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Lander professor assigns unusual subjects as writing assignments

March 05, 2008
Students in Dr. Lloyd Willis' classes at Lander University have been learning about the ethics of food production but the topic is not part of a science curriculum. Willis is an assistant professor of English and he chose food ethics as a topic for his freshman writing course, which requires students to analyze, interpret and evaluate information and ideas and put into words their findings and impressions. 

Willis said, "Everyone eats but very few people know much about food production." For example, his students read and wrote about the controversial essay, "Consider the Lobster," in which author David Foster Wallace questions the ethics of cooking a lobster by placing it live into a pot of boiling water. Said Willis, "This is a learning experience that translates into a writing exercise."

He assigned students to write a paper on two issues related to food ethics and another arguing the merits of ethical food production.

In keeping with the topic, he invited David Ogden to deliver a guest lecture on organic farming. Ogden, the owner and operator of St. Anne's Organic Farm in Abbeville County, said he started growing organically in 1960 after reading about hazards associated with chemicals used in agriculture. He said studies show a diet of organically grown food is much healthier than non-organic products.

He gave the students a basic overview of farming starting with soil preparation, selection of crops, when to plant, and controlling garden pests without using chemicals. 

Ogden, an electrician by trade, said he always enjoyed vegetable gardening and got into it fulltime after moving to Abbeville from New York. His yearly harvest includes tomatoes, corn, broccoli, carrots, collards, peas and much more. 

Gardening became more of a business than a hobby for Ogden when, eight years ago, he began supplying produce to the Village Grill restaurant in Abbeville. Soon, many of the restaurant's diners became his customers when they started showing up at his farm to buy vegetables. 

Ogden also raises a variety of livestock including Angus beef cattle, free range chickens, quail, turkeys, pigs and a variety of birds. 

Willis, who has been on the Lander faculty for two years, said he tries to select writing topics that are related to his students personally and to their surroundings. He believes they become better writers when the topic is something they care about.

Student Mary Sheppard of Ware Shoals said the class is by far the best English course she has ever taken. "Food ethics is something I have never studied and thought it would be boring." She described Willis as employing a coaching style of teaching that stimulates interaction among students and makes his classes interesting.

Dillon Robertson of Abbeville admitted to not being a big fan of English but added, "I enjoy coming to class." He said the assignments have forced him to research subjects objectively without personal bias. 

Next, Willis' students will write reports on the book, "Into the Wild," by Jon Krakauer, and a second paper exploring what Willis described as "the pervasive culture of extreme exercise such as marathons and triathlons."

Previous topics assigned by Willis included the presidential election and the students' perspective of the campus-wide smoking ban that Lander implemented last fall.