Story by Nick Schwada
Amid the various dog walkers and joggers found at Clackamas Community College, there is one man that can be found with a clear purpose on the campus — Chris Konieczka — horticulture instructor. On campus you can find Konieczka and a few other faculty members working tirelessly planting, growing and caring for crops that would have been worked on by students in the Organic Farming Practicum program this term.
Like many instructors at this time, Konieczka is working out different ways to emulate his typical classroom environment into an online learning space. However, for this instructor, the hands-on work that would be happening any other term cannot go on pause; crops like tomato, basil, cucumber and eggplant can still be harvested by students through the first few weeks of next year’s fall term — now is the time to plant these crops — and with students at home, the work falls on the shoulders of a few faculty members.
Along with Konieczka, you can find three other faculty members that have been working with him to keep the department afloat. This includes department chair April Chastian and administrative assistant, Loretta Mills. Luckily, Konieczka has their experienced and willing hands to assist him through this process, but the help could never be enough. In a typical spring term, Konieczka spends about eight hours a week planting and maintaining crops with the help of about 12-15 students. With students now at home, Konieczka is now spending about 16 hours a week doing rigorous manual labor with less than half the help — all of this on top of the time and energy Konieczka is spending in order to keep his online course afloat.
Along with additional readings and assignments, Konieczka has been recording himself throughout the whole process of planting and aggregating the crops this term; with the pandemic situation at hand, Konieczka has been able to modify a hands-on class environment and bring it to the homes of students. Although, like many classes at CCC, the adjoining Farm Equipment class that would be taken alongside Organic Farming Practicum has been canceled this term.
“I feel for students that can’t get that experience,” Chastian said about the students’ loss of in-class hands-on work time.
The horticulture department will also have to significantly reduce the amount of crops they can produce, particularly quick-harvest crops that will be grown in the summer such as cauliflower, broccoli, and lettuce. “There’s just not enough man-power,” Konieczka said.
The CCC Farmers Market, which is run by the horticulture department throughout the summer, has been a staple found on campus. The market has brought fresh organic produce to students and the surrounding community while also donating funds to CCC student scholarships. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the market will be closed this summer. That said, the horticulture department plans to donate everything that they will grow throughout the summer.
“We’re talking to ASG on how to get these crops into the hands and mouths of students in need,” Konieczka said.
Many instructors have faced difficulties adjusting their classroom curriculum and workload during the stay-at-home order; for Konieczka and the horticulture faculty, the work has been tiresome, grueling and time-consuming. To many students, this may continue to be a stressful and trying time. For all of us, however, our roles are ever so important at a time like this. Work with one another, depend on one another and support one another — from a safe distance, of course.