Education is not always about books and lectures.
Sometimes, education is about giving people the opportunity to learn by doing.
"So much of science is about being able to ask the right questions. More often than not, when you conduct an experiment, you're left with more questions than you started with, and that’s OK. It's important for students to learn how to step out and take those risks in their education," explained Dr. Ellen Green, chair of the biological sciences department at Delta State University.
This was the vision behind the Delta State Community Garden.
The project, which began in February 2013, was a collaborative effort between multiple departments.
"A lot of things just came together at the right time. We had the space. We had been trying to expand our science education program, and we had some people who liked to garden. We actually broke ground and dedicated the garden on Earth Day, which tied in nicely with the idea of it being an environmental science resource as well," Green said with a smile.
"It has been run a little differently than some community gardens. We haven't given out tracts of land to different people to plant. Since we had the science education piece, we really had a little more thought behind what we chose to plant in terms of what are we trying to tie into with a K-12 curriculum.
"That's the really exciting part of this for me. We want to bring in local schools to do more STEM education. We could take the students out there and work with them on botany or earth science. We've had school groups come over with their teachers and do various activities in the past. We've done 'plant a seed' projects with local elementary schools where we bring plants to them.
"As we become more of a STEM unit here at Delta State, how we think about our outreach projects is going to change a little bit. I'm hoping we will really use the garden more," explained Green.
She said it's not just elementary and secondary students who benefit form the educational resources the garden has to offer.
Delta State students are also able to expand their knowledge of botany, soil science, and even entomology while working in the garden.
"Every year we write a small grant, and the university has been very generous to fund it, to cover the cost of seeds and tomato cages and other items. This year I had some students who were very interested in the project. They came out and helped to weed the beds and get everything ready. I said 'this is how much we have to spend.'
I just gave them the seed catalogues and pretty much let them decide what to plant this year.
“We have a wide variety of things planted this year. That's part of the experiment is just seeing what will work well," Green stated.
This 'try and see' method of planting goes back to the heart of this project.
"Oftentimes in science, we don't get it right the first time. In a lab experiment, in a classroom setting, there may be a clear-cut objective. In the field that's not at all how it works. You start with a question and you keep trying until you find an answer.
“Our university students need to learn that failure is not the end of the process, it's usually just the beginning," Green explained.
The fact that the focus of the garden is an educational one should not discourage interested community members.
"Over the years we have had a variety of people work with us on this garden: local science teachers, DSU students, faculty and staff, people from down at Stoneville and of course the Facilities Management team here. They helped us build and maintain the garden and they recently put in a sprinkler system, which has made it so much easier to water," continued Green.
"The more hands we have the better. We are always looking for people who are interested in helping. The thought was that this could be a really good thing. It has an educational objective as well as a community outreach mission. That is really the heart of this project," Green said.