Hark Upon the Green

Sustainability at The College of William and Mary

Eco Spotlight: VIMS Assistant Professor David Kapla

Originally written by Claire Goydan and published on William and Mary Blogs on January 13th, 2015. Reposted here with permission.

Sustainability often gets a dirty (and incorrect) reputation for being soft and theoretical. Few disprove this theory like David Kaplan, who translated his advanced background in string theory and black holes into marine population modeling and research. After completing his PhD in physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Kaplan felt like he wanted a change. “I was doing theoretical physics, working on black holes, and it just lacked some value for humanity,” Kaplan said. Wanting to focus his impact, he pursued research in oceanography and marine ecology, which he discovered required quite a bit of physics. Before long, Kaplan had researched, studied, and worked on four continents (most notably in Chile, France, and California) on a range of projects.

Now an assistant professor at VIMS, Kaplan focuses on population dynamics and marine protected areas. Much like Kaplan’s career path, marine protected areas (MPA’s) have had a convoluted history.

Dr. David Kaplan

The idea of protecting marine areas has been around in one form or another for centuries. In the 1920s and 1930s, the first MPAs were created primarily for scientific research, as opposed to marine conservation like most people (including myself) have assumed. Meanwhile, protected land reserves had been around since the late 1800s, over 30 years before the first MPA! Kaplan explains, “You advance 100 years into the future, you see that there is the same temporal gap in massive use of protected areas.” Terrestrial reserves really took off in the 1970s, while MPAs for conservation only gained traction starting in the 2000s.

So how did MPAs grow from tiny scientific reserves to a mass movement for conservation, with some protected areas as large as the state of California? Much of the impetus to create MPAs has unsurprisingly come from our increase in fishing frequency and technological development, not to mention increased global markets for transportation. “It’s being driven by problems of overexploitation that didn’t exist 50 or 100 years ago,” Kaplan said. “Suddenly, you have major potential for exterminating marine species. That was hard to do before that time period.” The technology used to organize and develop this foreign transportation actually became crucial to developing MPAs as well. “Down the road came the idea that these forms of spatial management or protection could protect against our failure to manage humans non-spatially,” Kaplan said. Rather than institute nitpicking limitations on net size or hook size, or limit each person’s catch individually, MPAs provided a broader, more attractive approach.

Despite their growing popularity (MPAs now cover between 2-3% of the world’s oceans), they still have some issues.

  • Easy Does It – Predictably, as MPAs gained favor, governments all over the world jumped on board to protect the first and the most. The issue is that the easiest areas to protect, and the ones legislators protect first, are those that are not under heavy use. Protecting a large chunk in the middle of the ocean gives you some impressive square footage to put on paper, but it’s often not as beneficial as protecting a smaller, more contentious fishing zone.
  • Border Patrol – MPAs are proven to increase abundance and diversity of marine species, but fishers still want to make a living. Kaplan remembers, “In Chile, I worked at very small reserves that had these huge mollusks. Fishers would line up along that border for these mollusks that would move, y’know, one foot a month, to crawl over the edge and get harvested.” This limits marine species within the confines of the MPAs, and as the species density grows, they’re forced outside.
  • Blurred Lines – Most countries have discrete levels and categories of MPAs, but rarely have an obligation to adhere to them. These categories also differ from country to country and state to state. They all mean different things and have different goals regarding fishing, boating, pollution, which causes more confusion. With limited and sometimes no obligations, governments may create MPAs for status alone, essentially useless for conservation.
  • One Size Doesn’t Fit All – Not all fish species are perfectly suited to MPAs. It is the largest fish that are being caught more often that need to be protected, like big bluefin tuna. However, these species are typically much more mobile than others, and so a single static MPA can be less effective. Some alternatives have been suggested, such as dynamic (moving) MPAs and enormous pelagic MPAs to cover their migration patterns.

Dr. David KaplanIn the end, the future of MPAs will be decided politically. Their popularity is exciting, and more and more of the ocean is protected each day. In the future, the heavily fished areas are less tractable and will have a longer political timescale attached. “We shouldn’t get a false sense of security based on that, the size or the percentage.” Kaplan said. “There’s quality and quantity involved there… It has gotten to a phase where every developed nation wants to announce they have the largest MPA.” Rigorous research and proper advocation are required to ensure the future of MPAs, and the future of marine diversity around the world.

Want to get involved?

If you are interested in David’s research and would like to get involved, he is currently looking for students to help with his ongoing and future research projects:

  • Conservation modeling
  • How reserves affect marine populations with different life histories
  • Turtle tagging field work
  • Larval dispersal related to population persistence

Want to know more?

Sustainability Initiatives Are Plentiful On Campus

This piece was originally published on Sept. 11th, 2014 in the Flat Hat Newspaper, and was written by , and was reposted here with permission.

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In 2008, then-interim College President Taylor Reveley released a statement on the College of William and Mary’s sustainability policy which committed the College to setting “an example for present and future generations in the use of natural resources.” Six years later, this fall semester is shaping up to be filled with examples of this commitment.

Auxiliary Services controls much of the infrastructure on campus, from dining halls to parking and transportation. Many sustainability initiatives are currently at work, some more noticeably than others.

The Copy Center recycles scrap paper into notepads and sells two for $0.25 or ten for $1. Scrap paper that isn’t used is donated to Williamsburg Campus Child Care for children’s art projects.

The Office of Parking and Transportation Services is currently collaborating with the Student Assembly on a bike initiative. Director of Auxiliary Services Cindy Glavas said the initiative will promote “the installation of bike fix-it stations, organized rides and marketing efforts.” A new class, Kinesiology 196: introduction to cycling, has also been added to the course listing. It focuses on biking basics, safety and repair.

Additionally, Glavas said that Tribe Card Services is partnering with the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market “to accept William and Mary Express as a form of payment and encourage students to buy locally.” The farmer’s market is open every Saturday, weather permitting, during the spring, summer and fall in Merchants Square.

New sustainability initiatives from Dining Services include planning a third annual “Farm to Fork Dinner” in the coming weeks (last year’s was held on the Sunken Garden with a small admission fee) and an upcoming $25,000 study. This Kitchen Energy Study aims to analyze the efficiency of residential facility kitchens.

The Keck Lab has maintained a record of water quality in Lake Matoaka, College Creek and the campus stream for the past 10 years. It has  also gathered meteorological data at 10-minute intervals for all of them over the same period. Students have used this data in the past for projects such as the establishment of beehives on campus, and the data is available for other future projects.

“[We] plan to conduct intensive studies on the storm-water ponds located behind the [Marshall-Wythe School of Law] and behind the [McCormack-Nagelsen] Tennis Center [this semester],” Keck Lab Director Randolph Chambers said.

Director of Sustainability Calandra Waters Lake is planning new sustainability events on campus this semester. “Meet the Greens,” which took place during the first week of classes, was a gathering of campus clubs and organizations focused on environmentalism and sustainability.

Many fall semester events were unveiled at the event. “Sustainable Soccer” will be held Sept. 27 and Sept. 28. Two soccer games will be “greened” through a partnership between COS, the Athletic Department, Dining Services and Facilities under the activity “Local Sustainable William and Mary.”

“The goal is to make those games as sustainable as possible,” Lake said.

Volunteers will be available to direct spectators to recycle and compost their game-day waste. There will also be sustainability groups tabling at the games. The Football Club approached the College to help organize the event and has also helped facilitate ‘greening’ sports games nationally.

Planned for every month this semester beginning Oct. 7, Sustainability Seminars on different subjects will take place at the Williamsburg Community Building. The topic for October is “Natural Landscape.” There will be speakers on native plants, campus landscaping and home gardening information for interested students and community members.

Additionally, the second annual “Sustainability Summit” will be taking place Oct. 25. The event will gather students, faculty and staff together to discuss sustainability projects and development on campus. There will be a panel of professors and break-out groups in this day-long event. “The goal is to have as much communication between people and groups on campus as possible,” Lake said.

Throwback Thursday: What about the Sustainability Summit?

Remember the Sustainability Summit that happened last semester? What was that all about? What can I expect if I go next semester? Check out this great blog article by Talia Schmitt to get a great idea of what happened and to think how far we’ve come even since last semester! (Reposted from Flat Hat Newspaper with permission from the author)

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Approximately 60 staff members and students gathered inside the School of Education Saturday, Oct. 25 to talk about sustainability in the second annual Sustainability Summit.

“The summit started last year just like everything else at William and Mary — with a little resources and a lot of passion,” Committee on Sustainability co-director and environmental science professor Dennis Taylor said,

The summit, organized by the Committee on Sustainability, was a product of a green fee grant and dedication from the student and sustainability fellows — Sharon Hartzell ’14 and Patrick Foley ’12.

COS programs and education subcommittee co-Chair Natalie Hurd ’16, sustainability director Calandra Waters-Lake, professor Andrew Fisher and Summit Working Group volunteers organized this year’s event.

“The summit was designed with the intent to bring individuals and organizations together in order to facilitate increased communication and innovation, and I think we achieved that goal,” Hurd said.

The summit was split into three sections: defining sustainability through professors, through students and through food.

Each professor looked at the subject of sustainability through a different lens. Fisher used a historical perspective.

“History helps us see how we got into these messes,” Fisher said. “By understanding the past, we have a better idea of what will work in the future. A sustainable future would be one where both human and non-human life can be adequately sustained.”

Student interns also spoke about their experiences working in the environmental field.

Akshay Deverakonda ’15 interned for the Environmental Protection Agency during the fall of 2012 through the William and Mary in Washington program. He noted how, although Washington, D.C. is filled with people with economic backgrounds, his employers told him that getting a science degree was the way to go.

“On one side you need to understand the economics behind environmental politics — the ‘hey this might save you money’ attitude — but on the other hand if you have a science degree you stand out among the sea of government majors,” he said. “With a science background, you make the concepts more accessible.”

Audrey Kriva ’17, the founder of DormMania, also gave advice to students who may want to start green initiatives.

“It is really important to do your research ahead of time, share ownership, and break your project into easy-to-follow steps. However, everybody has their own way of doing things and that’s important to recognize that too,” Kriva said.

The last panel discussed sustainable food. Committee on Sustainability member and leader of Campus Gardens Nora Jackson ’16 said she sees the sustainable food process as cyclical.

“We do not want to have any inputs that lead to outputs that fall on people,” she said. “We need to think about how our food choices impact other people and places. We must always vote with our dollar.”

Lisa Lawrence, Virginia Institute on Marine Science Seafood Educator, reiterated the point of responsible food practices.

“Eat what’s fresh. Eat what’s in season. It’s like when you go to Food Lion and see a cheaper shrimp option from Thailand and a more expensive alternative from the United States — choose the one from the U.S.” she said. “By choosing the one from the U.S., you know it has gone through the U.S. regulations, whereas for the option abroad, you can’t be so sure.”

The last part of the summit was dedicated to ecological restoration, the idea of recovering a damaged eco-system. Keynote speaker Paddy Woodworth, a former journalist for The Irish Times and author of “Our Once and Future Planet: Restoring the World in the Climate Change Strategy,” discussed how what many people consider as “natural” is sometimes socially constructed by humans over time. In this way, he challenged the audience to look at the human and nature dynamic differently.

“Ecological restoration … gives people hope. It shows us that people can engage in an ecosystem that will make that system richer — more biodiverse, function better and I think that’s very exciting,” Woodworth said. “A lot of people have an idea that you can only destroy or preserve and restoration is a different approach which shows us that we belong in nature and we can have a good role in nature as well.”

Reflections on Virginia Power Shift

~by Anne Davis

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The weekend of Valentine’s Day, hundreds of students gathered at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia for Virginia Power Shift, hosted by the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition (VSEC) and Virginia – Student Power Network. The weekend kicked off with a vibrant march of over 200 students — the third  largest action in North America as part of the Global Divestment Day – sending a clear message: “Virginia Board of Visitors: Whose side are you on? Virginia > fossil fuels.”

An open mic night provided a forum for all participants to creatively express their art and stories, through spoken word poetry, DJ-ing, even opera. The rest of the weekend was full of workshops, panels, and speakers all surrounding different environmental and intersecting social justice issues. As one of the organizers of the convergence and member of the VSEC core team, it was truly an overwhelming honor for me to watch and experience our hard work and fruits of our labor come to life in such an amazing way.

….However, had you gone back in time – say three years ago – and told 18-year-old me I’d be standing here where I am now, I probably would have laughed in your face.

Sure, I have been passionate about environmental issues for a long time, but it took me a number of years to realize there is so much more to it than just reduce, reuse, recycle. At that point, I was incredibly confused and uncertain of my future life path, only certain that I was ready to be out on my own. This is why I see student coalitions and college initiatives as such an important part of fostering engagement with environmental and social justice issues. For many, it’s the first time you have opportunities to take classes and explore subjects and activities you haven’t before or didn’t even knew existed; Performance Art in Feminist Movements? Rad. The Politics of Race and Class in American Sitcoms? Sign us up! Underwater Basket Weaving? Why not?!  This brimming exploration and craving of knowledge leads us to take what we learn in the classroom and into the streets through community engagement and social movement building.

I count Sprog, an amazing week-long environmental organizing summer training camp, as the kickstart to my involvement in environmental organizing and activism. But had it not been for Sprog, which provided me the tools and skills on how to run campaigns and create change, and most importantly, a support network of like-minded young people – there’s a good chance I would still be floating around directionless; caring about an issue, but undeveloped and untrained as a leader. For this reason, I see convergences like Virginia Power Shift and sustained leadership development opportunities for social movements and activism for students as key. Working with VSEC and VSPN have also taught me the importance of united student power and amplifying student voices across the state, for inaction from our government and administrators will affect our generation most directly.

As s keynote speaker Rev. Lennox Yearwood put it best, “The great movements that have happened have started with one-on-one relationships… Power is in the relationships.” In my Social Movements and Social Change class, we are studying some of the motivations behind why people join or stay in a social movement – whether for material incentives or emotional support, among other theories and reasons. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that Rev. Yearwood’s quote rings true for me and why I do (and am still doing) this work. It’s the connections, friendships, and powerful networks that I’ve built up with so many along the way. Going forward, I hope that William & Mary VA Power Shift participants will use this opportunity as a catalyst for change on campus, spreading leadership development and sustaining the relationships built over this past weekend to inspire the next cohort of student activists and power shifters. Virginia, Dominion, BOVs and more better watch out because its students are organizing – and they’re doing it at unified and escalating levels.

Meet the Greens Fall 2014: A Success Story

~By Calandra Waters Lake, Director of Sustainability

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The first Meet the Greens was a huge hit this freshman orientation! We had over 15 tables of sustainability groups, classes, and projects set up on the Crim Dell Meadow with lots of opportunities to sign up for organizations, volunteer for activities, and learn about the sustainability initiatives on the W&M campus. Campus Outdoor Recreation had an awesome set up with a slack line, tent, scooter, and kayak gear, while the Bike Initiative displayed the many biking routes available, and Campus Gardens offered a free bowl of yummy veggies. A great time was had by as students moved through tables, music played, and connections were made! Sponsored by the Committee on Sustainability this will be just one of multiple new ways to interact and get involved with our growing sustainability program, so maybe I’ll see you at the next event!

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How to Make your Summer Road Trip Sustainable in 5 Easy Steps

shutterstock_99063752Summer vacation is almost here, and around the country people are dreaming of getting in the cars and hitting the road. From short day trips to see the local sights to longer vacations that cross multiple states and highways, trips on the open road just seem to have a way to inspire and excite us.

In order to make this summer’s road trip as eco-friendly as possible, consider the following tips and advice:

Decide ahead of time where you are going

Sure, it’s fun to get in the car and just meander for miles. But planning ahead of time where you are headed will help save on costly fuel, as well as unnecessary wear and tear on the car. To boost mileage even more, Made Just Right suggests using cruise control as often as possible and, if you can stand it, go easy on the A/C.

Make sure your vehicle is in good shape

As Smart Traveling Tips notes, cars that are in need of a tune up use more gasoline and tend to belch out more exhaust. In addition, low air pressure in your tires will have a negative impact on your fuel usage. Examine them before you leave, and use the information on the sidewalls (or better yet, on the sticker in the door panel) to learn the proper PSI for your tires. If you notice that one or more are losing tread or otherwise look ready to replace, consider purchasing new BF Goodrich Tires or another brand from a company like Tire Buyer.

Avoid Rush Hour Traffic

Stop-and-go traffic can be maddening, and it’s also hard on the environment. Try to plan your travel time so you are not going through main thoroughfares during the busiest times of the day. Unless you have to head into a town as part of your journey, stick to the main highways and byways as much as you can.

Pack as light as possible

Although it can be tempting to over pack, try to keep your suitcase as light as possible. Also, refrain from loading up your car with a lot of equipment and other gear that you probably won’t have time to use during your trip. A lighter car will get better gas mileage, and will also be more comfortable to travel in. After all, trying to relax while being poked in the back by the world’s largest suitcase is not a lot of fun.

Prepare a picnic lunch

Instead of stopping at McDonald’s or Taco Bell along the way for lunch, consider packing a nice picnic meal for the whole gang. Be on the lookout for a nice scenic rest stop and enjoy a relaxing meal in the shade. When you are done eating, be sure to pick up all of your trash and dispose of it in the rest area’s trash cans, or bring it with you in the car to toss later on. If you find yourself having a hankering for a hamburger but are not in the mood for a chain restaurant, download some of the apps. For example, the SHFT Food Tripping app helps hungry travelers find tasty alternatives to fast food wherever they are on the road.

All about DormMania

Have you ever moved out of your dorm room thinking “how am I going to take all this stuff home? I wish I could do something better than just throwing it into a dumpster!” Now, thanks to a new project funded by the Committee on Sustainability (COS), you don’t have to wish anymore.

Even as you read this, five dedicated students are working tirelessly to implement a new program to reduce move-out waste at William and Mary: DormMania. Indoor and outdoor collection locations across campus will accept donations of usable items that would otherwise be thrown out by departing undergrads. Everything donated will be sorted, cleaned, and stored over the summer, and then sold cheaply at a large yard sale during fall move-in.

DormMania was born after Audrey Kriva ’17 attended a lecture put on by the non-profit Post Landfill Action Network (PLAN) last year. Recent University of New Hampshire graduates formed PLAN in 2013 after creating a hugely successful waste reduction program on their campus. Now they help other schools launch similar programs.

PLAN’s idea that “waste is just a logistics problem” intrigued Kriva immediately. She realized that a university, due to sheer scale and organization, has the potential to operate with a unique efficiency, given a little bit of logistical help. So, late one Wednesday night, after gathering her thoughts, Kriva went to the Student Environmental Action Coalition’s (SEAC) Recycling Campaign meeting to ask other students involved in waste management about the feasibility of her idea. The members of the campaign contemplated several potential roadblocks, ultimately concluding that a project like the one marinating in Kriva’s head would be unlikely to succeed.

Nevertheless, the facilitator of the Recycling Campaign, Eric Dale ’14, offered to sit down with Kriva to discuss further. Drawing on years of accumulated institutional knowledge about sustainability as well as connections with much of the College’s administration, Dale directed Kriva to the key players she would need to have on board with her idea. Admitting that he didn’t have time to work on the project, Dale sent Kriva on her way, list of names and ideas in hand.

Thirty-four meetings with administrators, committees, students, and other groups later, Kriva knew what would be needed to make her dream a reality. She created a comprehensive plan for the implementation of the project, slowly getting permission from various decision-makers. She also began recruiting her team—starting with Dale. The gleam of determination in Kriva’s eyes and the impressive legwork she had done in a just a few months convinced Dale to sign on. He was followed by Rukmini Bhugra ’17, Jahan Cooper ’15, and Madeleine Boel ’17.

The team of five began holding energetic planning meetings every week. They named the project DormMania, and applied for a COS GreenFees grant to fund it. On April 3rd, DormMania was funded for $5000, and Kriva’s team shifted into high gear. Donning their light blue t-shirts, they talked to club after club, recruiting volunteers and donors alike. Incredibly helpful and generous individuals on campus, including Sandra Prior (Environmental Health and Safety), Bob Avalle (Facilities Management), Chris Durden (Residence Life), Drew Stelljes (Office of Community Engagement), Patrick Foley (College Sustainability Fellow), Lauren Garrett (Office of the First Year Experience), Bill Horatio (Parking and Transportation Services), John Byxbe (Auxiliary Services), Kristen Fagan (Risk Management), and many others lent their support, advice, and resources to transform the project into reality.

You may have already noticed an enormous cardboard box in the lobby or lounge of your dorm, and beginning May 1, you will probably see DormMania collection tents set up outside dorms across campus. Feel free to donate anything you might use in a dorm—everything from furniture and appliances to decorations and books—at any of these locations. They’ll even take non-perishable food items and half-used cleaning supplies! Keep an eye out for volunteers wearing light blue DormMania shirts, and if you have questions, email dormmania@gmail.com. Help the environment by helping this project succeed! Find better ways to dispose of your stuff, and remember to buy anything you need next year at the huge DormMania yard sale in the Fall. Pass it on!

Find DormMania on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/DormMania

Go Solar Without Going Broke

~Tricia Brown

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Germany has long been the world leader when it comes to solar energy, but the U.S. is steadily gaining ground. An analysis by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) found that 930 new megawatts of photovoltaic solar energy were installed in the U.S. in the third quarter of 2013. That number represents a 20 percent increase from the second quarter of 2013 and a 35 percent year-to-year increase. Most of these increases were due to large-scale state and municipal projects as opposed to single-family dwellings going solar. Though the price of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the last five years, it’s still a major hurdle for most Americans. If you’re looking to begin your solar journey but costs are holding you back, look into these three budget-friendlier methods:

Build Your Own Panels

Those with a little mechanical inclination and a lot of patience can build solar panels rather cheaply. You’ll need a soldering iron and enough polycrystalline cells to produce your desired amount of power. Each cell should not cost much more than a couple bucks. Tabbing wire, plexiglass, a table saw or jigsaw and plywood round out the essentials.

The process entails gluing down the cells in equally spaced rows with tabbing wire running through each row. The finished product will be sealed in a wooden box with plexiglass covering the cells for protection. You can watch and follow along with any of the video tutorials out there—just do a simple search on Youtube.

Go One Room at a Time

Be it the kitchen or the bedroom, going solar in one room can significantly slash your electric bill. A television, lights, gaming console and a thermoelectric cooler for drinks can conceivably run on a 500-watt solar system. You’ll need a rechargeable 12-volt battery or two 6-volt golf cart batteries run in series. A true sine wave power inverter and charge controller will also be necessary.

The purpose of the solar panels in this scenario is to keep the batteries charged. Depending on the amp-hour rating of the batteries and the total wattage of all the devices, a full charge can potentially get you three days of power without recharging. You can always add more batteries to your bank to power even more equipment. The initial investment should pay for itself within a year.

Lease the System

A typical photovoltaic solar system to power an entire home can cost upwards of $40,000, depending on the size of the house. Most Americans would need to take out a loan or sell their future annuity payments to come up with that kind of money. The alternative is to lease a solar system.

Many of the large solar providers will install the system for free and charge you for usage. The one caveat is that leases can have terms ranging from 10 to 20 years. Some providers will move your system with you to your new home, but others will charge a fee to void the contract.

Solar power does not have to be a drain on your wallet, and you’ll stop draining the traditional power grid. Go solar, go independent, go off-grid.

High School Outreach: Social Media and Sustainability

highschooloutreach2On March 19th and 20th, Maren Hunsberger, the Web Design and Sustainable Communications intern for the College’s Committee on Sustainability (COS), woke up bright and early to attend the environmental science classes at Grafton High School. Calandra Waters-Lake, an associate of COS, is the instructor of this course, and invited Ms. Hunsberger to come into her class to speak to her students about a sustainability related issue. After brainstorming, they decided that social media, a topic which is so salient in the culture today, particularly for youth, could be a great guest lecture for the mix of juniors and seniors who take Mrs. Lake’s class. Maren’s presentation focused on the power of social media to bring people together for a common cause and create change, but also its potential pitfalls as an organizational tool. The teens explored various social media outlets on the topic of the West Virginia chemical spill, tying into their class unit on water pollution, and discussed what worked best, what wasn’t as effective, and why. highschooloutreach2

The overall message that Mrs. Lake and Ms. Hunsberger wanted to communicate to these kids was that they have power. Even though they’re young and may sometimes feel as if they have very little control over what happens in their lives, much less feeling like they are able to contribute to large-scale change on the environmental level, social media provides them with a platform from which they can share their thoughts, spread awareness, and contribute in small ways to big change.highschooloutreach1

Pies AND Sustainable Farming?! Yes, please

—By Maren Hunsbergerbig-sur-coast

Driving down the stunning northern California coast from San Francisco, watching the mist roll in off the rocky ocean shore, one can’t help but lose oneself in the journey. But in this case, the destination is just as remarkable and the drive. Pie Ranch, in Pescadero California, started as a 14 acre triangular piece of property in the hills just off the coast, founded as a center of sustainable food outreach and food system education. It has since grown into two ‘slices’ of land, both triangular, with the points of the pie slices ‘kissing’ one another. In addition to growing all of the ingredients for gorgeously delicious, fresh pies, the ranch also grows a wide variety of seasonal crops, from potatoes and lettuces to orchard fruits. Animals also abound on the ranch’s expanse of alternately mist-covered, alternately sun-soaked terrain. Volunteers can not only help harvest crops or tend to vegetable patches, but can also collect eggs from the warm undersides of some good-natured hens or feed scraps to the goats or the pigs.  11-603-Pie Ranch-01

Aside from being a great place for city-dwelling locals to spend an afternoon volunteering, Pie Ranch’s mission extends beyond just making great delicious pies. Their motto, “Pie Ranch cultivates a healthy and just food system from seed to table through food education, farmer training, and regional partnerships” sums it up quite nicely, but the roots grow even deeper than that. The ranch has connections with high schools in several local counties, providing programming in schools as well as field trips to pie ranch to plant the seeds for the next generation’s food leaders. These programs hope to further young peoples’ understanding of where food comes from and to provide education about the environmental, social, and economic effect food has, not only on them as individuals but also in their communities. The Ranch’s HomeSlice internship program takes their mission one step further, giving youth a chance to work intensively on the farm and develop skills in sustainable agriculture, food justice organizing, and the culinary arts.

The USDA recently reported that around 125,000 residents of the Bay Area live in what are referred to as ‘food deserts’, or areas where affordable, healthy food is difficult to obtain. For the USDA, areas qualify as food deserts if they are ‘low-income’ (a poverty rate of 20% or greater) and ‘low access’ (at least 33% of the residents live more than one mile from a grocery store). In these areas and others that may qualify for one metric and not the other, liquor stores and gas stations may greatly outnumber grocery stores, and any available produce is lower quality and above the budget of those who may have physical access to it. Food deserts are a central issue being tackled by food justice advocates, who argue that food is the kingpin problem that needs to be tackled when addressing poverty, public health, and a lack of environmental stewardship.

Pie Ranch is an integral part of the food justice movement in the Bay Area not only in their youth education and outreach but also in their regional partnerships, with organizations like the San Mateo Food Alliance and ChangeScale. Together with other such sustainable farming initiatives in the area, Pie Ranch hopes to help San Mateo county and surrounding areas evolve into self-sustaining, healthy, economically viable, and innovative food communities. And as a bonus, on days when members of the public can come volunteer, after a day of tending the fields, you are invited to take part in a potluck and barn dance. Who doesn’t love a barn dance?

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