Day 6: Pushing Through to Week Two

The weather was a delightful 75 degrees and sunny for the start of Week Two for Block B of the Morven Summer Institute, which made for a perfect Monday morning for a “plant walk” at Morven! The students of Professor Lerdau’s course, “Food and Nutrition in a Changing World” were treated to a walk around the grounds with expert horticulturalist and arborist, Lesley Sewell, to learn how to identify native and cultivated varieties of plants in Virginia. Starting with the grandiose White Oaks (Scientific Name: Quercus Alba, as we all learned) that grace the back lawn of the Main House at Morven, the class spent an hour learning about the unique features of dozens of different plants — everything from leaf structure, bark, coloration, foliation, germination… who knew that each and every tree was so full of information, if only you know what to look for!

Lesley Sewell – Land Designer, Arborist, and Assistant Professor in Horticulture – led the plant walk.

Needless to say, it was a very informative morning that made all of us think a little bit more thoughtfully about the trees and plants that we walk by each day at Morven. With the newfound knowledge and tools for identifying these various plants, we can be just a little bit more mindful of our surroundings as week two flies by!

Lesley and the students checking out a Southern Magnolia.

In the Farmers Market class, students shared and analyzed their observations from the City Market with the expert help of a special guest, Richard McCarthy. Richard is the Executive Director of, a non-profit corporation that serves as a mentor for public markets. He was the founding president of the Farmers Market Coalition and a co-founder of the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans. As Professor Freedman likes to say, Richard’s a “pioneer”.

Together, the class discussed customer behavior, the social capital in markets, issues of the physical space, SNAP usage, and vendor variety. They used photos, video clips, and sound bits taken at the market as a reference – you can check out some of their photos on our flickr page!

Richard McCarthy leads a discussion on market observations.


Day 5: Farmers’ Market!

MSI students were up bright and early today for Charlottesville’s City Market. The Farmers’ Market class arrived at 6:00am to see the market being set up. They’ll be out there until the market closes down to observe vendors, customer behavior, and product variety among other things.

Cecile Gorham and Kathy Kildea of Market Central

The class also had the opportunity to talk with several members of the Board of Directors of Market Central. Cecile Gorham and Kathy Kildea elaborated on the new canning program, the Meet Yer Eats Farm Tour, and how SNAP benefits work at the market.

Yong Shin and Rachel Locke – students of the Food & Nutrition class.

The Food & Nutrition class arrived a little later but were also on the prowl for research. Students will compare produce prices to study competition at the market and are also keeping their eyes out for any bug damage on veggies and fruits as a part of their ongoing pest project.

The market was full of berries, early summer vegetables, cheese, flowers, and our students! Having class on a Saturday isn’t too bad when you’re in such a fun and delicious place.

Day 4: Under the Japanese Maples

During today’s lunch hour, both classes joined together to explore the Japanese Tea House and Garden. Luckily, the rain and storms held off while we toured around outside. Even though it was cloudy, students loved seeing this special part of Morven.

Michelle Rehme tells students about the landscaping of the Japanese Garden.

Students explore the garden.

It’s almost the end of week one! We have a short day of class tomorrow (we know it’s a Saturday but we had Memorial Day off, so this is making up for it). Both classes will be at the Charlottesville City Market tomorrow. The Farmers’ Market class will have an early start at 6:00am and stay all day to do observational research. The Food and Nutrition class will make their way to the market around 7:00am. It’ll be an early bird Saturday!

The Farmers’ Market class welcomed more guest speakers today in preparation for their research projects. Adrianna Vargo, Director of Farm Services and the Educational Farm Manager for the Local Food Hub, and two members of the Have a Stake in the Market team, Natalie Roper and Carla Jones (who is also our Teaching Assistant!) shared their experiences with the class.

The Food and Nutrition class were back in the garden this morning gathering data for their final project. We’ll have photos of their garden adventures next week!

Walking through the bamboo forest.

Day 3: Full Speed Ahead

Things are happening out here at the Morven Summer Institute. Our two classes are only ten days but they cover an entire semester’s worth of work. So Day 3 means we’ve been in class for about a month in terms of a regular fall or spring semester. Though students do a LOT of work in these 10 days, it’s truly a wonderful feeling to come out after two short weeks with another 3 credits. And it’s certainly awesome to spend those 10 days out at Morven!

The Food and Nutrition class looks out over Morven.

Professor Lerdau’s Food and Nutrition class took advantage of Morven’s beautiful landscape this morning with a little adventure. They hiked through fields and forest on a journey to a corn field in order to examine bug life on plants. Students will use their observations of the corn field as a comparison to what they find in the Kitchen Garden. Here’s a true environmental science class for you! Morven has many faces and ‘research lab’ is clearly one of them.

Students examine corn for bug life.

For the Farmers’ Market class, the Charlottesville City Market will become students’ research lab this weekend. Today, they welcomed four special guests for afternoon presentations:

  • Leanne DuBois of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
  • Elizabeth Borst, the Spotsylvania Farmers Market Manager
  • Jeff Adams, owner of Walnut Hill Farm
  • Libbey Oliver, the Williamsburg Farmers Market Manager

The guest speakers talked about their work in the local food sector and the challenges that growing markets face. Professor Denckla Cobb and Professor Freedman have lined up even more guest speakers for the coming week so that students can hear directly from market participants and decide where to best focus their research.

Leanne DuBois of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Day 2: Mindfulness 2.0

Today we had another exploration in the practice of mindfulness. Marga Odahowski, Director of Studies at the International Residence College and faculty member at UVA, returned to Morven for Block B to lead a second mindful session with our new group of students. They learned simple breathing exercises and how to do a “full body check” to become more aware of each part of the body. The group also experienced mindful eating with the raisin exercise – slowly tasting and chewing a raisin to appreciate every aspect of a single morsel of nutritious food.

Photo Credit: Jessica Strang

After Marga’s morning session, both classes jumped into work, powering through the day with only a few short breaks. The afternoon segment of the Farmers’ Market class featured guest speaker Stacy Miller, the Executive Director of the Farmers Market Coalition. Stacy has worked on every end of farmers’ markets and provided invaluable insight on the challenges that markets face.

The Food and Nutrition class had a very different agenda. They headed out to the Kitchen Garden to do preliminary research. Each student will study the same set of plants every other day for signs of plant deterioration from pests. The Kitchen Garden uses only organic pesticides and sparingly so – it’ll be interesting to see what the class’s research shows.

Photo Credit: Jessica Strang

Day 1: Block B is Under Way

Block A officially ended and after a long Memorial Day weekend, we’re back for Block B! We have two great classes for this session: PLAC 5500: Farmers’ Markets and Applied Food Systems Research led by Tanya Denckla Cobb and Paul Freedman, and EVSC 4559: Food and Nutrition in a Changing World with Manuel Lerdau. You can find out more about them here. We have an awesome group of 25 students, some of which are returning after Block A for an action packed six credits in four short weeks.

Exploring Morven on a walking tour

After introductions in the Meeting Barn, everyone headed outside for a walking tour of the property. Since it was gorgeous today (not drizzly like the first day of Block A), we extended the tour to the Morven Kitchen Garden. The garden’s looking green and luscious!

Tanya led a fun icebreaker back in the Meeting Barn where students came up with their own food spirits and food nicknames – we’ll see if those stick. After lunch, the two classes split up for the first class sessions. Block B is officially under way! Be sure to check back and see what’s happening out here at the Morven Summer Institute.

A fun ice breaker led by Tanya

Day 10: Final Presentations

It’s our final day of Block A! After a wrap-up lecture this morning, the class jumped right into final presentations. Students chose from the variety of topics that were covered over the past 10 days and were grouped according to the topic they chose.

All of the presentations were awesome! Almost every group had a food demonstration, a video clip, or props to help convey their ideas and engage the class.

Here are the groups and their presentation topics:

  • When Food Regulation Goes Bad – Erin Kennedy, Kay Song, Nicole Wrigley, and Kerry Wilson talked about democracy in food choice and individual liability, meat regulation, SNAP benefits, and raw milk regulation.
  • A Political Overview of the Agricultural Process of Eating – James Gray, Alex McCargo, Ibrahim Abu Khadra, and Whitney Armstrong presented on organic vs conventional labels, local vs industrial, informed decision making and mindfulness in eating, and how to get involved through political action.
  • The Green Revolution – Isabel Greenberg and James Yu gave an overview of the history, environmental impacts, democratic values, and social and political impacts surrounding the Green Revolution.
  • Childhood Obesity – David Aramony, Aaron Shepperd, and Andrew Strauss talked about advertising food to children, the lack of nutritious meals and sufficient exercise programs in schools, and the need for government intervention as a larger percentage of children are becoming overweight or obese.
  • The Farm Bill – Emily Heymann, Ann Laurence Baumer, and Josh Bland presented on the history of the Farm Bill, this year’s upcoming bill and how it affects us, and the lack of democracy surrounding the bill with the “iron triangle” and “revolving door”.
  • Waste: Three Perspectives – Christine Eidman gave an overview of three different forms of waste management: the “industrial” cycle, the “organic” cycle, and what she terms the “post-industrial” cycle.
  • The Informed Choice to Garden – Nancy Tappan, Miki Goetsch, and Amber Plair discussed global perspectives on gardening comparing the United States, Japan, and Europe. They also talked about closed and open systems and Nancy described her own experience with drafting a bill and getting it approved by the Virginia General Assembly.
  • Going to the Grocery – Abbi Sigler, Missy Matyas, Madison Jones, and Mark Delpierre presented their short film on food labeling in grocery stores, misleading health claims, advertising to children, and interviews with folks at the local Kroger’s about consumer knowledge.

The class isn’t quite over yet – students have their final quiz tonight and their papers are due over the weekend. Professor Freedman’s class has covered a lot of ground in the past 10 days. Outside of class, we’ve explored Morven, learned how to cook kale, romped around the gardens, and overall enjoyed this beautiful and truly unique asset of UVA.

Now onwards to Block B!

The whole group – It’s been an awesome 10 days!