Monday, December 21, 2009

Program Takes Students to Nontraditional Labs

The vast majority of Rio Salado College's classes are online. But recently, a program with a variety of hybrid classes sprouted at the college. The new Sustainable Food Systems program allows students to take classes online and practice the theories they studied in a lab at Rio Salado’s main campus in Tempe.

Hybrid classes with labs are not new to Rio Salado. But for many of the classes in the Certificate of Completion in Sustainable Food Systems program, the labs are not held in a traditional classroom. The labs are hosted in the college’s café, which is currently under construction, an in Rio Salado’s new community garden.

Last week, students and instructors from the Gardening Practices and Techniques class gathered for the first lab at the community garden at the college's headquarters, 2323 W. 14th St., Tempe.
"This is a new hybrid class," said instructor Peter Conden, who teaches Gardening Practices and Techniques. "The students learn all of theory online, and then they work in the 4,400 square-foot garden to fulfill the lab section of the class."

While some students were volunteering, others were participating to complete the lab section of the class. Among the students working in the garden was Cody Boers.

“I needed a hybrid or in-person class to fulfill a requirement for the GI Bill®, so I picked this one,” said Cody Boers, a student in the Gardening Practices and Techniques who worked on the garden. “It was a surprisingly fun class. Today we prepared the garden for plants and put some of the theories that I studied to practice.”

According to Conden, the course is fun and challenging at the same time. He added that the theories the students practice in the garden will change throughout the year as the weather changes.

“The Southwest is very different from other parts of the country,” said Conden. “Students study how the climate influences what is grown in a garden, and then they have to develop a plan for that time of the year.”
The climate wasn’t the only thing the class was preparing to protect the plants from. The class secured the area to keep out local wildlife.”

“In the class, the students study ways to identify and control garden pests, such as insects, weeds and disease,” said Conden. “Since the garden is in a construction phase, we have to consider other forms of pest control. And in this case, we are adding chicken wire to keep rabbits out of the garden."

As the garden takes shape, it also will impact what is served in the new Rio Café. The items grown in the garden will be used in the culinary classes, which are part of the Sustainable Foods Program. These classes will be preparing the meals served in the café. Furthermore, the scraps from the café will be recycled in compost site next to the garden.

“The entire program is one big cohesive laboratory,” said Conden. “Students in the café and garden will work together toward a goal of zero waste.”

To learn more about Rio Salado College’s Sustainable Foods Program, visit

By David Staudacher, Rio Salado College PR Manager