Presentation at the Honors Professor Appreciation Dinner, 27 Feb 2013


National Security Garden is a project that combines art, agriculture and technology into a temporary public installation right here on campus. Created by Professors Fabian Winkler and Shannon McMullen, this project follows the First-Year Honors Seminar about Food Security, and aims to employ an interdisciplinary approach to tackling the problem of hunger.


Essentially, the project is a public installation of a soybean garden in front of Elliott Hall, as well as a solar tower that powers LED lights for the garden at night. [Show pictures of NSG in Germany, day and night] As you can see, the project form is a hybrid between a garden and a field, provoking interesting ideas with regard to food production. The LED lights are red and blue, combining to produce a striking magenta.  These same lights are used in greenhouses to efficiently stimulate plant growth.  In the context of the National Security Garden the LED lights are a metaphor for the complex relations between nature and technology. In addition to the installation, we will be having a symposium and gallery exhibition later in the semester. By bringing this project onto Purdue’s campus, it is our hope to stimulate conversations about food security among the variety of disciplines in the community.


So the big question of the evening is, “How does the National Security Garden relate to the Honors college?” The most apparent connection is the fact that this project is actually the second semester of the first-year honors seminar.  Last August, Dr. Dennis Savaiano and Dr. Emily Allen led the inaugural Honors College first-year seminar, which will now be required for all incoming first-year Honors College students.  The fall semester of this seminar explored the topic of food security or rather food insecurity through a series of guest lectures and discussions.   The spring semester of the seminar allows students to use the knowledge they have learned during the previous semester and apply it in a hands-on situation.
However, I believe that the National Security Garden is more deeply connected to the Honors College.  According to a statement by Dr. Dennis Savaiano, “Honors coursework focuses on the ‘grand challenges’ of the 21st- century, including globalization, sustainability, technology and health.”  Now not only does the National Security Garden touch on each of these topics, it develops deeply on all of them.  The global problem of food insecurity is readily apparent in the nature of this project and the conversations that the project is attempting to invoke.  The student-built solar tower represents both sustainability and technology.  Finally, the National Security Garden participant Emily Gill hits the nail on the head when she says “Poverty and food security go hand in hand, and these two things lead to health problems like malnutrition, stunted growth, and lower brain development.”  By inviting questions about the conditions of food security, the National Security Garden is also inviting a discussion of their relationship to human and environmental health.
Finally the National Security Garden embodies the two main principles of the Honors College: interdisciplinary coursework and critical thinking.  This project has brought together students from every college at Purdue whether it be Jien Nee from the College of Science, Jake from the College of Liberal Arts, or myself from the College of Engineering and challenged each of us to step outside our comfort zones.  The National Security Garden let Jien Nee learn how a solar panel works.  It allowed Joe to learn the politics of food insecurity even though that is really more of Jake’s thing.  Every person involved with this project has had meaningful conversations about topics they never would have talked about with people they never would have met if it weren’t for the National Security Garden.  I believe this is truly what the Honors college is all about.


Coverage of the Project:

  • Construction group: picked out wood, built table, cut and varnished wood, solar tower
  • Soybean group: planted soybeans, soybeans have grown and have three leaves
  • Upcoming: Installation of project across from Elliott March 18-24
  • Upcoming: Exhibition (gallery in Stewart), opening April 26
  • Upcoming: Interdisciplinary Symposium, open to the public, April 22 (Earth Day)


Overall, this project wholly emphasizes the idea of using all of the space we have to the greatest effect. Areas exist in everyone’s backyard that they never use and in many cases, this area could be used for a personal garden. People would take pride in their own gardens as a form of self-sufficiency. This project also shows the practicality of small-scale urban farming, using some of the areas in our cities to grow food that maybe would feed our homeless citizens. We could supplement our hardworking food shelters with fresh fruits and vegetables. In a society where a McDouble goes for a dollar, these personal and urban farms can really help to provide healthy alternatives, at a cost that doesn’t bankrupt our average citizen.
Just within the minds of this room, I can see the wheels turning, the connections being made on how to use ideas like this and our own backgrounds to combat this problem of world hunger. Here at Purdue, we have been contemplating how to create more interdisciplinary opportunities. The National Security Garden shows just how fruitful these chances can be. Let’s make it a campus wide project, encouraging everyone to jump in and help in whatever way they can. As this project continues, we encourage you to follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and track the progress on our blog at the following links. In the end, although we do realize that our 16ft by 12 ft planter box, filled with soybeans, cannot solve world hunger, we urge everyone here to see this project as the beginning to a larger conversation, one that could hopefully lead to grander projects and maybe one day, a solution to world hunger.

Pharmacy and NSG

This project is unique as it can be related to so many different majors and areas of study. I’m studying Prepharmacy which is based on serving others and improving the health of patients. This project involves food security and providing for those who are in need. Pharmacy and NSG both are based on the same core principle: providing those in need with the materials necessary to improve their health. I’m excited to be working on this project as it relates to my interests and values as a prepharmacy student.

Industrial Engineering and NSG

As an aspiring engineer, I am a problem-solver through and through.  This makes me inclined to think that food security is one of the major problems whose solution I need to contribute to.  Industrial engineers in particular don’t have an immediate connection to food security, but their emphasis on systems, efficiency, and logistics makes me think that industrial engineers could contribute immensely to the fight against hunger.  Perhaps as an industrial engineer I could work on making food distribution more efficient in nations with high levels of food insecurity.  I could work on improving the processing of foods so that they reach more individuals in the United States.  Industrial engineers also have a broad knowledge of how to use workers, materials, and equipment most effectively, so that makes me believe that with my degree I would be able to design a system to allow people to have security gardens of their own at a low cost.

National Security Garden is not directly related to my major, but I believe it is important because it will get others thinking about the topic of food security.  We need to get the discussion started, and I believe National Security Garden will do just that.

NSG and Pharmacy

Though it may not seem readily apparent at first glance, this project is actually very relevant to my major. I am currently a pre-pharmacy student. Though the main focuses of this project concern agriculture and art, I believe it is also connected to many other areas.

For example, pharmacy is shifting toward preventative health maintenance– instead of treating diseases, we want to prevent them before they happen. A big part of this is taking care of your body and eating healthy. Soybeans are used in many different food products, and are very nutritious. Examining the process used to grow them, and choosing what sort of chemicals to put on them or not put on them in this process is relevant to their nutritional content.

As I mentioned before, soybeans are used in many different food products. They are also used in many other ways as well, such as in building materials ( certain types of wood, carpet, and furniture) and biodiesel. From a chemistry standpoint, it is interesting that one bean can be converted into so many different forms. I would like to further examine what makes the soybean so versatile, by doing research into its chemical properties, a task which definitely relates to my major.

An Interdisciplinary Art Piece

This project takes me completely out of my comfort zone.  I am an agriculture major, so the soybean aspect is a lot like home for me, but the National Security Garden is helping me broaden my horizons as we focus on the artistic qualities as well.  This project is very important as it allows us to combine our strengths and experience a project that includes disciplines we may not have much experience in, all for a good cause.

Health Sciences and NSG

Hello everyone!

I am still in the Undergraduate Studies Program, or in other words I still have no idea what major I will choose, but I know I want to pursue a major in the health sciences field. This field ties in very closely with the concepts we are trying to broadcast through the National Security Garden project, especially food insecurity. Obviously, a lack of nutritious food has detrimental effects on the body, and those effects would eventually lead that person to see a medical professional. If I chose Biology (as a pre-med major option),I would be able to impact individuals who come from food-insecure families by treating these effects. One of the reasons I am interested in potentially majoring in Public Health Promotion, though, is that I would have an opportunity to work on campaigns to prevent these types of occurrences so they wouldn’t get to the doctors’ offices. Our project is already a start in trying to promote public recognition of food insecurity and that is very exciting to me!

NSG and Crime

Hey guys! Like Delaney, I am also a Law and Society major, and at face value, this project does not really relate to my studies. However, delving a little beneath the surface, we can find that a lack of food and food security can be directly related to levels of poverty and crime in a given area. It seems from some studies that by increasing food availability in an area, the need to steal the resources to survive from others drops. If it is possible to allow everyone a chance to have personal access to food, it is very possible to drastically lower crime. The model we are representing impresses upon me the idea that many people could easily have backyard gardens, with which to grow some crops like soybeans, green bell peppers, or even tomatoes. Soybeans, with a little more research, may be able to be used by the average family to great effect, as soybeans have so many uses already. Although this may not immediately solve world hunger, the effect of showing people how to care for a smaller, inexpensive “farm” hopefully drives them to make their own, and become, in a sense, more self-sufficient. As crime has usually been about trying to gain control or resources that someone else has, crime levels should fall if people are able to produce and control some of their own resources.

In the words of Sherlock Holmes, “Food for thought.”

Soybeans and Biomedical Engineering

At first glance, biomedical engineering and what we are doing with the National Security Garden do not seem to fit together.  However, after giving some thought to it, I see some correlation.  One of the main motivations behind our NSG is to increase awareness about hunger and food security.  Poverty and food security go hand in hand, and these two things lead to health problems like malnutrition, stunted growth, and lower brain development.  That is where biomedical engineering comes in.  (See Sean’s post about it too!) Creating new technologies and procedures is a good way to combat the effects of malnutrition and the diseases that can come with it, but to solve and remove the problem of hunger in the first place would be the best solution.  We have to take the problem out at its source.  That is one reason why I decided to join this project.  I would much rather not have to design machines that treat the effects of hunger – I would much rather see healthy people.

Someday I would like to work in a developing country where they do not have access to state-of-the-art health services and technologies, but getting the people food and water is an essential part of improving their lives.  What we take away from this class and this project will prepare all of us to tackle these problems.

Food Science and NSG

Unlike most majors represented in this class, my major’s connection to this project is very clear. As my major has to do with the applications of food, including product development, quality assurance, and packaging of food, the applications of the soybean come to mind. Although my major does not specifically study the nutrition of the food we produce and package, one of the many facets of food science is to create less expensive, nutrition-filled products for those who otherwise cannot afford or do not have access to nutritious food. In this way, my major plays a part in both world hunger and the many different ways soybeans can be used in food.

Biomedical Engineering and NSG

As a biomedical engineer, it isn’t immediately clear that my major has anything to do with food security or the soybeans we are trying to grow. However, the two fields are more connected than you would think. Food insecurity and improper nutrition can lead to many physiological disorders, and my career field is focused on providing engineering solutions to treat these conditions. Surprisingly, soy is a vital resource for cutting-edge biomedical research, such as in tissue engineering and the creation of wound dressings that contain antibiotics.

This project is incredibly important as it is a symbolic stand against hunger. Making progress in the fight against food insecurity can help solve many other problems our world faces, such as civil unrest and obesity. This is why it is so critical that we find multi-disciplinary solutions to this problem–it simply is too big to solve alone.