For Augustana students Logan Beausoleil and Jordan Voigt, sustainability was not priority number one during the first half of their college years. So when they enrolled in an“Environmental Literature and Landscapes” learning community and were asked to read books like Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire and to work on their own out-of-class landscaping projects, needless to say, they were a little put off.
But at liberal arts colleges, all students have to do work for courses that might not suit their interests exactly, so for their landscaping project, Beausoleil and Voigt decided to re-invigorate a garden that had lain fallow for several years and had been overrun by grass and weeds in the backyard of their rental property. And even though the two were excited by their initial idea, some uncertainty set in when they began to consider how difficult it would be to pull the project off.
“As soon as this project was assigned I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish,” Voigt said. “I did experience initial hesitation toward the project because I knew that I was not normally a manual-labor lover…but [a]fter feeling inspired from readings and working on Wesley Acres, I decided to face my own personal mental challenge of manual labor.”
What follows is Jordan Voigt’s account of the work that he and Logan put into their project, as well as a reflection on the value of manual labor in partnership toward a common end.
“Our rental property has a 30 × 36 foot garden area that was used to grow vegetables a number of years ago. Since that time, the fenced area had become a sort of communal trash bin, and the garden area experienced significant weed growth. In fact, the weeds were completely covering the fenced garden area, and most of those were weeds taller than I was!
When I went home to Bettendorf [Iowa] to pick up the supplies we would need to tackle our project, I spoke with my neighbor, who was in charge of our church’s garden ministries group. He provided me with some great insight on the process of creating a garden, and he offered a tiller to help get the garden into shape. Even as Logan and I began pulling out the first couple of weeds, we had no idea how much work would be involved in pulling and shoveling out the deep weeded roots.
But even throughout the long process of ridding the garden of those weeds and sowing those first vegetable seeds, we experienced laughter and great frustration, and ultimately we saw the beauty in nature. We laughed at each other when we were sitting in the dirt with weeds in hand and the root still in the ground. We were frustrated as we began to realize what a time-consuming activity we had decided to tackle—not to mention dealing with the large family of honey bees that were residing in the back left quarter of the garden. But most importantly, through what we first saw as hardships, we saw so much of nature’s beauty in developing the land.
We now water the garden on a daily basis. It’s a good feeling to water the garden as the sun shines and the beautiful plants begin to grow, and all of that from the sun combining with our labor. As Wendell Berry said in his essay, “Think Little,” “A person who is growing a garden, organically, is improving a piece of the Earth.” I feel as if I am improving the Earth and that I am returning something to it—even though I currently contribute more waste than I give back. It is a good feeling and it has inspired me to live more sustainably in a number of ways. I enjoyed the experience so much that I intend to one day maintain my own garden with a wide variety of vegetables and herbs.”
After Jordan and Logan finished clearing the weeds and planting a new garden, Alyssa Wilson, another student in the Learning Community, decided to put her own shoulder to the wheel. For her project, Alyssa erected a strawbale greenhouse over a patch of turnips that Jordan and Logan planted, which Alyssa’s greenhouse protected from Illinois’ -20 degree temperatures this winter. Students are hoping that the turnips will be ready for harvest later this spring.
[Late last year, USA Today published a story covering Jordan and Logan’s good work, along with other projects from the Environmental Literature and Landscapes Learning Community. You can read that story here. —AS]