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Meet Eleanor Tison

Professor teaches heirloom seeds, biodiversity in "living laboratory"

Eleanor Tison is a crucial member of the Green Mountain College Farm & Food Project. She is a resouce of extensive knowledge on a variety of topics including food preservation, agricultural biodiversity, seed saving, and food systems in the Northeast and beyond. And with a background in anthropology, Eleanor’s input has been vital to a variety of local and sustainable food initiatives.

During her Ph.D. candidacy, Eleanor was involved in a project saving African American seeds on an island off the Georgian coast—a bridge between anthropology and food issues that has become one of her academic trademarks. Since arriving at Green Mountain College, she has taught an array of courses relating to food systems, including “Biodiversity in Agriculture”, “Food Preservation”, and most recently this fall’s block course “Food, Agriculture, and Community Development in the Northeast”. The block course was a cooperative effort between three professors: Eleanor Tison, Philip Ackerman-Leist, and Jacob Park.

Eleanor understands the critical links between the classroom, campus farm, dining hall, and the campus greening fund. The block course she co-taught in fall ’07 was a perfect example of that understanding. Students learned about Northeastern food systems through immersion in farms and markets throughout the region. Based on this knowledge the class drafted local purchasing guidelines to be used in the dining hall.

One service learning course Eleanor taught was called “Biodiversity in Agriculture,” which required students to spend extensive hours helping the GMC farm save its heirloom seeds. Students practiced preservation of agricultural biodiversity and served our farm and the natural world. Another class, “Food Preservation,” created value-added products out of produce from the GMC farm, many of which were utilized by the campus dining hall. During this process students experience food preservation techniques while concurrently providing campus grown and processed food our dining hall.

Eleanor calls the farm her “living laboratory”—a place where academia and contemporary food issues synthesize with the campus and community. Eleanor also commends the receptivity of our farm managers in pre-planning crops to be used in subsequent service learning projects.

So what are in Eleanor’s future plans? She hopes to create a demonstration garden that exhibits the range of agricultural biodiversity in our region. Her spring ’07 food preservation class will create preserved food for the dining hall, this time using produce from not only the campus farm but also from other local farms. It is certain that Eleanor will continue to be an invaluable link between academics, dining hall, and the farm at Green Mountain College.