The students in Professor Rebecca Brown’s course on vegetable crop production could not have been happier sitting in the middle of URI’s giant pumpkin patch on the first day of autumn. They were harvesting 17 new and experimental varieties of pumpkins and collecting data about them for a research project designed to determine which would be best as Halloween jack-o-lanterns and which will last the longest sitting on your front doorstep—assuming trick-or-treaters don’t smash them first.
“The farm is our classroom,” said Professor Brown, noting that her students spend every class day in September and October learning amid fields of corn, squash, tomatoes, and other crops. “We don’t sit in a lecture hall. And this isn’t a make-work assignment. It’s real research.”
And the students can’t get enough of it. For senior Rassmeay Morm, it was his first hands-on experience on a vegetable farm. “I love to get down and dirty while we’re learning about crop production,” he said. “I didn’t know that the whole class was going to be like this, but it’s great experience and great not having to worry about a test coming up.”
Landscape architecture major Emily Condon said she wants to incorporate edible gardens into her landscape designs, so she enrolled in the class to learn more about how vegetables grow. “You learn so much more when you’re outside doing the work yourself,” she said. “And we get to eat some of the vegetables right off the plants, so that’s a big plus.”
The farm is our classroom. We don’t sit in a lecture hall. And this isn’t a make-work assignment. It’s real research.
Chris Allen agrees. “I can learn in a lecture environment, but this is much more my style,” said the sustainable agriculture major. “I like being outside getting my hands dirty and having something to show for it at the end of the day.”
For several hours, the students weighed and measured the various pumpkin varieties. Later, a group of freshmen will deliver some of them to local 4-H groups and the organizers of the campus Slow Food Fall Festival to sell. The rest of the pumpkins will go to URI Master Gardeners, who will leave them on their porch until the pumpkins begin to rot, providing important data on the “doorstep life” of each variety. Once the project is completed, Professor Brown will report the results to local pumpkin farmers.
But the pumpkin project isn’t the only vegetable research project the students in Professor Brown’s class are getting their hands into this fall. They’re also collecting harvest data for a butternut squash trial, planting numerous garlic varieties for a future study, and spending a great deal of time in the teaching garden.
As important as the research is, though, senior Talia Loyola said the best part of the class is the learning environment. “For me, it’s all about the green,” she said “I love to be out here in the green.”