community gardens. Hands on Health began last year with two community gardens in Wake County neighborhoods – Mayview and Neighbor 2 Neighbor.

The two community garden classes kicked off their effort at Mayview in September, with garden and nutrition-based activities organized by Food Shuttle staff, Horticultural Science and 4-H Extension Associate Liz Driscoll, Goodell and Grossman.

Grossman’s class developed two curricula related to soil science and targeted at middle school students in after-school neighborhood programs. The six students in her class divided into two groups, and each group developed an age-appropriate lesson plan. One group developed a lesson about composting, and the other developed a lesson on soil compaction. Members of each group taught their own lesson, then taught the other group’s lesson to see how well others could adapt and use it.

On a warm fall afternoon, three soil agroecology students met at the Neighbor 2 Neighbor community garden for a composting lesson. Matt Perry, a senior in agricultural technology; John Beck, a graduate student in crop science; and Chelsi Crawford, a graduate student in natural resources, were conducting the composting lesson for the second week.

Participation in the N2N after-school program had varied throughout the four-week course of the lessons, one of the unpredictable factors of service-learning projects. On the final afternoon, the N.C. State students helped N2N kick off its new compost bin, which will provide nutrients and organic matter to the program’s small garden.

CALS students help young people at Wilson Temple Church make this healthy yogurt and fruit salad.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
Staff members, along with middle- and elementary-school students, gathered by the bin to add food waste collected from the center, along with leaf mulch and wheat straw. The key message for this lesson: Food waste can become fertilizer for your garden.

In addition to the compost activity, the youngsters played a game, identifying from card photos the items that can go into a compost pile and those that cannot. Meat? No. Cat litter? No. Coffee grounds? Yes!

This group of three soil science students had already taught their own lesson plan about soil compaction, and the key message was: Don’t step in the garden beds! The group used clear containers of soil to show the youth the results of soil compaction and demonstrated that water cannot easily penetrate compacted soil.

Across town at Wilson Temple Church adjacent to the Mayview garden, the nutrition education class was conducting a simple nutrition lesson on grains and breakfast foods for a group of four teen girls. Members of the nutrition class used an existing curriculum, Operation, developed by the national organization Share Our Strength, and the class’s 26 students worked with several different groups around the city. Class manager Mary Andrews, a CALS senior nutrition major, said the youth at Wilson Temple really enjoyed cooking and food preparation.

This afternoon, the youngsters were making a yogurt and fruit salad, with vanilla yogurt, berries and granola.

Next, the group worked on preparing breakfast sandwiches with turkey bacon, eggs and cheese on toast. The girls took turns cooking eggs and bacon and toasting bread for the sandwiches, which were a bigger hit than the yogurt salad. Other nutrition students who helped with the lesson were Nellie O’Hearn and Lindsey Brantley, senior nutrition majors; Meredith Etheridge, a junior nutrition major; and Steve Chavez, a doctoral student in nutrition and animal science.

Goodell and Grossman think the students learn from the service teaching experience. Grossman said that service learning can provide students, particularly those who want to do some type of training or teaching, with future job skills.

“You don’t expect the students to be perfect, but they really work hard,” Goodell said. “This gives them an opportunity to give back.”