University professors shed their tweed sport coats and rolled up their shirtsleeves to muck around in the dirt at the Yale Sustainable Food Project garden Tuesday.

At the invitation of project coordinators, about 10 professors toured the project’s garden on Edwards Street, helped students with garden chores and sampled organic treats grown on-site. Melina Shannon-DiPietro, associate director of the project, said she wanted to give the professors a taste of not only the labor, but also the planning involved in running a garden.

“There’s a lot of math, a lot of physics involved,” Shannon-DiPietro said, noting as an example the geometric challenges in constructing a greenhouse. “We wanted [the professors] to get a sense of the sweating and also a sense of the thinking that goes on here,”

Volunteers and interns from the Yale community founded the garden in 2003 to provide produce for the New Haven farmers’ market and University dining halls.

Garden volunteer Ariane Lotti ’06 said she hoped exposing professors to the project would help to “bridge the gap” between lecture hall and garden. The event might also inspire professors to use the garden as a teaching aid, she said.

“We’re trying to find ways to integrate agriculture into the curriculum more,” Lotti said.

Some professors have already begun to use the garden as a teaching tool. Nancy Kerk and Ian Sussex, professors from the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department, brought students from their class, “The Biology of Plants,” to the garden a few weeks ago. The students had been working on a lab in which they compared supermarket produce to produce grown organically.

“[The plants at the garden] helped to highlight the variation from normal development,” Kerk said.

Ron Smith, a professor of geology & geophysics and mechanical engineering, also said he might be able to integrate the garden into his class, “Observing the Earth from Space.” Part of the class’s curriculum involves looking at how satellites use plant-spectral-signature patterns of plants’ light reflections to identify crops from space. Smith said he thought a trip to the garden to observe the reflective properties of leaves might be beneficial to the students.

Some of the garden volunteers are Smith’s students, he said. Having the chance to observe them at work motivated him to attend the event, Smith said.

“I mostly just wanted to find out what they were up to,” he said.

During the afternoon, the professors had the opportunity to work on various garden projects. Some contributed labor to the construction of a greenhouse by pounding stakes into the ground and digging up rocks, while others found themselves spreading leaves and manure.

After toiling in the dirt, the event organizers rewarded professors with an organic feast of fruits, vegetables, bread, cheeses and cider, some of which came straight from the garden.

Sussex said the afternoon’s activities were both enjoyable and strenuous.

“We won’t have to do any weight training today,” Sussex said.

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