Professor John Masiunas loves vegetables so much he teaches a course on how to grow them. He also teaches International Horticulture Products and an online course, Local Food Networks. A horticulture man by trade, he has been in the CU agriculture world since 1986. In May, he celebrates 25 years of teaching excellence. MNN had a good ol' chat with Masiunas on Illini-country, farming and green thumbs.
MNN: What's your favorite vegetable and how do you like to eat it?
John Masiunas: Whatever is fresh at the time. In the summer, it's tomatoes and hot peppers. I like tomatoes on a grilled cheese sandwich with some basil. I like hot peppers in chili or something that will balance the heat. Something like a nice salsa.
If you weren't a professor, what would you be doing in life?
I always wanted to be a small farmer with a place to raise a family on.
What's the best thing this campus has to offer?
The people. There are wonderful students and wonderful faculty. For any place you spend, it's the people that make it. I love seeing the diversity of the students I run into. I've got some good grad students working in my lab and they have lots of energy.
If you could live somewhere else, where would you live and what would you grow?
I would probably live on the East Coast. I'd like to be in a small town in New Hampshire. There is a lot of diversity of things you can grow. I would like to hook up with some chef from a restaurant and harvest the vegetables for the restaurant. The chef could then take what is available and create a menu from that.
What's your philosophy on educating college kids?
A lot of professors take themselves and what they're trying to teach too seriously. You have to be able to laugh at yourself. With vegetable gardening, I feel comfortable teaching that class because I've taught it for so long, and that helps.
How would you encourage city kids to eat local food?
The best way to appreciate it is to think about food as a story. You are eating because of people who are bringing that food to you. Instead of thinking of it as 1,000 acres of corn and soybeans, think of it as a small farm with someone growing it.
What season do you anticipate the most?
Spring or fall. Spring because everything is turning green I've had it with winter. Fall you don't think of winter coming, you just enjoy it — warm days and cool nights. I definitely am not a winter person.
In 1991 you were involved in a car accident that confined you to a wheelchair. How has your life and gardening changed from that?
I'm not as hands-on, but in some ways that's OK. I appreciate it and I still like to get out there. For example, graduate students are gardening on South Farms, an area that's maybe about half an acre where we grow a whole range of stuff. It's fun because it's progressed and students lead it now. I have some fun students involved in it. It's always interesting to see what one student might grow versus another.