It’s Summertime, and the Community Garden is Going Strong

24 Jun

Meet Danielle Jacques- this summer’s Community Garden Manager! Danielle is an economics major and student in the environmental concentration: sustainable food in the class of 2016.

IMG_2563

If you were to run into Danielle on campus during the academic year, she would probably be thinking about globalization and food systems or international trade. This summer, however, she has taken on an internship with Grow Food Northampton and the position with the student-run campus garden in order to learn more about what it takes to produce the food that sustains all of us. This may seem a bit of a switch, but it turns out that Danielle grew up in Maine next door to her grandparents’ dairy farm. The farm is no longer in operation, but that early introduction to life with 200-300 dairy cattle made an impression. She and her Mom still raise animals- chickens for eggs and to sell, but Danielle is now ready to learn about what it takes to grow produce from start to finish. In addition to planning and caring for the garden on a regular basis she will also be looking into how to more effectively compost the garden’s organic waste onsite.

For Danielle, some garden highlights to come include the berries- ALL the berries and Brussel sprouts and sweet onion later in the fall. Oh, and meeting all the wonderful members of the Smith community who want to get involved! If you want to know when the regular drop-in times are for meeting others in the garden email jbenkley at smith.edu. Come join the fun!

SURFing Uncharted Waters

23 Jun

After an exploratory first year at Smith, I’m working as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) with Camille Washington-Ottombre, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Dano Weisbord, Director of Campus Sustainability, and Andrea Schmid ‘17.

We are studying the resilience of Smith College.

The Resilience Alliance defines resilience as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.” That’s not exactly cut-and-dried, and in the face of climate change, we’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty.

I’m two weeks into my research, and the most difficult part of this project is pinning down a research question that fully encompasses and properly frames our work for the summer. The study of resilience is a fresh field of inquiry and planning. In fact, there are no published papers or case studies specifically assessing the resilience of a college or university. This is not, however, a neglected approach. Many municipalities and watersheds have applied resilience thinking to their planning. Now, after years of mitigation and management, campus sustainability planners ride the crest of a breaking wave. Academics and professionals are understanding the need for campus sustainability to evolve into a holistic systems-based approach that equips institutions with the tools to adapt to the challenges of climate change. Our work is primary research.

Callie_cropc

We’re not simply exploring uncharted waters, we’re mapping them.

– Callie Sieh ’18J studies Environmental Science and Policy and interns in the Office of Campus Sustainability. In her free time she experiments with sound and image, talks to strangers, and explores New England.

The grass is now greener!

22 Jun

As part of the renovation of College Hall’s landscape, the steep slope on West Street was dug up to facilitate the creation of a retention wall and to bury telephone and electric wires. After being torn up, the steep slope was replanted with a turf grass alternative! This is a further test of more sustainable turf options that require less mowing, pesticides, and maintenance.  The ground cover that is being planted is from the genus liriope, which also covers the embankment next to the Campus Center. Liriope, also known as lilyturf, is a hardy ground cover that helps prevent soil erosion. Depending on the variety, it is great at spreading out and providing coverage for large swaths of land, either in sun or shade. Even better, some of the lilyturf planted was salvaged from next to the Fine Arts Center instead of being demolished and relocated alongside the new plants.

IMG_2571 IMG_2572

IMG_2574 Planting liriope on the side of College Hall by West St.

Planting liriope on the side of College Hall by West St.

Campus Sustainability and CEEDS are excited to see new ways to keep our campus literally green and more environmentally friendly!

 

It’s Coming on Summer at the MacLeish Field Station

17 Jun
A good day to mow in the fruit orchard has finally arrived. Our electric UTV is back from the shop and the trail-behind mower is in good working order. The field grasses have reached about three feet in height, and we need to keep the rows and fence clear.
 We’ve had our first sighting of fruit since we planted the orchard in April of 2013. Golden Russet and Gold Rush – both cider apples – were the first to appear. I noticed them for the first time this morning!
IMG_20150612_103131488A first crop of cider apples is set.
 I also got a nice surprise as I was rounding the corner of the Keeper apples. I startled a female turkey from her nest – situated nicely between the rows of Freedom and Black Oxford varieties. IMG_20150612_102227152
A clutch of ten turkey eggs in the orchard nest!
  Summer is a nice time to get some work done at MacLeish. We look forward to welcoming everyone back in the Fall. We may even have a few apples for them!
 – Reid Bertone-Johnson, manager of Smith’s Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station and lecturer in the Landscape Studies Program.

Earth Week: The Planet and the People On It: Opening up Conversation on Campus

7 May

Like every Earth Week, we didn’t have the biggest turn out. Rain and wind forced the array of student justice and environmental organizations inside the campus center; many passersby avoided catching our eye so they could hurry on without being stopped for a signature, promise, or pamphlet.

Those who did stop, though, gave an incredible energy to the week. People proudly penned promises on up-cycled cloths, accepted challenges and asked for more information on everything from intersectionality to permeable pavements.

The week was dotted with workshops, panels, and gatherings geared towards opening up the Smith community on a variety of topics. Environmentally friendly menstrual products, labor conditions of undocumented farmworkers, indigenous land rights, and the Gaza water crisis: the College was flooded with waves of discussion on a myriad of global environmental justice issues.

Lily-earthweek

It can be hard not to feel a bit jaded when it comes to doing outreach on a campus so full of soapboxes: occasionally, it seems to me that Smithies have an attitude of “I don’t have time to listen to you talk, I’m busy saving the world”. However, unlike previous Earth Weeks, the focus this year on intersectionality really brought more of the campus together than ever before. Instead of a lecture on why we’re not doing enough to celebrate and take good care of the Planet and the People on It, it felt more like a conversation on how together, we can do more than enough.

We can’t talk about land subsidence in marginalized neighborhoods without talking about race; we can’t talk about waste crises without talking about class, and we certainly can’t talk about climate change without talking about global political power asymmetries.

I think that this past week was an important step in creating a more equitable space for discussion on campus. If we all took one step off our own soapboxes, it would lead us onto someone else’s; out of a lecture, and into a conversation.

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread. #veganchef

A Week with ACE: Lessons from an Environmental Justice Organization

29 Apr

This spring break I left the books at home and hung out with an environmental justice organization in Roxbury, MA. Known locally as ACE, the acronym stands for Alternatives for Community and Environment. Through a series of workshops, adventures, meetings and hands-on work, I had my eyes opened to what environmental justice can—and ought to—look like from the ground on up.

One of my first surprises upon entering the organization was how friendly and easy-going the staff were. I was there with a UMASS grassroots organizing class and the ACE staff had us dive right in—right from hour one. I quickly discovered that about 80% of the staff were between the ages of 17 and 24. They were young, furious, and working hard to improve their neighborhood and to fight for their community. Specifically, their environmental justice campaigns focused on better air quality for Roxbury, improved public transit, anti-gentrification and food justice.

One room of the office space was devoted entirely to the REEP program (Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project and part of ACE). REEP is a youth empowerment program that works with and recruits local high school students—and thus the office was always alive with spunk and energy. It was difficult to not join in the fun!

As a group, my class attended workshops led by the youth organizers. They taught us about environmental justice issues specific to Roxbury, gentrification 101, and the power of story-telling to effect social change. Each of us had to informally present on life experiences that influenced us to pursue environmental justice. Being from a rural town in Northern California, my daily concerns differed vastly from the youth of Roxbury. While I drew the following (and beautifully artistic) rendition of my hometown, the youth organizers from Roxbury were distributing flyers relating to transit justice within their own community (see flyer below). Roxbury is a 95% black neighborhood and has been historically—and notoriously— ignored and marginalized by transit development and air quality control.

My beautiful rendition of environmental hazards in my hometown, Northern California.

My beautiful rendition of environmental hazards in my hometown in Northern California.

The flyers that we distributed throughout Roxbury.

The flyers we distributed throughout Roxbury.

In fact, in 1997, REEP was founded by a high school led campaign to hold the MBTA accountable to the Massachusetts anti-idling law. Roxbury has a higher rate of residents with asthma than any other neighborhood in Boston and it was apparent that the MBTA’s bus parking garage was a major contributor to the problem. Buses were left idling on a daily basis, generating excessive exhaust that permeated the neighborhood. On a “Toxic Tour” of Dudley Square led by one of the youth, we were exposed to the air quality monitoring station that was installed as a result of their anti-idling initiative.

A view from the local high school in Roxbury of dirty stormwater.

A view of dirty storm water from the Roxbury high school.

My biggest take-away from the week was learning the difference between environmentalism and environmental justice. In a 1987 study titled “Toxic Wastes and Race” by the United Church of Christ, it was determined that race is the most significant factor in predicting the distribution of environmentally hazardous facilities. A repeat study, conducted twenty years later, showed that people of color are now found to be even more concentrated around hazardous waste facilities than previously shown. Thus environmental justice is focused on equality of healthy resources and environments for ALL people. To this end, ACE’s mission is to “build the power of communities of color and low-income communities in Massachusetts to eradicate environmental racism and classism, create healthy, sustainable communities, and achieve environmental justice.” Their Vision of Change is as follows:

“Systemic change means moving beyond solving problems one by one to eliminating the root causes of environmental injustice. ACE is anchoring a movement of people who have been excluded from decision-making to confront power directly and demand fundamental changes in the rules of the game, so together we can achieve our right to a healthy environment.”

After this experience I encourage all of us to move beyond popular narratives of environmentalism. Instead, we need to reevaluate our commitments to the Earth AND to its people.

To learn more about ACE, or to donate, visit: www.ace-ej.org.

-Odessa Aguirre is a senior at Smith College from Sonora, California. She studies Anthropology with a focus on immigration and Spanish. When she is not at Smith College, she is somewhere sunny and warm. Her future plans include backpacking in every feasible mountain range–and for the non-feasible mountain ranges, she has plans to train as a mountaineer.

Otters at Paradise

22 Apr

Every year, spring thaw means river otter time in Western Massachusetts.  Just as the ice on ponds and lakes starts to melt, I keep an eye out for these playful aquatic mammals to pop out onto the ice and munch on fish and crayfish.

otter on ice  otter face

This year, nature lovers at Smith were treated to an especially good view of a pair of rivers otters on Paradise Pond for about a week running.  I took these pictures and videos over the course of about 3 days as the otter (or otters — I’m not sure if I was looking at the same one all the time, and I never got to see both at once) ate fish after fish.


Now it’s time to look for otter pups!

-James Lowenthal is a professor of astronomy, co-director of the environmental concentration: climate change, and a CEEDS Faculty Fellow.

Jeffrey Sachs: an Economist himself

18 Apr

I’d heard it all before; sustainable development is the only future for an increasingly global society, steeping in a burning cocktail of social injustices, stark economic inequalities and environmental degradation. I have been privileged to hear countless environmentalists, scholars, and activists preach the importance as well as the challenges of sustainable development over the past few years.

The big difference between that and Jeffrey Sachs’ April 8th evening lecture on Sustainable Development at Smith College was that I was hearing about it from an economist. And not just any economist. Sachs is a world-renowned economist who serves as a senior adviser to United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals. He is Director of the Earth Institute, and Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Sachs

Sachs led a full auditorium of captivated students, community members, and professors through the ins and outs of sustainable development, the rise of capitalism, and poverty. He finished the lecture with harrowing statistics and evidence describing the environmental crises we are faced with as a result of capitalism’s insatiable, unsustainable appetite.

What intrigued me the most about the lecture were his concluding slides detailing the responsibilities of the “moral” university. The role of the university in sustainable development is special, critical, and enormous in helping to create a future for the billions of people on the planet. Education in sustainable development, research and design of sustainable development systems, organizing social outreach to all stakeholders, and fostering and protecting a moral outlook are some of the responsibilities outlined by Sachs at the tail end of his lecture.

Craning my neck, I tried to gauge the President’s reaction to this slide. After all, administrative offices, classes, and student groups like Divest Smith College have been preaching these same principles for years now. Their biggest hurdle in seeing any action from the College has been economic; any mention of the changes needed to become a more sustainable institution generally leads to hysteria about the billion dollar endowment, so critical to Smith College. And standing on the stage in Weinstein Auditorium was someone ready and willing to make the jump over the hurdle and onto the right side of history; an economist himself.

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread. #veganchef

Florida Adventures with Native Bees!

14 Apr

I am a student Fellow in the Kahn Institute of Liberal Arts yearlong project “The Power of Disappearance”.  There are 15 faculty and 4 student Fellows in my group and we are all studying vastly different topics that revolve around the single word “disappearance”.  My honeybee passion has been ongoing for a few years now, and for this Kahn project I decided to push my boundaries and study disappearances within native bee species. I went into the project knowing I wanted to make a film, because making a film is much more fun than writing a paper or creating a powerpoint, both for me and the viewer.  Plus, I saw this as an issue that could inspire action, and films often have the power to do that.  The film Queen of the Sun is what initially got me into studying bees, and I wanted to pay homage to that.

Over Spring Break I traveled to Gainesville, Florida to interview researchers in the native bee biology lab at the University of Florida.  I had never been to Florida! Cory Stanley-Stahr, a post-doc in the bee lab, is an incredibly kind and knowledgeable person and was the person who I organized the trip with.  She picked me up from the airport and helped me set up interviews with people in the bee lab and community.

I filmed Cory explaining what native bee hotels are, and how people can help native bee populations by building bee hotels and providing more nesting spaces for these bees.  I also interviewed two of Cory’s lab technicians, including Mary, who dissected a frozen bumblebee hive to show me its components (have you ever seen the inside of a bumblebee nest?).  My aim is to create a film that educates people about bees (other than honeybees), explains why native bees matter, and addresses simple ways people can help native bee populations.

Screen shot 2015-04-08 at 10.38.06 PM
The inside of a bumblebee nest- a still shot from my film.

You can read more stories and see pictures from my adventure at thesecret-lifeofbees.blogspot.com.  Also please come to my Collaborations presentation where I will be debuting my film on campus: Saturday April 18th at 10:45am in Seelye 106.

-Haley Crockett is graduating this May and is an American Studies major and proud Sustainable Food concentrator at Smith.

Spotlight: Amelia Burke, ’15

11 Mar

Meet Amelia: Amelia developed a well-established interest in Middle Eastern studies and sustainable agriculture in the year before she arrived at Smith. During her gap year, she worked in the West Bank, writing for a Palestinian news site, went WWOOFing in Italy and hiked a portion of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. She arrived at Smith ready to focus on environmental sustainability and land revitalization through sustainable agriculture. This spring, she will be graduating with a degree in Middle Eastern studies, a minor in environmental science and policy, and a concentration in sustainable food.

Ab4

During her first two years at Smith, she worked on research projects relating to climate refugees and abuses of freedom in Northern Africa. By her junior year, she decided to take another year off to engage in foreign sustainability issues in agriculture. Amelia had plans to return to the West Bank for an internship at a women’s olive oil cooperative, but upon being denied entry at the border, she was forced to improvise the following year’s plans.

Working her way across continents, she lived in Jordan, worked on a dairy farm in Turkey, a horse farm in Bulgaria, and a kiwi farm in Italy. Her travels then turned south, where she worked on permaculture at an Eco lodge in Egypt and then headed to Zimbabwe for an internship at the Africa Centre for Holistic Management. There she focused on improving degraded soil through proper cattle management. She next headed up to Morocco with plans to use Smith’s Praxis scholarship. Up in the Moroccan highlands, she worked at the High Atlas Foundation, engaged with rural development strategies through fruit and nut tree cultivation and production. In her last year at Smith (oh yes, she accelerated a year) she applied for a Fulbright and is now a finalist for goat and sheep management systems on rates of pasture regrowth in the Middle Atlas.

Amelia

When asked how Smith has contributed to her academic goals she responded: “there is no defined outcome [for what you get out of an academic institution].” As we can see, Amelia patchworked her own academic trajectory through Smith and beyond.

Thanks Amelia for sharing your unique navigation through Smith and good luck with all your future endeavors!

-Odessa Aguirre is a senior at Smith College from Sonora, California. She studies Anthropology with a focus on immigration and Spanish. When she is not at Smith College, she is somewhere sunny and warm. Her future plans include backpacking in every feasible mountain range–and for the non-feasible mountain ranges, she has plans to train as a mountaineer.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 684 other followers