Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

College of Liberal Arts News

Professor and students create online resource for local agriculture

Share/Compartir. Grow/Cultivar. Learn/Aprender, reads the mantra of the Willamette Valley Agriculture/Agricultura del Valle de Willamette website, a “wiki” conceptualized by Willamette University Assistant Professor Kimberlee Chambers.

The site is a virtual database which serves as a comprehensive collection of resources for those interested in Willamette Valley agriculture — a collection that Chambers says was non-existent at the time of her arrival at Willamette almost four years ago. She realized that any print publication would be outdated before she could have it published, and so she turned instead to the internet.

Chambers, who teaches environmental and earth sciences and Latin American studies, decided to launch a wiki, a website that allows anyone to add, delete or revise content. Three students — Annie Schlegel ’10, Katy Giombolini ’10 and Jonnie Dunne ’10 — helped her create the site, which has grown into a forum for agricultural discussion, learning and sharing.

Categories such as “Crops and Yields” and “Farmworkers” characterize the site, but you don’t need to be a farmer to find the wiki useful. The site also features info on where to find locally grown foods, health tips and ways to start your own garden.

“The site presents timely research that people can use practically,” Chambers says. “Other schools have similar wikis, but are generally password protected. Anybody can access this wiki — it connects our community.”

Chambers also uses the site as a forum for her students to post research papers from their “Geography of Food” class, for which they analyzed the feasibility in their hometowns of eating only locally produced food. Chambers’ “Sustainable Agriculture” class also submitted papers to the wiki.

“I had all of these amazing papers on my desk that only I would ever see,” Chambers says. “I thought, ‘I should make them available to a wider audience — to people who may be able to use the information.’”

In student surveys following the use of the wiki for the classroom, Chambers found numerous positive responses. All but one of Chambers’ students answered they had never contributed to a wiki before. By uploading their papers to the wiki for view by a wider audience, the students felt their work was more useful and relevant to the real world.

They also reported that knowing their papers might be read by the public gave them more motivation to write meticulously and submit a well-polished product.

“I would definitely use the site again,” says Emily Dougan ’14, an environmental science major who took “Geography of Food” last semester. “It helped develop my skills as a writer and gave me an educational tool for whenever I need to learn more about farming, gardening or local food.”

According to Chambers, users from more than 100 countries have visited the site, and when “Willamette Valley agriculture,” is entered into a Google search, the wiki is the first link to appear. These successes aside, Chambers says the next goal for the site is to engage more members of the immediate Willamette community.

Chambers says the concept of the wiki could be applied across disciplines, especially considering the success of blogging and other technological fixations among students today. She is currently working towards publishing a peer-reviewed article about the wiki, focusing on providing a new tool for improving classroom learning.

Check out the Willamette Valley Agriculture site at willamettevalleyagriculture.wikidot.com.



Gift leads to new Japanese garden at Kaneko Commons

Construction began in December on a new Japanese garden near Kaneko Commons and Tokyo International University of America. The garden will be dedicated later this month.

The themes of sustainability, cultural heritage and community service that define Willamette University’s Kaneko Commons will be again encapsulated in the newest feature of the award-winning residential facility — a traditional Japanese garden on the northwest corner of the grounds.

The feature will be called the Tomodachi garden in recognition of Tokyo International University of America’s Tomodachi “friendship” program, which allows community members to interact with and form bonds with TIUA students.

Margaret Bagley, who participated in the Tomodachi program since TIUA was established in 1989, recently gave a donation to Willamette to establish the garden in honor of her husband, Bruce, who passed away last year. The couple frequently promoted TIUA and helped recruit other Tomododachi participants as well.

Since TIUA opened, 2,275 Tokyo International University (TIU) students have enrolled to live and learn for a year with Willamette students, immersing themselves in American university life while also affording a unique opportunity for the Willamette community to engage with Japanese and other Asian cultures.

The 23rd incoming class — which includes 93 students from Japan, China and Korea — arrived on campus last month. Three students from Saudi Arabia also joined the program this semester.

“Cultural exchange is a two-way street — it goes like a spiral back and forth across the sea,” says Gunnar Gundersen, executive vice president of TIUA. “The students love to share their culture with us as well as learn about American culture.”

Japanese landscape designer Hoichi Kurisu planned the garden at Kaneko. His past projects include the Anderson Japanese Garden in Illinois and the Portland Japanese Garden, as well as private home gardens.

“We were very fortunate to work with someone of his stature,” Gundersen says.

The Tomodachi garden features a traditional hand-made bamboo fence, authentic stone and plant arrangement, and a water fountain. In addition, there are plans to convert a one-time dance studio into a Japanese-style conference room next to the garden, creating a more complete ambiance for the area as well as a place where the Willamette community can immerse itself with the theme.

“If you look at the garden space from a variety of angles, you have a different experience each time,” says Barby Dressler, director of university relations/special programs at TIUA. “It feels different from the walkway, inside the conference room and within the garden itself.”

The garden is the first in a projected series of authentic Japanese fixtures to be added to the Kaneko grounds. According to Gundersen, the Japanese installations symbolize the deep connection between Oregon and Japan, and are a reminder of the unique cultural dimensions Willamette is privileged to have.

“Without TIU students, Willamette would be a completely different place,” he says. “Since 1965, we have had the most comprehensive, complex and long-lasting relationship between an Asian and an American university, and Willamette is characterized by it.”