Lifestyle Spotlight: OU course offers alternative way of viewing food
By Elizabeth Cychosz, CG Science
If you know where to look, you can find Dr. Art Trese walking barefoot through hay and dirt, eating a freshly picked cob of corn. Twice a week Trese teaches a class on sustainable agriculture, a passion he has had since he was a child. He was also recently a lecturer at a Science Café in the Front Room.
“I grew up in a really big family, and I was always hungry, as far as I remember, and I started thinking about how to get more food,” said Trese. “I started growing food, [because] there would be more food to eat if we would just start growing something in the side yard. Ever since then, I’ve just been interested in agriculture and food production, and canning, and food storage, and cooking.”
For nearly 30 years and under several instructors, the class, T3 4020, has taken students away from the buzz of campus to an isolated garden on West State Street. There they learn the tricks of the trade for agriculture on a sustainable, individual level. Pairs take control of a small, pie-shaped plot of land in the circular student garden, where they decide what is grown, and the amount of energy they put into it correlates to how much food is produced.
“We could talk about sustainable agriculture and its principles in a classroom, but it doesn’t really help people become more self-sufficient or have them get to the point where they could do anything about it,” said Trese.
Sustainable agriculture might be something that normally flies beneath the radar, but it is growing in popularity. Sustainable agriculture offers students the opportunity to trace the origin of their food, escape from the corporate food industry, and understand more about what they’re eating — down to the basics of how to grow it.
“I feel like sustainable agriculture is relevant to everyone,” said Leah Crosby, a sophomore dance major who attended Trese’s Science Café lecture. “I mean, we all eat, and we all live on this earth.”
“With the world we live in today, which is more and more artificial,” said Trese, “[the interest might be] related to nutrition and just a desire to be more connected with natural things. We’ve gone through enough generations now that most people only know that people used to grow their own food. They’d like to be more connected to the way people used to live without really knowing what that means.”
Students plant, water and weed their gardens, protecting them from bugs and frost with the aid of Trese. Once it is time to harvest, they can bring the produce home and cook with it — another skill developed in the class, but in the lecture portion in Porter Hall. Trese encourages students to put in as much effort as they want, and some come out every day to work with the plants, sometimes well after final exams.
“There are people who get a little bit obsessive about it,” said Trese. And, for graduates of the course, “The refrain is: ‘I didn’t know how much I loved it until I spent a quarter doing it, and now I wish there was an easier way to keep doing it.’”
In his discussion at the Science Café, Trese defined sustainable agriculture as having three major components: environmental, social, and financial. To be considered “sustainable,” farming practices must encompass all three. Trese’s class fulfills those requirements through its small size, personalized practice and a ‘get out what you put in’ mentality.
“My advice is: start small,” said Trese. “Plant a few things, learn a little bit over time, even if you’re not in a situation where you’re dependent on growing on food. At least you’ll know that, one day, if you decide that you want to or you really need to, you’ll have that ability to contribute to your own food production.”