Sabbatical Proposal

What can we learn from Gardens?

1.  Concise but specific statement describing your proposed sabbatical leave.

During the proposed one semester sabbatical leave, I will pursue independent research and field study to explore the complex relationship among food, culture, and society in the community garden, home garden and small family farm.  During the spring and summer of 2010 I plan to conduct interviews with writers in various disciplines who have been addressing “the garden” and food as a cultural and environmental issue.  The central focus of my research will be an inquiry into our relationship with food as part of our historical knowledge, as an element of our close connection with the land that feeds us, and also as a resource for the future.  Besides interviews and reading, I also plan to enroll in a course on community gardening and to visit several community and school gardens.

Supporting this research will be inquiry into how an organic garden can support learning across the curriculum and how such a garden can potentially support the SMC Institutional Learning Outcomes and the mission of the college.

2.  State the objectives that you expect to complete during your sabbatical leave.


  • To become a better informed garden advocate and spokesperson for gardens as a site for understanding human culture.
  • To gain knowledge about how school gardens can support learning within my own discipline, English (through literature and composition), and in other disciplines.
  • To document the benefits of integrating gardens into a variety of college courses, especially as the garden relates to global or cultural awareness.
  • Collect examples of projects/assignments that can be used in a variety of classes to incorporate gardening and a physical garden.
  • Build an annotated bibliography on the subject of food and gardens.

3.  In what specific ways will your sabbatical benefit your students, colleagues, the college and you individually?  Indicate how your proposal reflects the mission statement.

First of all, my research will support my continued work at SMC as a faculty member committed to green and global issues. I am eager to bring ideas from my sabbatical to all of my colleagues; I especially would like to see more faculty incorporate sustainability and ecoliteracy into their courses.  This sabbatical will give me the time to do in depth research and to read widely and serendipitously about how gardens can be integrated into college level courses.  I know in my heart and my mind that gardens are good for what ails us.  I’ve been inspired by many thinkers and writers toward this kind of study, but certainly by Grace Lee Boggs, who in an interview with Bill Moyers spoke of community gardens as an answer to the disconnect many young people feel because of the many crises we are facing:  She sees hope in the gardens, in growing healthy food as a way to build community, but also a “different way of relating to time and history and to the earth.”  A garden, she says, “helps young people to relate to the Earth in a different way.  It helps them to relate to their elders in a different way.  It helps them to think of time in a different way.”  I truly want to help my students think in different ways.  And I see the garden as a site or portal for helping them think–and see and write.  Learning, it seems to me, is not so much about content as it is about relationships between people and the world around them.  Our college’s mission to help “students learn to contribute to the global community” can be supported by a personal relationship to the place they inhabit.  The garden, the source of our food,  connects to the world’s social, cultural, political, economic, technological, and most obviously our natural environments. I take this mission seriously.  Students will make a lifetime of choices about how to live in this world.  Bringing the garden into the classroom and the students to the garden will benefit all of us.

The courses I teach, composition and literature, will be enriched by integrating garden related writing and reading assignments.   I expect my research, including my core interviews, will offer me a stronger foundation to continue more confidently with this important work.  I will be building an annotated bibliography and also collecting best practices from faculty and teaching gardeners and farmers, those who have incorporated gardens and garden writing innovatively and effectively, both inside and outside of “the academy.”  I expect my sabbatical will yield innovative strategies in a range of disciplines for field studies and projects for students in places like farmers’ markets, farms, and local gardens.

4.  Identify the specific activities and or procedures that will be performed to meet your objectives.

A.  Four core interviews are planned.

  • Patricia Klindienst, a master gardener and writer, published The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans. She has agreed to meeting with me in the spring of 2010 in Guilford, CT.
  • David Mas Masumoto, a third generation organic peach and grape farmer in Fresno, CA, and the author of several books, most recently Heirlooms: Letters From a Peach Farmer (2007), along with Epitaph for a Peach (1995), and Harvest Son.
  • Alice Waters: Chez Panisse Foundation: The Edible Schoolyard founder (Berkeley) and/or representatives at the Center for Ecoliteracy.
  • Antonio Solario, M.A. Geography, California State University, Northridge, author of “The Ethnobotany of East Los Angeles Gardens,” his master’s thesis. Solario is a graduate of SMC and CSUN with an M.A. in geography.  I met him last spring when he gave a presentation at Selby’s Introduction to Environmental Studies class. His work can be used as a model for my students’s research.

B.  Visits to learning and teaching Gardens tentatively will include the following; these visits will be documented with digital photography and written reports:

  • The Huntington Gardens, San Marino
  • South Coast Botanical Gardens, Palos Verdes Pennisula
  • The Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Middle School, Berkeley
  • Community Gardens in Santa Monica:  Main Street, Park Drive, and Euclid Park
  • LAUSD Gardens at Hollywood HS
  • The Learning Garden at Venice High School (David King, Master Gardener)
  • Santa Monica High School Garden
  • The Chile Pepper Institute:  Teaching and Learning Gardens at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces
  • Nuestras Raices farm (La Finca) South Holyoke, Massachusetts

C.  Completion of a gardening class (10 weeks) through UCLA Extension, taught by David King, master gardener at Venice High School.  Plans are to enroll in the winter term; classes meet weekly.

D.  An annotated bibliography/webliography will be created as I pursue my research both on the ground (in the gardens), in the library, and through various databases.  One objective is to create viable reading units for English/composition by collecting and sorting readings.  Gardens are seen as a reflection or representation of world views—aesthetics, historical, regional, ethnic, etc.  Another classification pattern can be by location or function:  home gardens, school gardens, community gardens, and public/museum gardens.  Also texts can be sorted by genre: poetry, personal narratives, opinion essays, academic writing, fiction, etc.  An historical perspective is, of course, not to be ignored, as changes in writing about gardens and the farms of our nation have undergone dramatic changes, reflecting the changes in American values.

5.  Specify a timeline for the sequence of each of the activities listed in Item #4. This is a tentative timeline that will need adjustments based on interviewee availability.

December: Begin scheduling high school garden visits and other calendar items. 

January:  Reading and related research into master gardening program and HS Curriculum curriculum.   Visit High School Gardens (Venice, Hollywood, Santa Monica), photographs and writing summaries.   Schedule and plan travel for upcoming interviews.

February: Reading and research the history and mission of the Center for Ecoliteracy and the Edible Schoolyard Foundation.  Travel to Berkeley, California–visits to The Edible Schoolyard and Center for Ecoliteracy.  Interviews with Alice Waters or her representative.  Write summary reports.

March:  Public Garden Visits:  Reading and research into the teaching and learning activities of Southern California Gardens:  South Coast Botanical Gardens (Palos Verdes Pennisula) and Huntington Gardens in San Marino.  Write summary reports.

April:  Reading and research the work of Masumoto and other farmers who write, such as Wendell Berry.  Interview with David Mas Masumoto at his peach and grape farm in Fresno.  I also plan to attend at least one public reading by him during my sabbatical (reading tour to be determined).  Write summary report of this interview then write a profile of Masumoto.

May:  Research community gardens and their growing popularity and the Santa Monica commitment to establishing additional community gardens through 2010.  Travel east and visit Nuestras Raices farm (La Finca) in South Holyoke.  Interview Patricia Klindienst.  Reading and Research focus on developing curriculum connections and writing projects for students related to “the garden.”  Write summary reports and a personal essay on my experiences.  Develop ideas for future writing projects under consultation with Klindienst.

June-July:  Documentation and organization of information for presentation.

6.  State explicitly how you plan to document your proposed sabbatical activities.  Examples :  written reports, research or scholarly papers, curriculum revisions, creative projects, multimedia lessons/presentation, video, transcripts of courses.

1.  Reports will be prepared following each site visit and interview.  I will store all material electronically for future reference.  Photographs will be associated with these reports.

2.  An annotated bibliography will be prepared.

3.  Curriculum materials will be collected and designed.

4.  Short essays (literary non-fiction) will be written as a more expressive representation of my research and as examples for my students of the type of writing that is inspired by “the garden.”

5.  Transcript from UCLA Extension for completed gardening class.


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