In the waning summer weather, about a dozen Mount Saint Mary College students and their professor, Rob Wakeman, harvested potatoes, planted mizuna, and saved lavender from bindweed at the Downing Park Urban Farm last semester.
Wakeman, an associate English professor, says that the course, “The Recipe Book: History, Theory, Practice,” blends traditional writing and discussion with experiential learning in the community. Using a flipped classroom format, lectures and assessments were posted online and classroom time was used for fieldwork throughout Newburgh.
The class read about cookbooks during famine in Tudor England and then visited food deserts in the city; understanding European trepidation to indigenous ingredients in colonial America opened up to new possibilities for hospitality at the Sanctuary Healing Gardens in Newburgh; and studying the relationship between food rationing and mental health during World War II helped students wrestle with the challenges of grocery shopping on SNAP benefits.
“Food is rooted into so many parts of our lives that we don’t even realize it,” said Natalya Frye of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., one of Wakeman’s students. “Food is family. Food is tradition. Food is economic and political backgrounds. Food is in everything we do and everything that we experience.”
Community was a major focus of the course. The students donated canned goods to local organizations, wrote recipes for a fresh food giveaway, and helped to develop a wall calendar – complete with gardening tips and seasonal recipes – for the Newburgh Urban Farm and Food Initiative’s annual fundraiser.
“Mount Saint Mary College’s dedication to service can be found throughout the curriculum, cultivating these values for future nurses, teachers, and entrepreneurs,” Wakeman explained.
In lieu of a final exam, the course concluded with a community potluck where the students presented their experiences and discussed the challenges of writing clearly, vividly, and persuasively about something as transient as taste.
“Ultimately, we concluded that thinking with recipes can reveal what it means to belong to a tradition, but also to open ourselves to others, to create community by connecting with new friends and neighbors,” Wakeman explained. “As a necessary reminder of what makes a Mount education so distinct, this was a class that I found especially nourishing in every sense of the word.”