Story+ Project

Duke Campus Farm: Growing Histories


Overview: The Duke Campus Farm (DCF) seeks a team of people to help its plants tell their stories. Erlene’s Green Cotton, Brightleaf tobacco, Queen Anne crowder peas – these are some of the crops we grow that hold rich stories tied to indigenous histories, to the transatlantic slave trade, to the founding of Duke University, to the culinary and medicinal traditions of many communities, and to DCF’s legacy as part of a former plantation. Hairy vetch, hügelkultur, and hot composting – these are practices that embody some of the ways DCF is working to repair the harm to human and more-than-human communities that took place on the land that we now steward, and to create a more resilient agriculture in the face of new challenges posed by climate change. Story+ participants will research and share the ecological, cultural, and agricultural histories of some of the plants that we grow, and the regenerative practices that we use on our farm. This work will help build our living archive, “Growing Histories,” an interactive, self-guided tour that helps visitors to understand more deeply who and what they encounter at the Duke Campus Farm.

Six-week plan: We hope that these six weeks will provide 12-18 additional ecohistory entries for our Growing Histories website/tour, alongside 12-18 accompanying physical signs that connect to the Growing Histories website via QR codes. We hope that each entry will contain some combination of secondary research in ethnobotany and culinary history; short original interviews with DCF staff, seed keepers, and community members; photographs; short video or audio clips; visual journalism; archival research; culinary arts, etc. and build on prior student work by Floey Zhao and Cam Lavallee. This project can be seen as an exercise in storytelling for those whose stories (plants, soils, practices) that are not immediate audible or even visible, but that have contributed enormously to the work of the farm. We’re interested in sharing more of the stories that our land bears witness to: the histories of displacement, plantation and enslavement that we work on and in, and the agroecological practices that embody both the affordances and limitations of ecological repair in the wake of plantation agriculture and climate change.

Key words: ethnobotany, food systems, plantation, sustainable agriculture, climate

Preferred skills/interests for undergraduates:

Essential skills:

  • creative and critical thinking
  • familiarity with equity-frameworks
  • on-line research skills
  • willingness to collaborate and to work independently
  • cross-cultural sensitivity/competency

Desired skills:

  • familiarity with web design
  • skills in oral histories (visual)journalism, photography, videography, graphic design, mapmaking, podcast-making, audio/video editing
  • demonstrated interest and/or investment in ethnobotany, plant biology and cultural histories, food studies, food justice and/or sustainable agriculture
  • curiosity about embodied and experiential learning practices

Preferred skills/interests for the graduate student mentor:

The ideal candidate will be deeply invested in and enthusiastic about working with students and familiar with equity frameworks, and someone with experience in at least one of the proposed methodologies (archival research, oral histories, photography, videography, seed-keeping, culinary arts). Our physical site and spatial radius spans relatively rural geographies and stakeholders of mixed races, education levels, professional experience and more. This partnership feels optimally suited to a graduate student with personal investment in these spaces, and/or demonstrated interest in plants in their social and historical contexts.

Project Sponsor(s): 

Saskia Cornes, Assistant Professor of the Practice, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute and Director of the Duke Campus Farm


  • Climate
  • Ethnobotany
  • Food Systems