Teaching a green thumb: Local college professor puts students in the garden to give back to community

0

A local woman is determined to teach area students about gardening and where food comes from – even through her English class at Ivy Tech in Noblesville.

Renee Rule is in her sixth semester teaching urban gardening and food insecurity at the Noblesville Community Gardens in Noblesville’s Southwest Quad off of Pleasant Street downtown.

“It’s an English composition class, English 111, and I teach the class through urban gardening and service learning,” Rule said. “We work in the garden, and we’ve already donated 500 pounds of food this summer, and then the students write about food issues. First, the food goes to the students in the class if they want any. Then, we take it and distribute it at Ivy Tech, to all the students and faculty who need it, and then the neighborhood here (receives some) because this is a food desert. A food desert occurs when you can’t get access to fresh food within 2 miles. At this location, you can’t. The closest thing is Dollar General and a gas station.”

Rule said there are many households in the neighborhood with retired or disabled individuals, many of whom do not have transportation and are on a fixed income.

“Originally, we had brought it all over to Ivy Tech, and we couldn’t figure out why we weren’t getting the neighborhood to come take it,” Rule said. “Eventually, we found out many people didn’t have transportation. We had to adjust it after we figured out the demographic a little bit. We rarely have leftover. There are 20 gardens in Hamilton County that feed the food pantries here, so the food pantries don’t need the food we grow.

“That’s why we bring some of it to Ivy Tech, because about 48 percent of college students are food insecure,” she continued. “We have never had a problem of too much food. We could probably double it and still run out.”

Rule teaches the course during fall, spring and summer semesters.

“I guess it’s two-fold,” she said. “One, I’ve always been a gardener, so I wanted to try to figure out a way to get students in the garden. I couldn’t figure out how, and finally, after about three years, I figured out that we could do all of our research on food topics. I kind of honed it in on that and worked it out to where they’re actually working and researching in the garden, then writing their papers.”

The typical pass rate for English 111 classes is about 48 percent, but the pass rate for Rule’s English 111 gardening class is between 85 and 90 percent.

“What’s also really nice is that because they’re working so hard together, they’ve developed a really close bond as freshman coming in, and that’s a really hard thing to do with a commuter campus.”

Students Drew Ryan and Samantha Foster work in the garden. (Photo by Sadie Hunter)

FEEDING THE NEED

With more than 2 acres of space for a garden, Rule’s class plants modest amounts, only maintaining four rows of vegetables throughout the year. However, there are plans to expand.

“Next year, we’re doubling the size of the garden,” she said. “We also will have space for families to rent to see if we can get more of an output.”

The group also planted a butterfly garden for the first time on the property.

“I had never done that before, so it was kind of trial and error,” Rule said. “It’s all Indiana native plants. We planted it the first time this spring, so we’ve been through an entire season with it.”

The garden doesn’t always line up with the semester, though, and students taking the course in different semesters have different tasks.

“In the first year, the spring-semester students had to dig up dirt, put compost down, lay the plastic, etc.,” she said. “Summer is basically harvesting. In the fall, we’re doing cleanup and planting fall foods and getting the garden ready for the winter.”

Students recently installed hoop houses to to grow lettuce and other produce.

“We’ve never done the late fall stuff, so we’re going to try the fall vegetables this year to see if it will work,” Rule said. “It may be too cold.”

The City of Noblesville owns the 2-acre property, which is rented to Noblesville Community Garden and used to be at Arbuckle’s Railroad Place, which has relocated.

“They had started, but then the person in charge of it moved to California,” Rule said.
“So, technically, I’m in charge of the Noblesville Community Garden and this project. That’s why we have family plots, and we’re hoping to get more people out here to be able to grow their own food.”

MEET RENEE RULE

Renee Rule has taught at Ivy Tech for 15 years, teaching at the downtown campus before the Hamilton County Campus opened in Noblesville.

In addition to English 111, she teaches creative writing and American literature and leads the study abroad program at Ivy Tech.

“I’ve taken eight different trips, and it all comes back to that idea of experiential learning and getting out of the classrooms,” she said. “I do that over spring break every other year, and that’s what started this idea. I wanted to find something to get out of the classroom and still learn. Study abroad is perfect for that.”

Share.