Experiential Learning in English 110 Impacts Student Learning

By Elyse Zucker, Associate Professor, English Department
and Rosa Jimenez, English 110 Student

This reflective piece was written by a student in Professor Zucker’s English 110 Service Learning class, after attending a field trip to a farm on Long Island. The content of the class is centered on agriculture and social justice and the farm trip was one of several events students partook in connecting what they studied in class with hands-on experience. When students engage in experiential learning relevant to the texts they read in class, the learning process is more meaningful and enriched. Additionally, the rewards for their instructor are equally as great, since seeing the impact the experiences have on students brings to her or him a sense of real satisfaction and fulfillment.

Bethel Hobbs Farm reflective essay by Rosa Jimenez

On the first day of my English 110 class, we were told that it was a service learning course. At that moment I didn’t know to feel about it. However, once Dr. Zucker explained that we were going to focus on food studies, I became interested and decided to keep the class, because I had become aware that good food can impact our health and I wanted to know more. Before this course I had some knowledge of the harmful effect industrialized farming can have on our bodies. Never, however, did I imagine it was also harming the environment. The more we read and wrote about these effects, the more aware I became of the products my family and I consume.  As part of the course we have to provide service to the community to educate them about healthier food choices and agriculture.  We also took a class trip to the Bethel Hobbs Community Farm. Once again I found myself feeling uneasy. I didn’t know what to expect, this was my first time visiting a farm. The weather was pretty bad; it was cloudy and cold. On our way to the farm, as we got further into Long Island, one could immediately notice the change of scenery– absolutely beautiful open spaces. This helped relax me.

The moment we arrived we were greeted, and given the history of the farm. What interested me the most was that Alfred Hobbs, who was an African American, took ownership in 1955 and farmed the land. He then fed anyone who needed it in community from the same produce he grew in the farm. Before his death Mr. Hobbs donated the farm to the church. Both the church and the community decided to keep his legacy going, despite many obstacles. Now they donate to the local shelters, and it is open to the community.

Soon after it was time to see the farm. To be honest it exceeded my expectations. The eleven acres are divided into different areas designated for different vegetables. For example they grow different types of peppers, eggplants, sweet potatoes, kale, garlic, tomatoes etc. The fact that we were allowed to take some vegetables home was pretty amazing, especially that we dug them out ourselves. I couldn’t wait to get home and try the vegetables we gathered. The eggplants especially tasted so different from the ones I purchase at the supermarket. They tasted fresh and were softer and more fragrant. Natural, and fresh in a way it reminded me of the taste of the food back in my country, the Dominican Republic. Since trying the vegetables from the Hobbs Farm, I now make frequent trips to local farmers markets. The highlight of the trip for me was learning the process garlic goes through before being planted. Garlic is put in vodka for a few minutes to avoid bugs getting to them instead of adding harmful pesticides. In addition Epson salt is added to the soil before planting the garlic cloves. This process reminded me of the article we read in class by Rachel Carson “The Obligation to Endure,” in which she explains that pesticides are very harmful because they get in our food, the environment and finally into our bodies. It was nice to see that at the Hobbs Farm that they are growing their plants and vegetables the safe and healthy way. The other articles we read in class made the trip that much more interesting and meaningful as well, since all we studied in class was connected to the farm.

While we walked around the farm it was pouring but that did not stop us from enjoying the whole experience. We were all so fascinated we didn’t mind the weather or that we were drenched. As we walked around the farm we were told about “the three sisters” which are corn, beans and squash. They are the main agricultural crops of the Native Americans, we were informed. The reason why they are grown close together is because they sustain each other. When I heard this I wondered: how did the Natives figure this out? It is pretty impressive and interesting to see how even in nature diversity can be beneficial.

The trip to the Hobbs Farm has definitely enhanced the food studies English course. I am now more aware of farmers’ markets around my area. I’m so glad I was a part of this trip, I now have so much respect for local farmers, is not an easy job but sure seems like a very rewarding one.  Despite the terrible weather condition I felt so at peace. This was a unique experience, one that will stay with me forever.

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