UIC Teaching Nutrition Garden wins a Chicago Excellence in Gardening Award for the fourth year in a row
Monday, October 26, 2020
For the fourth year in a row—and despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions—the UIC Teaching Nutrition Garden in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition has won a Chicago Excellence in Gardening Award.
This year’s gardening competition, sponsored by the University of Illinois Extension and local business, went online with video entries. The UIC video placed second in the institutional category.
The teaching garden, located behind the Applied Health Sciences Building, is an integral part of two courses in nutrition: HN 110 Foods and HN 203 Culture and Food Lab. In normal times, students tend the garden and use its herbs and vegetables to prepare food in the program’s experiential learning kitchens.
“The outdoor teaching garden is always a labor of love that UIC students benefit from tremendously,” said garden manager Renea Lyles ‘16 MS NUT, nutrition-focused culinary instructor and lab manager.
The award-winning video, created by Lyles and Ph.D. student Sofia Cienfuegos ’18 MS NUT, illustrates the challenges posed by pandemic restrictions.
Lyles had to recreate a hands-on, in-person class in an online format. She used video, photos and a discussion board on the UIC Blackboard instructional platform to present cooking demonstrations with instructions her students could follow in their kitchens at home.
“We have made everything from herbed drop biscuits to quick pickles to zucchini, carrot and blueberry muffins,” Lyle said.
Every week, students watched Lyle harvest ingredients from the garden for the latest assignment.
“While it is difficult to transition an in-person lab course to the fully online format, the garden provided a vibrant backdrop and hyper-local ‘grocery store’ from which to source ingredients for cooking,” she said.
“The garden was an essential element in my recorded cooking demonstrations and students were able to learn where their food comes from, including how to grow, harvest and prepare these seasonal ingredients in a tasty and nutritionally balanced manner.”
With students off campus for spring and summer, the chores of planting, weeding and harvesting fell to Lyles, Cienfuegos and James “Danny” John ‘18 MS NUT, visiting instructor in kinesiology and nutrition.
“We really missed the student volunteers,” John said.
Fall semester, the instructor-gardeners got some student help; HN 110 added a hybrid option, and HN 203 meets on campus with reduced capacity.
The garden’s surplus harvest was donated to organizations and businesses that help feed people in need, including Care Kitchen Chicago, Sweet Polly’s Kitchen, Urban Autism Solutions, Morgan Park Presbyterian Church, Operation Blessing and Southwest Chicago Homeless Services.