GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If IKEA furniture can be designed in Sweden, produced in China and assembled in Florida, then so can a garden. This was the thinking behind University of Florida lecturer Gerardo Nunez’s creation of gardening kits to mail to his summer online students as a teaching tool.
Students taking the HOS 1014 Vegetable Gardening one-credit course offered through the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) are now able to grow their own gardens while they complete internships, work or complete the class from their hometowns across the U.S.
While the course has been taught for at least 10 years, Nunez redesigned the format to be offered online and added the gardening kits to the curriculum last year. The kits reached students in three states and across 13 counties in Florida. Enrollment in the course is up this year and Nunez expects a similar or larger map footprint.
“I wanted to present gardening in a context and format the students are familiar with,” said Nunez, a faculty member in the UF/IFAS horticultural sciences department. “I wanted to allow the students to garden at home and have web-based tools to support their learning.”
This summer, one of these tools will include a 24/7 live video stream of a garden managed by the course teaching assistant. The garden includes the same plants provided to each student in the gardening kits. Nunez believes the students will learn more from a garden they can see instead of long paragraphs explaining heat and pest pressure during the Florida summer. The GardenCam can be viewed here.
“I am a big fan of PandaCam from the National Zoo, so I saw a lot of potential in 24/7 streaming,” Nunez said. “The GardenCam was created thanks to my 2019 CALS Distance Education Mini Grant.”
The course teaches students in a variety of majors at UF how to grow vegetables, fruits and herbs in a home garden. There are no pre-requisite courses, which is attractive to undergraduate students of all levels, and is taught in the summer and fall semesters. This summer, 24 of the 38 enrolled students are from majors outside CALS, such as business, art, engineering and liberal arts majors.
Bailey Pittman, a junior construction management major at UF, chose to take the Vegetable Gardening course this summer after several friends in her freshman residence hall on campus recommended the class. As someone who hadn’t gardened before but enjoyed her house plants, Pittman was interested.
“I’ve always wanted to take the class, and I needed more summer credit hours so I signed up,” Pittman said. “While I am in Gainesville this summer, I appreciate that I don’t have to go to a physical class due to work and internship obligations. Everything I need is mailed to me.”
Pittman is looking forward to enjoying the vegetables and flowers that she will grow as part of the class. Seeing her first Zinnia plant sprout was particularly exciting, she said. Pittman anticipates continuing to have a home garden after she completes the course.
Nunez said growing sustainable and nutritious food is an important life skill applicable to all students. In addition to promoting a better diet, Nunez said home gardening can be relaxing, creative and even therapeutic.
“My personal goals as an instructor are to help students appreciate that their garden can feed, engage and entertain them,” Nunez said. “This is what my garden does for me personally, so I wanted to share that with my students.”
The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution. Visit the CALS website at cals.ufl.edu, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.