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 She realized that any print publication would be outdated before she could have it published, and so she turned instead to the internet.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