Out of the Classroom, Into the Field

By: 
Courtney Mayers
Class of: 
2015

Many students here will agree that being surrounded by the Adirondacks is an advantage many other universities do not have. We can hike, camp, and get out of the classroom for a simple day trip or an overnight. Because we're on a river, we also have access to our canoe shack and can paddle down on any given day.  With campus situated near pristine farmland, we can go to the local farmer’s market or visit local farms, providing us with a personal connection to our food and community. As you can see, SLU has many learning and leadership opportunities available to students outside of a closed-off room with four walls. However, the weather in Canton is getting cooler, the leaves are changing, and there are fewer students out hiking and utilizing the outdoor opportunities available at our fingertips. But regardless of these changes, there are still students out in the field every week practicing research and data application techniques in the beautiful landscape of the Adirondacks and unspoiled farmland of Canton.

As an environmental studies and biology combined major, I am in the field at least twice a week working closely with my professors and a small group of colleagues, producing research analysis and final papers. At St. Lawrence, we have the option to combine environmental studies with five available majors within the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, geology, psychology, and math) and within the social sciences/humanities (economics, English, government, philosophy, sociology). The idea of this integrative approach is to allow students who wish to be an expert in another department can still receive the benefits of an environmental studies focus. All of these possible combinations have hands-on learning in the field, providing many of us Saints with a different type of learning that will benefit us after graduating.

A perfect example of hands-on learning is taking day trips during lab to our St. Lawrence-owned ESL (Ecologically Sustainability Landscape). It’s a 110-acre plot of land that has a house and garden that is used to experiment with ecologically self-sustained living. In my sustainable agricultures class, we are learning about the negative effects of pesticides as well as our flawed food production system and applying this knowledge to the ESL. I could spend hours there picking organic tomatoes, potatoes, grapes, herbs, etc. – all grown and manicured by St. Lawrence students!

Working on the ESL is only one of the places students go to and gain hands-on experience. Another is visiting a fully sustained homestead owned by a St. Lawrence faculty member. His garden was situated on a southern slope to allow maximum sunlight to his crops and provide a natural irrigation system. There was livestock including goats for goat cheese and milk, and also chickens for eggs and meat. His homestead was entirely organic with a focus on locality with neighborhood CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and a push to use minimal equipment to decrease ecological footprints. It’s these types of experiences in the field that will benefit students, such as me, interested in making a change to a more sustainable Earth and food production structure.

I have included a few photos from both the ESL and the homestead. Enjoy!