Tag Archives: students

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!


Morning Wake-up Working Party

21 Aug

[This is the fourth in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, ’17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

This week, in addition to the weekly Friday afternoon working party I offered a one-hour working party every morning from 7-8 a.m. I believe that being among green plants refresh people’s minds for a new day. Working one hour in the early morning, when the sun hasn’t risen high yet and the air still smells like dew can also be a good opportunity to get some exercise. In contrast to exercises like running and bicycling, with gardening you can see the real change you made to the land instead of just imagining how many calories you just burned. This can be one of the charming characteristics of gardening.

peasPeas are among the earliest produce shining under sun and rewarding my labor.

currants_bush                                             Red currant fruit is plumping up.









Red raspberries are coming along.
                                                                                                       Blueberries too!

bok choiBok choi always does well and the plants look so beautiful after taking a shower.

swiss chardSwiss chard make me laugh with water drops on their cute leaves.

Even though I usually work alone, I enjoy my time watering the plants and preparing them for the dry and hot summer days. This week I got some help with watering from the sky above because it has rained almost every day. I have enjoyed eating my breakfast in the garden in the company of  birds singing pleasantly.

waxAll sorts of beans (these are wax) have been my company for the past a couple of weeks.

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with others.


Learning to understand a food forest

1 Jul

The outdoor realm of the world has always held more fascination for me than that of the built environment, mostly, I think, because of the variety of smells. At home, those smells were pine needles and green peas, strawberries and mulch. In Ecuador, where I’m completing a two-month tropical food production internship on a biosphere reserve, the smells are vastly different but still provide fascination for me; the smells of maracullá and papaya, donkeys and thatched roofs mingle with motor oil and moist air for an intoxicating mixture of jungle community. When I first arrived in the 350-person community of Camarones four weeks ago, I made the three-kilometer trek up to the Jama-Coaque Biosphere Reserve. I unpacked in the bamboo tree house and became acquainted with the moist evergreen forest surrounding me. I looked out on the tree-covered mountains and immediately took stock of what was lacking from my normal view—power lines, roofs, and road cuts, to name a few. What was present was thereby made more special—I saw powerful hummingbirds hovering over passion flowers, countless bizarre insects, as well as a mish-mash of fruit trees and shrubs that would soon become my fascination. About an acre of the Jama-Coaque Reserve is a permaculture food forest, and this site is where I’m spending most of my time.

I’m learning more and more that a permaculture system looks akin to a half-forgotten forest. And even more, I’m learning this laissez-faire appearance is intentional—strived for even. This is hard for me to comprehend; I come from a suburban New England town where lawns were the norm and any stray dandelion was blasphemous and immediately attacked with any number of chemicals, from RAID to Windex. In school, I was praised for having all my papers in numerical order and at home I was rewarded for keeping the table clean. These subtle influences made me want to control everything in my reach. This tendency mostly manifests itself in a clean room, doing most of the driving on road trips, and taking on the mother role in many friend groups.

This controlling trait of mine has also applied to most of the gardening I’ve done in my life. Gardening brings me joy and peace because I have a hand in producing the food that I consume. Neat rows, not a single maple seedling in sight, and beautifully trellised tomatoes are my favorite TV shows and I could watch them for hours. Of course, there have been mishaps, including a slapdash pea trellis, and a bunch of tomatoes whose growth was stunted when I mistook their terminal buds for suckers (suckers are sometimes removed from tomatoes so that energy is sent to a few tomatoes to make them bigger—in this case, the tomato plants had to send lots of energy into a sucker stem to create a new terminal bud).

Nothing compares, though, to the chaos and beauty of permaculture. To my control-focused brain, a permaculture system is difficult to comprehend, but I’m coming to understand the purpose. Along with the general food production my internship entails, I will also be getting a Permaculture Design Certification. This certification will verify that I am capable of designing a system that might look like an overgrown forest but that is so productive the fruits of my labor will literally be falling on my head (this is not an exaggeration—I’ve had maracullá, or passion fruit, fall off its vine into my lap while reading in a hammock).

The food production side of the reserve is still young, but some of my favorite permaculture techniques that the reserve employs include a water filtration system that uses beneficial bacteria that inhabit sand and eat harmful microorganisms, making the river water potable; planting ginger rhizomes to outcompete weeds; and utilizing the cleansing properties of banana and yucca plants to filter our grey water. I am also learning the concepts of design, which really just define common sense principles of using a problem to create a solution, among other things. The crux of permaculture is to design sustainable human settlements, something we all need to put all of our time and energy into.

Life on the reserve is similar to a permaculture system—while most of our food still does not come from the backyard, bananas, oranges, limes, passion fruit, yucca, oreganon, spicy ají peppers and a spinach-like green called verdulaga come in from the food forest and supplement our diet. Our days are relaxed and full of learning. The day starts at eight, maybe clearing the understory with machetes or harvesting oranges and cacao in the forest, followed by an extended lunch, and then permaculture class. The day ends at four and a good two or three hours of my afternoon are consumed by reading (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert are my latest obsessions). Since there is no electricity, dinners are shared by candlelight and then after a game of cards it’s to bed at 8:30.

One of the things I’ll miss the most when I return to the States is having an infinite supply of fresh local bananas at my doorstep. The coast of Ecuador is prime banana country—“banana heaven” is what my intern coordinator called it—and each week it’s someone’s chore to harvest a whole stalk. Bananas are actually overgrown herbaceous plants, not trees, and their vascular system is amazing. To harvest the fruit, one must cut down the plant, which then exudes copious amounts of sap. Each xylem tube of the plant is visible to the naked eye, making the cut stump look something like a beehive, but with rectangular holes instead of hexagonal. A banana stalk contains anywhere between 25-35 bananas and terminates in a long stem holding its purple flower bud. Since all bananas that are cultivated today are clones, bananas do not reproduce sexually, so this flower never gets to complete its natural cycle. Bananas produce pups at their base, which grow into subsequent plants in about nine month. I pretty much swore off of bananas a while ago for the well-known politico-social reasons, but while in Ecuador I’m planning to consume as many as my body can stand and appreciate this bizarre fruit’s sweetness while I can.

The most recent adventure in tropical food production surrounded a pile of light-brown fermented seedpods. These seeds had been harvested from age-old trees and their orange outer-pods sat fermenting in a bag for about three days and then spent the past two weeks drying in the sun. Yesterday, we toasted them over a low flame and then cracked open the casings to reveal a midnight black oval with a delicious fragrance. Once ground, this end result was turned into xocolatl—“bitter liquid” in the Aztec language Nahuatl. In other words, hot chocolate. From the tree to the cup, chocolate takes on many forms, and in the process I experienced we didn’t even make a classic chocolate bar. Yet I have to say my favorite part of this whole cacao process was not sipping of the panela-sweetened drink but sucking on the freshly harvested outer pods, which are coated with a sweet and slightly tangy goo that is absolute heaven. My fellow food production interns and I sat for about an hour shelling the pods and intermittently sticking one into our mouths to enjoy that sweet flavor. Cacao is actually native to Ecuador, yet most modern cacao does not come from here. However, the majority of the highest quality cacao is grown in coastal Ecuador, right near the reserve. So while I’m eating locally now, I will sadly never be able to taste the fine flavor of Ecuadorian cacao in a Hershey’s bar…but who needs those anyway? I’ll have my chaotic, fruit-falling permaculture garden design to keep me happy when I return.

P.S. I apologize for the lack of pictures—we operate with limited technology up here! If you’d like some photos of this project, visit the reserve’s website at http://www.tmalliance.org, their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.780585085294384.1073741834.154975601188672&type=1 or check out my fellow intern’s blog at http://sarahkbarney.wordpress.com/.

-Julia Graham, ’16

Gleaning: A Chance to Harvest for Others

29 Oct

Last Sunday, I went on my first gleaning trip. I was vaguely familiar with the idea, and knew that gleaning was when produce left over from a harvest or missed in the harvesting process was taken by or given to people who couldn’t otherwise afford to buy it. I knew gleaning is a practice that has its roots in Biblical tradition, but has been practiced by religious and secular groups alike. CEEDS organized the trip in partnership with Rachel’s Table, a local organization that works with volunteers of all ages to visit participating local farms and collect the produce that is imperfect for selling or in overabundance. Rachel’s Table then distributes the produce to food pantries and shelters in the Greater Springfield area.IMG_1643                           Jessica explains how the Gleaning Project works.

So on this Sunday, a van full of Smith students and some CEEDS staff arrived at Old Friends Farm in Amherst, MA. We were joined by  Jessica Harwood, the Rachel’s Table Gleaning Project coordinator, and some students doing their service in anticipation of their Bat and Bar Mitzvah ceremonies.  We drove up the winding road, taking in the art sculptures scattered among the colorful trees, the beehives, and a pen for miniature horses, or perhaps mules. We finally drove out to one large field, where rows and rows of kale grew: dinosaur kale, curly leaf kale, kale with red and purple leaves, and decorative flowering kale. The farm was producing kale faster than it was able to sell it so they were sharing their bounty. It was our job to harvest it. After brief instructions we set to work, and though we started with lots of empty boxes, in no time at all they were all overflowing with big lush kale leaves.

IMG_1632Heading into the kale field with empty boxes.

Once our boxes were full we headed to the barn, where we found tables laden with yellow and red onions. The onions had gotten wet, so were no longer perfect enough for market without more work than was worthwhile for the farmers. Our group set to work, sorting through the piles in search of the firm, unspoiled onions, and we collected quite a lot – imperfect, but perfectly edible and nutritious. We were impressed by the fact that we were asked to leave the onion skins and any bad onions on the table; someone else was coming later in the day to glean the onion skins to make dye!

IMG_1642With one of the many containers we filled with onions.

Once the onions were loaded into the vehicle, we headed off to one of Brookfield Farm’s fields — this one looked like we were going to be gleaning from a plot of dirt! However, it turned out to be a plot that had grown sweet potatoes, most of which had already been machine harvested. We went through the field, bending down and tunneling our fingers in the dirt, finding sweet potatoes the size of our thumbs, some skinny like string beans, and always hoping that the next bend would yield a gem more impressive than the last. No matter the size and shape, roasted or mashed or as part of a stew, these sweet potatoes would be delicious. We gathered bags and bags of them.

IMG_1644Gleaning sweet potatoes.

Rachel’s Table weighs all the produce that is gleaned through this project in order to keep track of how much food they help bring to the community each year. In 2012, with the help of its many volunteers, the organization gathered and distributed approximately 10,300 lbs of produce that would not have been available otherwise. Being a part of this experience was satisfying in so many ways: saving produce that would otherwise go to waste, helping get food to people who need it, and being able to spend a beautiful day outside in the autumn air in community, our many hands making light the work that benefits so many others. I can’t wait until we do this again.

-Sara Kirk
Adminstrative Assistant, CEEDS

Bright Ideas: Spotlight on Monique Gagne

16 Mar

As a CEEDS intern, one of my favorite topics to blog about is students focused on the environment. It is always interesting to see how they have woven their passion for the environment into their liberal arts education. Lucky for me, this campus is filled with confident, conscious women who are well on their way to changing the world. I met Monique Gagne, ’13 on my recent trip to Washington, D.C. and was impressed by her activism and dedication to environmental challenges like stopping the expansion of the Keystone XL Pipeline. She is not shy about standing up for the environment. On the trip to D.C. she was also one of a small faction of traditional-age students, or “trads” as we Adas call them, that went out of her way to make me feel comfortable, as I didn’t really know any of the students on the excursion. I liked her immediately.


As we talked about what fuels her passion for the environment, I learned that Monique is a former intern for the Office of Environmental Sustainability, also located here in CEEDS. Having that in common, her interview became more of a conversation. It was wonderful to chat about her experiences and how she plans on continuing to link her past, present and future to address the looming environmental concerns that face this planet.

Monique is an engineering major with a minor in landscape studies. As she began taking classes at Smith, she realized that the environmental engineering track was the one that appealed to her the most. She focused on the petroleum industry early in her studies, but was intrigued by advanced topics in water quality.  She began to delve deeper into the issue of water quality and the concerns that are certain to arise when water becomes scarce. Monique followed her new-found interest into a PRAXIS funded internship this past summer, which allowed her to work with sustainable water systems.

Ms. Gagne has already secured employment at Lutron Electronics after she graduates this year. This innovative company has been on the forefront of sustainability by using smart technology to save energy. The dimmers that Lutron creates use daylight to determine just how much light is necessary in a space. This simple element lowers energy consumption, which is a central step to creating energy efficient spaces. As we were talking, Monique pointed out Lutron technology in the lighting system above us in the Campus Center. Their energy-saving products are also in some of the other high performance buildings on campus, like Ford Hall. Monique will be able to use the know-how and environmental awareness she learned here to carry into her life after Smith.

How has her liberal arts education prepared her for her future? Monique noted that because of her Smith education she can no longer see the world through just an engineering or a landscape lens. Instead, she sees the nature of the world as multidisciplinary, which allows her to be creative as she seeks to effectively engage environmental issues– and life.  It is comforting to know that there are students like Monique here at Smith who care about the fate of the environment and who are thinking about what happens to the next generation as well.


– Liz Wright, ‘AC

First Environmental Science and Policy Program Lunchtime Event!

21 Feb

On Thursday, February 14th, the Environmental Science and Policy Program held a lunchtime event for ES&P/MS&P majors and minors—the first gathering of the semester! We had the opportunity to meet new people in the major, exchange advice about courses at Smith, brainstorm ideas for future ES&P events, eat delicious pizza and apple cider, and embroider cloth napkins!

Utilizing cloth napkins can help reduce generated waste. According to Tree Hugger, a cloth napkin that is washed about 50 times per year will produce 2.5 grams (for linen napkins) to 5 grams (for cotton napkins) of GHG emissions. Conversely, using one paper napkin per day for an entire year would generate 10 grams of GHG emissions.

ES&P/MS&P students: Keep an eye out for emails regarding future lunchtime events, program lectures, and outings!

‘LIKE’ our new Facebook page to learn about program events and activities

– Emily Dwyer, ’13

Five-College Workshop in Environmental Leadership

1 Feb

In mid-January, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Five-College Workshop in Environmental Leadership. This was a week long workshop that included a movie screening, panels with alumnae of the Five-Colleges, a workshop with the Center for Environmental Civics, and keynote speakers.

The week started with the film screening of “A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle of a Living Planet” a documentary that outlined the history of the environmental movement. It tells the story of the grassroots, global fight for the environment of the last fifty years. Some of the campaigns the film highlighted included stopping construction of dams in the Grand Canyon and Greenpeace working to save the whales. I have seen many documentaries about environmental movements, but this one did an especially good job at  showing the history of each of the particular campaigns and why they were successful.fierce green fire

For the rest of the week, we attended a panel in the morning and a lobbying workshop in the afternoon. The panels were split into different categories: law, business/industry, government agencies, engaged science and elected officials. These panels were very interesting because, with the exception of the elected officials, they were all alumnae of the Five-Colleges.  Many of the panelists spoke about their careers and how they got there; it was great to hear this from individuals who once sat in the same seats that we did. The conversations also illustrated how many different paths you can take with an Environmental Studies major. I was impressed with the many different ways these individuals thought of their education and were able to then translate that into different career fields. The best part of these panels was the networking that went along with them; we were able to engage in informal conversations and share ideas with all the speakers. I felt like I got some advice that I will be able to use for the rest of my life.

The afternoon lobbying work shop run by Chris Bathurst and Paul Newlin from the Center of Environmental Civics, Inc. was a great help in giving us the basic skills to run our own successful environmental campaigns. Chris and Paul were great at giving us the basic guidelines of an issue and then letting us run with it. One of the things I liked the most was that we were able to work in groups with students from the other colleges. The relationships we were able to build will be invaluable when we go out to run a real campaign. I enjoyed that we were given the freedom to find our own issue and work in small groups, but that Chris and Paul were still available for questions and feedback.

We were also fortunate enough to have Gus Speth, renowned environmental lawyer and advocate, author of Globalization and the Environment (2003), America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (2012), and many more books. Mr. Speth spoke of the need for the U.S. to change economically and socially in order to ensure that future generations will have the same resources we have today. As someone who believes in the need to think in new ways to address environmental issues going forward, I agreed with Mr. Speth on many points; like having prices reflect the true costs of goods and services and making sure that society is truly happy. I have yet to read Mr. Speth’s latest book, but it is definately on my reading list for the semester.

This workshop was just the thing I needed before starting my last semester at Smith. I enjoyed getting the chance to see what my education can translate into once I am out of Smith. And I also enjoyed meeting people who embody the idea that you can connect the environment to any field out there.  It doesn’t matter if you are interested in business, politics, or education, it’s all connected.
-Stefanie Cervantes, ’13