Posted on Monday, October 2, 2017

DCC Garden Project Consolidates Study Disciplines, Feeds Community

Submitted by Bobby Allen Roach, Public Relations & Marketing Specialist, Danville Community College

 

CAPTION: Danville Community College Assistant Professor of Biology Christopher Pantazis and his BIO 256: Genetics class pose with their vegetable yields from the campus garden on the second day of classes this semester.

 

A service-learning project at Danville Community College (DCC) this summer took students’ coursework from the classroom to a practical medium: The campus vegetable garden.

The impetus for this effort began as the capstone project for Upsilon Phi, DCC’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK).

“Ultimately, the purpose of the project is to help students learn about biology, sustainable agriculture, statistics, and how perceptions impact actions,” said DCC Assistant Professor of Biology Christopher Pantazis. “The campus garden has been active since spring, but the research that went into it and the planning started last winter. Sarah George, a second-year student and president of DCC’s PTK chapter, created the experiment to test the difference between organically grown and engineered methods of plant production. She tended it through most of the summer.”

George, originally from Warrenton and currently residing in Chatham, plans to graduate in May 2018 with an associate of science degree before transferring and pursuing a master’s degree in genetics.

“The garden came alive as part of PTK’s Honors in Action project,” George said.

Each year, national PTK leadership selects a broad topic to thematically tie each chapter’s projects together. This year, that topic was “The Way the World Works.” Students at DCC selected the subcategory “Natural and Engineered” as the focus area for their project.

“Over the course of the spring, PTK members met every other Thursday to present their research findings and collectively choose a future research path,” Pantazis said. “We looked at natural and engineered structures, then discussed what it meant to be ‘natural’ or ‘engineered.’ Eventually, the students became focused on genetic modification vs. non-modified organisms.”

Pantazis is an advisor to DCC’s PTK chapter, along with Assistant Professor of Sociology Vickie Taylor and Associate Professor of English Sherry Gott.

“Our next step was to look at community needs,” said Pantazis. T”he students pulled census data for Danville and looked at the distribution of problems that they wanted to help solve,” Pantazis explained. “They decided that they could use what they learned during the early stages of the project to help with the problem of food insecurity. By using their knowledge of natural and engineered foods, our students hoped they could make a difference. They decided to create a community garden to help feed those in the DCC community with the most need.”

“Our next step was to look at community needs. The students pulled census data for Danville and looked at the distribution of problems that they wanted to help solve. They decided that they could use what they learned during the early stages of the project to help with the problem of food insecurity. By using their knowledge of natural and engineered foods, our students hoped they could make a difference. They decided to create a community garden to help feed those in the DCC community with the most need.”

After deciding what they wanted to do, it was time for the students’ plan to be put into action. The next step was for Pantazis’ spring BIO 102 class to design an experiment to test whether organic or chemical gardening would produce a larger yield per square foot. To do this, they took over a garden plot near the Student Center. Half of the garden was created using organic methods, while the other half used engineered methodology. The students then wrote up the experiment as a means of reinforcing the scientific method.

“Conveniently, I was able to work on the details of the project for another project in BIO 102,” George said. “I originally saw the project to be much bigger than it was. When coming up with the project design, we were all seeing the big picture before knowing it was even going to work. Basically, our goal was to see how the garden grew in organic soil versus enhanced soil.”

On the second day of classes this semester, Pantazis’ BIO 256: Genetics class and students from PTK collected a harvest of tomatoes, cucumbers, and other yields from the campus garden.

“We have rosemary, thyme, banana peppers, green peppers, red peppers, cucumber, watermelon, and several varieties of tomatoes growing in the garden,” Pantazis said. “After the harvest was collected, the vegetables were made available to anyone. The recipient needed to choose whether they wanted organic or engineered vegetables. Inevitably, though the yield was smaller and the vegetables did not look as good, people chose the non-engineered vegetables.”

This multidisciplinary project was far from over when the vegetables were harvested, however. The former BIO 102 students are working this semester with Associate Professor of Mathematics Constantine Terzopoulos to run statistical tests to see if there is a significant difference in harvest yields. Once the research is finalized, Taylor will work with the students to help them understand why groups of people choose food created by one method over another. Finally, Gott will work with the students to write a cohesive description of the project and create a poster for presentation. The resulting materials will then be submitted for consideration in the PTK Honors in Action Project Hallmark Awards.

“I hope students walk away from this project with an idea of how to run a controlled experiment and, most importantly, how to critically examine their own preconceived notions in the face of new data,” he said.

As for the project’s impact, approximately 45 pounds of engineered vegetables and 17 pounds of non-engineered vegetables have been distributed to the DCC community.

“PTK’s hope is to continue to plant a garden yearly to help decrease the amount of food insecurity within the region and to grow as a club alongside the community,” George said.

To learn more about genetics or PTK, contact Christopher Pantazis at cpantazis@dcc.vccs.edu.

losberger@vccs.edu'

Laura Osberger

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