While food is surely never far from anyone's mind, it is about to become even more present on the minds of those at Holyoke Community College.
A committee of faculty and staff has spent the semester planning a campus-wide initiative that expands the philosophy of HCC's popular and highly regarded Learning Community courses, which take a single subject and examine it from multiple academic angles.
The result is the "One Campus, One Theme" initiative that will begin in September and run through the entire academic year.
The topic: Food.
"We're a community college," said HCC Spanish professor Raul Gutierrez, a member of the planning committee. "We're trying to create a broader sense of community by having different classes focus on this one theme. The idea is for the theme -- food -- to become the connective tissue between classes, erasing the imaginary borders between academic disciplines."
"One Campus One Theme" doesn't mean every class at HCC will focus on food. Participation is not mandatory, but committee members hope that teachers will look for existing and natural ways to incorporate the theme in some way into their lesson plans as well as collaborate with each other on food-related projects.
There will be seven, broad, food-related topics during the year, each with a different, though sometimes overlapping focus:
Beyond the classroom, there will also be activities, such as special meals, lectures, and films, scheduled throughout the year tied to the theme. Committee chair Jack Mino, who is also coordinator of HCC's Learning Communities, has put together a Google site that includes a calendar of events, details each month's food topic and also provides examples of interactive assignments that teachers can use.
A good example of the kind of cross-academic collaboration the One Campus One Theme means to foster is already happening this semester with three HCC classes: Global Information Systems, Environmental Science and Spanish for Heritage Speakers.
Early in the semester, students from the GIS class toured community gardens managed by the Holyoke nonprofit community group Nuestras Raices. They took photographs and plotted the gardens using Global Positioning System coordinates. They also collected dirt, which they turned over to the Environmental Science class for laboratory analysis.
In the meantime, students in Gutierrez's Spanish for Heritage Speakers class interviewed the city residents who rent plots in the gardens for an oral history project.
"We have been asking why they participate in the program, what kind of produce they plant, what kind of issues are they dealing with. Given that most of the participants, the farmers, are Spanish speaking, my class was a perfect fit," said Gutierrez.
Information they gathered from the farmers about planting and produce will then be shared with the Environmental Science class.
"Even though our classes haven't met together," noted Gutierrez, "we are all gaining different perspectives of the same organization, all related to food."
PHOTOS: (Left) Jonathan Surrency of Nuestras Raices gives a tour of community gardens in Holyoke to a GIS class visiting from HCC. (Right) An HCC culinary student prepares for lunch. (Thumbnail) HCC Sustainable Agriculture students work in a garden they built at Holyoke Pediatrics in Holyoke for a Service Learning project.