Keith Williams / Physics

For several years now, it has been my great pleasure to work alongside University students and faculty on the ambitious ‘minifarm’ project at Hereford Residential College.  A vibrant metaphor for the creative education that our University can provide, the Hereford minifarm has taught all participants the value of research, preparation, cooperation… and hard work!
Based on lessons learned from the minifarm project, my Dream Idea is to create a ‘Survival Seminar’ for the students of the three Residential Colleges at UVa.  Organized into competitive teams, the students would cultivate subsistence crops such as beans, potatoes, cereal grains and corn.  At harvest time, they will compute the survival value of their harvests in terms of per capita consumption, and also conduct brief experiments along the way, such as producing ethanol from corn, making bread from wheat, and auditing our energy usage along the way.  Thus students and participating faculty would gain hands-on experience with the issues of sustainability and environment that so frequently headline today’s news.

Supplementing this experience, I would like to arrange regular seminars, visits to local experts, and informal dinners throughout the semester.  It would like to take full advantage of our proximity to Monticello and Jamestown to learn about colonial and native farming practices and to discuss historical and current attitudes regarding survival and the broader issues of competitiveness and sustainability.

I propose a $3000 budget for this course, apportioned as follows: farm-related expenses, $500; travel expenses, $500; and eight dinners at $250 each (assuming 12-16 participants), $2000.

I see this ‘Survival Seminar’ as a way to learn and work alongside the undergraduates and to create a unique and informative experience.  I can think of no finer way to relax the pretense of the faculty-student relationship and encourage dialogue.  I am pleased to note that several faculty participants currently benefiting from the Hereford minifarm have expressed interest in this project and will lend their valuable time and energy to support it.