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When Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine announced in December 2008 his “Renew Virginia” initiative for the Commonwealth, state agencies responded with their own programs “promoting renewable energy, creating green jobs, and encouraging preservation of the environment.” At Longwood University in Farmville, a state-assisted co-educational comprehensive institution, the Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars proposed a rooftop vegetable garden on its newly renovated honors residence hall to address these issues. The university’s signature “Citizen Leader” program would be enhanced by a working garden that demonstrates to those on campus and in the larger community the advantages of organic farming, composting, rain water usage, and other important sustainability principles. It would also allow hands-on learning consistent with honors pedagogy. Putting the garden on top of a building would provide exciting promotional material and stress the application of such programs even in urban environments. What was first viewed as a setback— the university’s initial rejection of the plan—led to the discovery of a compelling piece of history that made the garden project distinctive. Furthermore, this discovery institutionalized an example of the “place as text” focus in honors programs throughout the country.
To give added strength to their initial proposal, the honors staff linked their effort to President and Michelle Obama’s decision to establish the first vegetable garden on the White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt’s World War II Victory Garden of 1943. The connection to this presidential initiative and to history was particularly important to the mission of Longwood’s Honors College for Citizen Leadership, a program designed to meet the needs of academically gifted undergraduate students by offering challenging courses that enable them to expand their intellectual horizons. In keeping with the university’s mission, the honors college strives to develop citizens who use their learning to provide service to their community. This linking of citizenship and learning is the hallmark of honors at Longwood.