July 24, 2014

Summer Reading

Aside from helping Porter Memorial Library schedule, The Big Read events, and scheduling this Fall's Libra Food & Community series, I've asked two students who read a lot if they would like to review/discuss books with me. Nikki works in the library, so I see them* reading novels regularly. Nikki is the very same student with whom I agreed on the read off of Veronica Roth's Allegiant and then I backed out, prompting my Watch the Smack Talk post. [By the way, we were both really disappointed by Allegiant. Uneven quality across trilogies bugs me.] I also know that Cheyenne reads a lot, and we share things on Facebook, so I knew we had some common interests, like science fiction.  She also runs a couple of blogs on her own, A Book of Blank Pages which is a poetry and free writing blog, and a Tumblr where she mostly just rants about books, movies, and fictional characters.
Before we end up with some sort of Halo Effect, I want to explain that though I am professor (my day job), I am not an English or Literature professor. Very, very far from it. The last time I took a lit class was AP English my senior year of high school. Somewhere in Massachusetts is Mr. Kennedy, maybe still coaching debate and teaching English. He made us read Catch 22 and A Street Care Named Desire, and possibly The Great Gatsby, though that could have been Ms. Donnelly, who actually taught the AP class... Those where the days of passive-aggressively manufacturing papers that would amuse me and satisfy them as I made my way through books I didn't enjoy or get. Anyway, the Halo Effect that I'm trying to stave off is that though I am a professor and teach classes, I have no credentials for reviewing books other than loving to read. The very same credentials Nikki and Cheyenne have.

Cheyenne's first pick is May Sarton's Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, which was first  published in 1965. Nikki and I will be reading The Mother-in-Law Cure by Farha Z. Hasan, which was published in 2013. Cheyenne and I should be posting about Mrs. Stevens soon.

In my mind, I had this image when I was thinking about writing together:

But we would be writing about books, not talking about movies. And no one is imprisoning us and forcing us to read bad books. We'll be reading books we chose, and books we are willing to finish. We reserve the right to be silly. By the way, I barely remember Mystery Science Theater 3000. I had to google "robot movie reviewers".

Book review sounds so serious.

Statler & Waldorf
I actually love the guys from the Muppets, but I don't want reading and writing about these books and to become a chore for us or too horrible for who ever stumbles upon what we write. Nor do I want to be bashing books. I'd rather this be more playful than that.

Thank you to Nikki & Cheyenne for agreeing to try this out!

Dear Grammar Police*,
     If you cringed at the intentionally selected plural pronoun, please click on this link.
 Thank you,,

July 13, 2014

Public Produce

To get ready for this Fall's Libra Food & Community series [and my SOC 114 class] I'm chugging through some books on food and food systems. I just finished Darrin Nordahl's book Public Produce. Here in Washington County, Maine there has been a lot of community interest in public access to fruits and vegetables, but we're used life in a rural and remote area. Most often there has been talk of community gardens, plant-a-row projects that donate produce to food pantries, or adding edibles to landscaping. Nordahl's book explores urban initiatives, specifically municipally supported means of growing fruits and vegetables that are available to all members of the community. [Sounds like some cool service-learning projects for a Sustainable Cities Initiative collaboration between the municipal government and college faculty and students. Hey, University of Southern Maine... Metropolitan University.]

Nordahl covers many reasons why increasing local fruit and vegetable production and access would be beneficial, including reduced dependence on industrial agricultural production that is energy intensive in all sort of ways, increased access to nutritious food, and helping people in the community reconnect with food in a way that increase food literacy. When I think of food literacy, or lack there of, I think people not knowing where their food comes from or how to cook.

The part of the book I was most interested in was when the author tackles concerns that local municipal leaders and community members may that make their wary of civic agricultural projects. The mess! The cost! Who's in charge? We're too busy! Who will be responsible? These are serious things that need to be considered, but not sufficient reasons to not develop these projects. I had never really thought about why landscapers may have wanted to avoid fruit and nut trees because of the mess of fallen fruit. This may be the country mouse in me. Drop apples are deer food around here. [By the way Food & Community 2014 will have to fall apple and cider-related events. Stay tuned for Regina Grabrovac and David Buchanan.]

The author Nordahl also points out, "One of the greatest shortcomings - and ironies - of traditional community gardens is their personal, privatized nature." He even includes a few pictures of nice "community garden - KEEP OUT" signs or one that says "Community Garden" in English and underneath says "No Entrar" in Spanish. Makes me wonder what people are afraid of. Is it fear of someone just taking advantage by getting food without helping? Or fear of someone going in and wantonly destroying the garden? Fear of Spanish-speakers who might want vegetables? For me, this fear and faux-public/community way-of-being is why I agree with the author's point private community gardens should not let the municipal government off the hook. If the access and harvest are to be truly public, meaning available to everyone (including poor folks, homeless folks, and people who don't speak English (I seem to be tiptoeing around racism today) and all the rest of your neighbors, there should be a direct and ongoing investment by the town or city leaders, in addition to community members.

My favorite projects in the book are ones that convert municipal lands to edible landscapes or help everyone identify and harvest edible plants that are part of the landscape. Green roofs. Bees on City Hall ceilings. Public orchards. Harvest parties. Partnerships that allow abandoned lots to be used as garden and green space. Nordahl also weaves in examples of successful initiatives throughout the book. I've included links of some these examples below.

Have fun. Even if you aren't in a city, there are lots of cool ideas in this book. 

Ron Finley's TED Talk on Guerrilla Gardening in LA

 (by the way, this website is not set up to be friendly if you have a weak internet connection)

I miss Portland, OR.

Miller's in 2008 outside Denver 40,000 people showed up to glean.
I remember reading about this story. The Millers decided to invite the public to come glean from their fields after the harvest. They expect up to 5,000 people and ended welcoming over 40,000. 

(The picture is from the roof of the MN Institute of Art - Not City Hall)
Bees on Minneapolis City Hall roof

Chicago's NeighborSpace


MLK Jr. Middle School in Berkeley started by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse.

Picture from Tigers and Strawberries
Did you know the USDA has an "Alternative Farming Systems Information Center"? Check out the Community Food Systems & Civic Agriculture page.

Want to brush up on Victory Gardens?

How about here in Washington County? Incredible Edible Milbridge project inspired by the town of Todmorden, UK. The Incredible Edible Todmorden site has lots of resources on it, by the way.

For pictures of Incredible Edible Milbridge click here.

This painting is The Gleaners by Jean-Fran├žois Millet from 1857. 

Another local shout out: The local University Cooperative Extension office offers a Master Gardener program that you can take to learn more about gardening and volunteer to help maintain community gardens.

Next on my list for Food & Community book reviews:

Labor and the Locavore by Margaret Gray
The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky
The Forks Over Knives Plan by Alona Pulde & Matthew Lederman

Read and reviewed already: Where Our Food Comes From by Gary Nabhan

July 10, 2014

The Dog Did Not Eat Your Email

The dog doesn't have to eat your computer. 

The e-version of "the dog ate my homework" is becoming a way-too-common occurrence. From the teacher's perspective, it goes like this:

1. Somewhere between collecting assignments and returning the graded assignments, I end up telling a student that I never received their work.

2. They look puzzled and then reply, "Oh, I emailed it to you." [If this is an on-campus class, the students are supposed to print out their assignments and hand them in during class by the way.]

3. I struggle a bit and think about whether I should A) just check my email to see if I missed the assignment [I miss things.] or B) follow the policy in my syllabus and give the student a zero for not handing in the assignment within the grace period or without an approved extension.

4. I end up doing a search of my maine.edu email. I find no such email from that student. I asked them to resend in case gmail or the search function are being wonky.

5. They say "Sure! I'll send it," but no assignment gets sent that day. If any assignment comes at all, it arrives several days later.

So, how am I supposed to interpret this? Is it an attempt at a de facto extension? If so, I would have granted the student an extension if they had asked directly. Instead, it comes across as a stalling tactic that backfires. My initial response is to give the student the benefit of the doubt. If the assignment gets emailed to me after class and doesn't look like it was completed five minutes before, things are good. However, if the assignment shows up three days later or this student does this more than once during the term, I get suspicious. It feels duplicitous. If you didn't do the work, be honest about it.

But I would rather you just do the work.

PS: You get to use "Sorry, I sent it to mduff@maine.edu" only once.