Environment Service Learning (ELS) gives an opportunity to learn and experience community-based service in close connection to environmental issues and benefits. Our EPP-512 course syllabus included participation in ELS and all the students of the class visited Care of the Earth Community Farm (Megan’s farm), on Rutledge Pike just outside of Knoxville, TN. To say briefly about this farm, this is a community supported family-operated chemical-free vegetable farm with a mission to care for human beings, community, family and ourselves.
It was a great experience to get involved in Megan’s farm with friends and the professor herself working together to take care of plants. For the first time, I was actually seeing family operated agriculture in the USA, and it was surprising that this was not different from my country Nepal in aspects like raising poultry and livestock together with growing fresh vegetables and fruits. Megan briefly explained about the farm, its major work and commodities grown, which helped to acquaint us about the farm. The vegetables grown in the farm were quite attractive, but cabbages were infected by pathogens. Disease was prevalent in the strawberry field also. She was very much concerned about disease control, but she had not been able to find promising control strategies for her farm as much of the research is carried out under weather conditions in California or in Florida, which do not work in Tennessee’s environment. We weeded the strawberry plot during our 1st day visit, but I was hoping we could have done some harvesting of vegetables. Weeding is one of the most important cultural practices in any farm that uses human labor if you are not using herbicides. I was wondering about the challenges of this farm to control weeds, as this farm was not using any chemicals. I was interested in suggesting that this farm to do a trial study on anaerobic soil disinfestation or bio-fumigation method, which is a non-chemical approach to see if that farm could be disease and weed free.
Our next visit was more exciting and we were harvesting root crop parsnips. At first, I was thinking that it would be easier just like picking up fruit vegetables, but it was not. Maybe we did not have the right tools or enough of them. In addition, no one had experience on harvesting this root crop. Though we ended up with lots of broken roots, we got seventy five percent of fruits harvested. Though the harvesting did not go that well, I still feel that, it was a great experience.
To sum up, ELS was a nice experience and I hope this kind of work will continue for the future students to get real life field experience. In addition, I feel that including some technical works of plant pathology like identifying diseases or scoring disease in the farm situation would make this experience more fruitful.
I would like to appreciate Dr. Ownley to let us participate in ELS and for the lunch.