SIOUX CITY | In his free time, Morningside College psychology student Jesse Nitzschke likes to experiment with food.

"I pretend I'm on (the Food Network TV show) 'Chopped' while coming up with recipes based on random ingredients I see lying around," the Le Mars, Iowa native explained.

Even though Nitzschke knows his way around a kitchen, his gardening expertise might be a bit more sketchy.

Nitzschke gives himself away by calling a dibble -- a wooden tool used to plant seeds -- "the little poker thing."

"You stick the little poker thing, make a hole in the dirt and drop in an onion bulb," he said, inside a teaching garden located in back of Woodbury County's Iowa State University (ISU) Extension Office. "Hopefully, it will grow."

While Nitzschke may not yet sound like an experienced gardener, he's willing to learn. That's why he enrolled in a class called "Eat, Cook, Learn: A Farm to Table Experience," a four-week Morningside College May term class.

"Our students have visited an organic farm, gone to Dakota City, Neb.'s Tyson Fresh Meats and toured Iowa's Amana Colonies," instructor Pam Mickelson said. "But the students are also examining sustainable food practices by tending their own garden."

Normally a Morningside business administration professor, Mickelson has taught an "Eat, Cook, Learn" May Term class a handful of times. However, this is the first time that the class has had a farm-to-table component.

"I teach the class with (fellow Morningside business administration professor) Marilyn Eastman," Mickelson said. "Since we live in the 'America's bread basket,' Marilyn and I decided to give fresh produce a greater prominence."

Luckily, Mickelson has been getting expert assistance from ISU Master Gardeners like Gary Shaner, of Sioux City.

"I grew and tended my first garden when I was in the fifth grade," Shaner recalled. "69 years later, you can still find me in gardens."

Indeed, it was Shaner who created a gardening blueprint the students were following.

"My advice to first-time gardeners is to grow plenty of tomatoes," he said. "They're fairly easy to grow and you can make easy spaghetti sauces, salsas and whatever you like."

Logan Rozeboom is a big fan of tomatoes but he hates red cabbage. Ironically, the Morningside biology student was being asked to plant his least-favorite veggie in rows of soil.

"I'll plant red cabbage," the Hartley, Iowa native insisted, "though I won't eat it."

At least, Rozeboom has given red cabbage a try. Samantha Stark, a Morningside elementary education major who doesn't even know if she's eaten red cabbage in the past. 

"I may have eaten red cabbage before when I was younger," Stark, a Sioux Falls native, said as she was tiling soil. "I just can't remember."

"Why don't we give Samantha some kohlrabi to plant," ISU Master Gardener Mark Raymond said with a smile. "Chances are she's never eaten kohlrabi either."

While Raymond enjoys teasing Stark, the Sioux City man actually appreciate her interest.

"Gardening tends to appeal to old guys like me," he admitted. "Perhaps, if were able to nurture the enthusiasm of young people, we can turn a newer generation into master gardeners."

A Morningside business administration and biology major, Teagan Nyren isn't sure if she wants her own garden. The Storm Lake, Iowa native is simply happy to be acquiring some new skills.

"I'm not much of a cook but this class is teaching to become a better one," she said. "I've never worked in a garden before but now I know it takes a lot of hard work."

"Those are the lessons I'll remember long after his class ends," Nyren added. 

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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