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Students Cultivate Skills and Feed the Homeless

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by James HillWhere some people may see a field of dirt, students from Kevin Lien’s biology class, "Organic Gardening," see the beginning of something beautiful. students analyze soil.As he and his students look over the farm field at the Rock Creek Campus, they are excited about what could grow. The students look over test plots of radish seeds and find that some are sprouting, a sign that the soil is ripe for a garden. The students are testing the soil for key ingredients like phosphorous, potassium and nitrates that will give indicators of soil health.Lien’s class is engaged in a service learning project to educate the community about natural foods and to use the proceeds to feed the homeless through a community garden at Rock Creek. The students are able to get this valuable experience through a $13,000 grant from the Oregon Campus Compact.But soil testing is only the beginning. The students will learn everything from composting to biogeochemical cycles, including plant propagation, water, vegetables, insects, plant diseases, orchards, berry crops and trouble-shooting problems. Besides that, the garden will eventually provide education for K-12 schools, for the college and the community about sustainability, soil issues, garden management and maintenance. Students also plan to connect the fruits of their effort to the homeless via a partnership with Oregon Food Bank."I want to focus on homelessness and hunger issues," said Wendy Binion, a second-year Rock Creek student and former coordinator of the Forest Grove Community Garden. In addition to the Oregon Food Bank, Binion said the classis hoping to team up with AmeriCorps. The biology students will work with other students from chemistry, building construction and landscape technology to research the design of the garden and its construction The cross-disciplinary approach seems to resonate with each and every student. Their work will be ultimately be presented to a committee of Rock Creek faculty and administrators for review.Student Jean Oglesbee, who returned to college after 20 years away from the classroom and is working on the promotional aspects of the project, sees the benefits. "We get information on organic gardens, social issues and how it affects your personal health. It’s exciting to get hands-on experience and learn how to get involved."The Oregon Campus Compact project, "Planting Seeds for Civic Engagement in Oregon," grants funds for activities in K-12 education, hunger/homelessness or for bridging the urban-rural divide. "This fits all of these areas," said Jennifer Alkezweeny, service learning coordinator at PCC. "We’ll get elementary schools involved and have money to provide leadership support for Kevin, as well as money for the actual construction of the garden.""This has been excellent group with really diverse backgrounds," said Binion. "Many have urban planning and development, as well as nursery backgrounds. Hopefully, Ill have the opportunity to integrate this hard science into what I do."For example, I had no idea about what goes into soil testing. Now, I can really understand it," she added.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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