Agroecology Summer Intensive 2016

ASI 2016
Students in the Agroecology Summer Intensive 2016 visiting the DeCamp Gardens, Albion, Ind.

The summer of 2016 at Merry Lea was exciting for the students and Goshen College staff participating in the Agroecology Summer Intensive (ASI).  The cohort of ASI students experienced an abundance of new learning opportunities not encountered by past cohorts.

New Experiences

  • A new field trip to an urban garden in Fort Wayne where neighborhood kids and families can gain gardening skills, find adult mentors and cook together in a renovated fire station now equipped with a commercial kitchen.
  • A tour of the equipment and scientific techniques of a major regional soil testing laboratory.
  • A canning and freezing workshop that included adult community members.
  • Guest lectures on accounting and finance taught by Andrew Hartzler, a Goshen College professor
  • The chance to assist Merry Lea Sustainable Farm as it offered its first ever summer vegetable CSA subscription for 12 households.
  • New practicum skills such as experimenting with flame weeding.
Agroecology Night-Lab
Students in the Agroecology Summer Intensive investigate the nighttime insect life at the Merry Lea Sustainable Farm.

Another distinctive of 2016 was the debut of an outdoor lab in Dr. Jonathon Schramm’s agroecology course (BIOL 318) where students observed wildlife activity and collected microclimate data on the farm…at night.  A large dobsonfly found its way to the white sheet stretched over ladders and illuminated with a black light. We received a close-up view of this massive winged creature!

I am grateful for the students in our summer program who carved out the months of June and July to learn about sustainable agriculture and food systems. This year’s cohort represented students from Goshen College, Eastern Mennonite University and Wheaton College. The latter student had recently participated in the ECHO program in south Florida as well as Mennonite Voluntary Service in Elkhart. What a blessing to have students coming from different institutions and geographies! Our classroom conversations are more interesting when we bring unique perspectives.


“Passionate learners” is the core value that Goshen College is focusing on this year. The particular emphasis is on the importance of belonging. In my estimation, the 2016 ASI student cohort experienced many ways of belonging here at Merry Lea. I heard students articulate feeling more connected to their surrounding landscape and ecosystems. I heard them express new connections between their experiences in the natural world and their spiritual lives. And the community life experiences at Merry Lea in the summer—cooking in groups, playing games, meeting Merry Lea’s neighbors, going swimming as a group at nearby lakes, hearing updates from other Goshen College students doing summer research—surely also contributed to a greater sense of belonging.

by Jon Zirkle

Director of the Agroecology Summer Intensive
Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College