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The Future of Sustainable Livestock Farming

17 Jan

We are students from Professor Washington-Ottombre’s ENV 101 class. For our final project in December, we made a short video about the future of sustainable livestock farming, which explores the current state or “regime” of the U.S. livestock system, and possible improvements the industry could make to move to a more sustainable regime. Our video is a mixture of animation, footage from one of our farms, and system models we learned to make in class. The models show where the livestock industry is now and where it could go from here based on a few variables.

Take a look at our video here!

The main idea in our video is a hypothetical non-profit organization we created called F.A.R.M. which stands for Farm Assessment Re-envisioning and Maintenance. The organization helps already sustainable farms stay sustainable and gives them a grade based on their level of sustainability, similar to LEED certification, but at no cost. In addition, the organization helps farms that don’t meet the requirements of sustainability transition to being more sustainable at no cost.

We hope you enjoy our video and that it sparks ideas and interests surrounding today’s agriculture system, perhaps even on the way toward re-envisioning a more sustainable future.

photo-4Emelyn Chiang ’20, Kimby Davis ’17, Tori Greco Hiranaka ’19, Elsbeth Pendleton-Wheeler ’19 and Claire Rand ’20

A Look Inside Hopkins House

7 Dec

Eliana Gevelber ’19 and Ariana Banks ’18, students in ENV 311 Interpreting and Communicating Environmental Information, write about Hopkins House.

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The Hopkins House cooperative is a Smith house where students cook and do chores together. Because Hopkins residents are not on the meal plan, they have to make their own meals. Food is typically bought in bulk.

Hopkins co-op residents, also known as “Hopkids,” try to be conscious of where their food comes from. One way the co-op does this is by having people fill out a food survey just before each semester. Questions on the survey not only ask about people’s dietary restrictions, but also from where they want to buy vegetables, meat and other animal products. Hopkins gets produce from Hampshire College’s farm CSA in the fall and from various farms at the local farmers’ market in the winter. Also, the carnivores in the house weighed in about whether they wanted to only buy local, organic and humane meat or whether factory farmed would be okay. The survey results from the beginning of the semester showed people prioritized having local meat over having meat often; since local meat is more expensive, we only rarely consume meat. In fact, we’ve only had meat once or twice so far this semester. Hopkins gets bulk dried goods ordered and delivered by the Florence-based cooperative called Pedal People. Ordering large quantities of food reduces the packaging and emissions from shipping associated with food.

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Hopkins residents minimize food waste by utilizing excess and leftover goods. The extra food is stored in a pantry and refrigerated bins and cabinets. Excess produce is even chopped and canned into mason jars for later use. As shown in the picture at the top, Eliana, a resident of Hopkins, made chutney from the abundant green tomatoes that were rescued at the end of the growing season from the Smith Community Garden. There were two grocery bags full of green tomatoes that were not being used, so Eliana made them into a flavorful sauce. The house also relies on composting to ensure food scraps and other compostable items are not going to waste. Compost bins are emptied twice a week into a larger compost bin behind Chapin House.

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Exploring Intersections between the Environment and Human Health

13 Sep
Hello! I’m Athena Sofides, a sophomore majoring in environmental science and policy. I also hope to complete the environmental concentration in sustainable food. I’m interested in exploring and studying the intersections of the environment, nutrition and public health, something I was able to do as an intern at the Path Family Center, GPM Pediatrics, and the Healthy Path Foundation this summer.
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 The Path Family Center is an interventional, holistic health clinic for pediatric patients with chronic conditions like autism spectrum disorders and autoimmune diseases. The Center has a particular focus on the environment and nutrition in its diagnosis and treatment of its patients, many (most) of whom experience drastic developmental improvements after detoxing, removing traces of heavy metals and bad bacteria in their systems through natural, herbal, holistic measures, all the while replacing them with good bacteria and supplemented vitamins and minerals. GPM Pediatrics, the “regular” pediatrics practice off of which the Path Center is based, incorporates what is done at the Path Center into each patient’s visit, considering heavily food and environmental factors in each child’s development. I’ve also been volunteering with the Healthy Path Foundation, a nonprofit designed to establish a new standard of care in the medical field by financially supporting education, research, and expenses for families seeking alternative, interventional healthcare.
As an intern, I decided to help augment the Foundation’s mission to educate by creating the Healthy Path Blog (https://thehealthypathblog.wordpress.com/) as a potential resource of empowerment and education by and for young adults in the context of environmental/holistic health in the 21st Century. The Healthy Path Blog hopes to serve as a resource for young adults in understanding what health looks like in our modern world, why contemporary health is as it is and what we can do to improve it. HPF Blog aims to do this by sharing educational resources, improvement steps and tips, and opportunities for community engagement and empowerment with our readers. This includes everything from op-eds about new research, nutritious recipes, or reflections on specific experiences. I’ve gotten so much out of this experience so far and am excited for the HPF Blog community to grow. I hope you will take a moment and take a look at some of our posts, and even consider writing a guest post of your own!
A bit more about me:
I am excited to be living in Hopkins House this year!  In my free time, I like to crochet, listen to Queen, and continue my unending quest to find the best ice cream in NYC.

Summer Student Update: Sarina Vega ’19

15 Jul

sarina farm.JPGEco-Rep Sarina Vega ’19 is having an incredible summer. She writes: I’m currently in Portugal volunteering my time at an organic, sustainable, no-till farm in a tiny village close to Tomar called Vila do Paço. I’ve been using WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Vermont for about 6 months now and decided to take the experience abroad. It’s been a humbling experience not knowing Portuguese. I’ve had to find other ways to connect with people, whether through caring for the plants and soil or through shared laughter at the dinner table as we convene over the meal our farm host prepared. Music is everywhere, conversation is abuzz, chicken and goat poop are under my shoes, and I’ve been wearing the same shirt for five days now–but who is counting?! When I left my hometown of San Diego, I left behind an internship at a community garden for the local high school, and when I return home I have another internship at a space called Art Produce, which is a community garden, art gallery, and tostada shop. I’m extremely intrigued with space and how we use it to bridge people, places, and time, and how community comes together. So far, the summer has been the most inspiring and eye-opening yet and I can’t wait to share my experiences with my friends back at Smith!

What are you doing this summer Smithies? We want to hear from you!

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Closing the loop: Recology’s composting facility

1 Apr

Matt Richtel’s NY Times article (25 March 2016, “San Francisco, the Silicon Valley of Recycling”) concludes with the spokesman for Recology’s recycling facility in San Francisco wishing that his visitors would also have the chance to tour the composting facility.  Last Monday, I had the chance to do just that.

At 9 am on a cool, sunny day, I met Greg Pryor at Recology’s composting facility in Vacaville, CA.  Greg, whose title is Organics Branch Manager, generously spent a good part of his morning with me, answering my questions and showing me around the impressive facility.  He is a wealth of knowledge and has a deep understanding of all aspects of the business, having overseen the facility for twenty years after starting his career in construction management.  We spent the morning discussing everything from business models to odor control, microbial decomposition to government regulations, and high-speed grinders versus low-speed shredders.

What is compost?  Essentially, it is the soil organic matter that is left behind after an organic waste has been decomposed.  When added to soil, compost increases aeration, water retention, and creates a healthy microbial community (think of a rich, black, earthy-smelling soil versus a beach sand).

The Vacaville site accepts yard and food waste from San Francisco, Vallejo, Dixon, Vacaville, and other communities and processes it into compost that is sold to farmers and landscapers.  Food wastes are processed first thing in the morning (and, here, first thing means 4 am).  The organic waste is loaded into a low-speed shredder which tears apart large pieces and rips open the plastic bags into which many consumers put their food scraps before tossing in their green curbside bucket.  The waste then moves through a rotating drum with four-inch openings.  Bits that are smaller pass through, while the over-sized pieces (or, “overs”, in composting parlance) continue on.  The overs travel to a sorting tent where employees pick through the waste to remove contaminants: plastics, glass, metal – usually items that should have been tossed in the recycling bin rather than the compost bin.  The sorted overs are ground up and mixed back with the waste that originally passed through the four-inch screen.

Four-inch screen at the Recology composting facility. (Photo credit: Andrew Guswa)

Four-inch screen at the Recology composting facility. (Photo credit: Andrew Guswa)

Then the process really begins.  To ensure an appropriate carbon-to-nitrogren ratio for the microbes and a bulk density that allows sufficient air to pass through the waste, one bucket of food waste is mixed with two to three buckets of yard waste (think grass clippings and brush cuttings).  The combined organic wastes are then placed on top of four perforated pipes that draw air down through the pile to ensure that the microbial decomposition remains aerobic and at the right temperature.  After thirty days “on air”, the waste is moved into rows, where it cures for another thirty days.  The finished compost is then sieved through a quarter-inch screen to remove any stray bits of plastic and glass before being sold.

Organic waste “on air” – note the pipes along the bottom that pull air down through the pile. (Photo credit: Andrew Guswa)

Organic waste “on air” – note the pipes along the bottom that pull air down through the pile. (Photo credit: Andrew Guswa)

As Greg points out, more and more farmers and landscapers are recognizing the value of organic matter as a contributor to healthy soils, and the composting business is transitioning from a focus on waste-management to a focus on creating a valuable product.  When I asked Greg to identify his biggest challenge, he indicated the contamination of their feedstocks, e.g., that stray plastic bottle that ends up in the compost bin rather than the recycling bucket.  As you might imagine, farmers and landscapers do not want compost riddled with shards of plastic and glass.  With better quality control on their inputs, i.e. with all of us doing a better job of sorting our wastes, this circular economy has the potential to really take off.

– Andrew Guswa, Professor of Engineering, is currently on sabbatical in California.

Where is She Now? Update on a Recent Grad

15 Mar
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Jackie at work.

Jacqueline Maasch (’16J) is now a diagnostic technician at the Laboratory for Molecular Medicine in Cambridge, MA. Jacqueline graduated this winter with a major in anthropology and a minor in environmental science and policy. Her participation in the sustainable food concentration taught her the importance of molecular genetics to agriculture and conservation, and ultimately lead her to pursue work in clinical genetics after graduating from Smith.

Jacqueline’s new job is through Partners HealthCare Personalized Medicine and the Human Genetics Unit of Massachusetts General Hospital. As a technician, she is responsible for extracting, quantifying, and sequencing DNA, as well as analyzing sequences for the presence of variants. 

Jacqueline has not abandoned her interest in the environment and hopes to use her skills in molecular genetics to improve human and environmental health.

Student Spotlight: Julia Graham ’16

14 Dec

Julia Graham ’16 has a lot going on. She is an environmental science and policy (ES&P) major, a sustainable food concentrator, and potentially a Latin American studies minor. Graham is interested in how indigenous cultures and the environment in Latin America have been impacted by colonialism.

When JGraham.jpgshe transferred to Smith from Warren Wilson College her sophomore year, she decided to change directions, and instead of continuing to focus on Latin American studies, she jumped with two feet into ES&P. This jump was guided by Graham’s experiences during her year off, when she worked on two farms, including one associated with the Heifer International Program.

Julia Graham has undertaken a range of environmental work during her time at Smith. Her sustainable food capstone course has her scoping out the potential for a biogas reactor at Smith. Her special studies with professor Bob Newton (geosciences) involves exploring the relationship between vegetation, environmental history, and geochemistry. Graham even used to coordinate the House Eco Reps. She currently works as a MacLeish intern at CEEDS and as an intern for ES&P.

As part of fulfilling her sustainable food concentration requirements Graham went to Ecuador to work in a permaculture biosphere with Third Millennium Alliance. Since then she has earned a permaculture design certificate and even designed a permaculture garden in her parent’s backyard.

After Smith, Graham would like to work with a trail crew. She built trails in Alaska and the Colorado Rockies during her junior and senior years of high school, and she would love to continue the work after college. Ultimately, she would like to wind up in environmental education.

The one piece of wisdom Graham would like to pass on is how important it is while you are a student at Smith to realize that there is life beyond the Smith campus. Take a step back from academics, get off campus, see what is happening in the rest of the world.

– Brittany Bennett is a senior Engineering Science major and hails from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She hopes to educate engineers on how to best create a more sustainable world.

Cider Pressing with CEEDS

2 Nov

Over Family Weekend this year students and their families gathered outside the Campus Center to celebrate Fall with CEEDS faculty, staff and student interns by pressing cider, tasting apples, eating freshly made cider donuts and sampling cheese. Attendees got to press their own fresh cider the old fashioned way via hand-cranked cider presses. More apples were consumed at the heirloom apple tasting table where seven very different local apple varieties were available for tasting. Dining Services partnered with us to offer some tasty aged local cheeses to pair with the apples.

Click through the gallery to see some photos from the event.

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– Brittany Bennett is a senior Engineering Science major hailing from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She hopes to educate engineers on how to best create a more sustainable world.

Garden Inspiration

27 Jul

Hi everyone!

My name is Danielle and this summer I’m working as the garden manager at the Community Garden on campus. Come fall I’m going to be a senior somehow but I still have a few more months of denial first. As was mentioned in an earlier post, I’m an Economics major (no idea how that happened) and I’m also IMG_2624in the Sustainable Food concentration. My favorite food right now is cereal because I haven’t gone grocery shopping in forever and it’s the perfect way to settle in and cool down after an afternoon of weeding my beloved garden.

I ended up here, covered with an intricate web of tan lines, perpetually aware of the dirt wedged under my fingernails, and eating cold cereal out of a coffee mug at 8 pm, through a long series of fortunate, random circumstances. I proudly come from a family of farmers. Growing up, I thought that, like me, all of my classmates had farms outside of town, that they would visit their farms on the weekends and would be welcomed by the choking aroma of manure that seemed to cloud the atmosphere, followed by warm cookies and milk fresh from the cow. It wasn’t until I was much older, after the farm had shut down, that I realized how special this part of my life was.

Of course, given that I was only a kid at the time, my memories of jumping on hay bales (imagine the lava game but x1000) and kissing calves straight on the mouth (because germs are whatever) are overly romanticized. My grandparents, together with my mom and her five siblings, all worked extremely hard. The cows required milking twice a day every single day of the year. That meant every day before school, every Christmas morning before presents, in blizzards and sweltering New England humidity. And they were extremely poor. As with most families who depend on agriculture, survival of the family was closely tied to the survival of the farm. Yet despite everything that was put into it and despite everything that it produced (probably about 100 million pints of ice cream, and also severe arthritis for some), the farm as a business was not viable in the end.

The story of this farm, though not uncommon in the grand scheme of things, has been extraordinarily influential in many of my endeavors since its closure. Apart from the wonderful memories, the farm gave me a deep respect for one of the most unappreciated professions of all time: the production of the food we eat every day. I had always been a bit obsessed with food (and still am, and I strongly encourage everyone else to be), but it wasn’t until I made the connection that all of the food on my plate, in the pantry, and at the grocery story actually came from somewhere and, more importantly, someone that everything changed. I kid you not, sometimes I look at an ear of corn and see a human face.

Since then, I’ve used food as a sort of lens into a world that may otherwise have been inaccessible. At Smith, this has manifested in incredible discussions about the invisible forces that create our food systems, neoliberalism and international trade policies, the role of agriculture in sustainable development, the effects of climate change on the livelihood of farmers everywhere, slavery and foundations of exploitative agricultural labor practices in the US, systematic racism and issues of food distribution in our cities, the untold stories of women in agriculture, powerful corIMG_2621porations, scarcity, and abundance. The question of food, from sustainable production to equitable distribution, is one of the greatest conundrums of our time, so as far as obsessions go, I don’t think it’s such a bad one to have. Last summer, it brought me to the Dominican Republic, where I had the unspeakable privilege of visiting a number of sugar plantations and seeing for myself the many layers of the controversy that has recently been in the news. This summer, it has brought me to this on-campus position supported by CEEDS and an internship at Grow Food Northampton, where I’ve had the opportunity to learn firsthand about what it takes to grow food.

Anyway, that’s how I got here, and with that I’ll end my first (long-overdue) post as Community Garden Manager. Stick around to hear me talk about something other than me, like the exciting stuff that’s growing in the garden, the people I’ve met, and all the new words I’ve learned! In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak:

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Early days- volunteers planting and staking tomato plants.

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Tomatoes in July are starting to show some color!

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Red currants ripening on the bushes.

In the area? We are in the garden behind Gillett House each Sunday between 3-6 p.m and would love your company!

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.

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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!