Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tube For Tuesday: Edible Schoolyards in Action (Part 2)

Part Two in the series on establishing a new Edible Schoolyards program in New Orleans. This one is all about the kids enjoying the local fruit harvest. Isn't it great to see kids so excited over eating heathly, nutritious, locally-grown food? Enjoy.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Greening Our Schools

I have the pleasure of serving as a mentor to one of our high school seniors this year. She is a bright, articulate student who clearly has a lot of drive and initiative behind her. As part of this program, she has to produce a “product” as the culmination of her experience. Her focus? The environment, of course.

In thinking through possible projects for her to take on, we talked about trying to calculate the high school's environmental footprint – basically, the total negative impact the school has on the environment – then implementing some initiative to lessen that. During our conversation I learned that the high school just isn't getting it done even with the little it tries to do to be “green”. Granted, I can't confirm this, but paper recycling (the only recycling they do) is being called into question because it is thought that the janitors simply threw it all in the trash at the end of the day.

In researching this project idea further, I came upon this article at Green Options about calculating your school’s carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide emissions it generates). Great timing! But it got me thinking bigger, way beyond the high school, and how the town should be leading by example here.

Greening our schools would have positive impacts at many levels: From financial, to the health of our students and teachers, to the trickle-down effect that an environmental education curricula could have on all these kids' families and their lifestyles.

We can't do anything about it now, but the town missed the boat with the new Ranger Elementary School. This building should have been designed to be LEED Certified from the get-go. But it is possible to LEED certify an existing building through the remodel process (my employer did it with our building). What are the odds that the rest of our elementary schools will be updated to such a high standard of performance? You don't have to look far for resources on how to make this happen.

Beyond the structure itself, we should be looking at how much energy these all our school buildings are consuming. I'm certain that schools comprise the biggest slice of the pie when it comes to yearly energy costs. Again, some proactive steps could make huge strides in helping to curb the school budget. Just look at what Portsmouth is trying to do with placing new wind turbines at several school locations. Granted, not all our schools will have favorable wind conditions, but they could be taking other steps: Updating heating/cooling systems and insulation, using all CFL light bulbs, heck, even trying to install a solar array or two as part of a science project.

Then there's recycling. Why only paper? Plastic and aluminum should be recycled too. Doesn’t the town know that they once our landfill is maxed and we have to pay to have our trash hauled and dumped at the Central Landfill, that the more we recycle the less our tipping fees will be. Start now and make recycling part of the normal day-to-day routine. It makes me wonder what they are doing with their electronic waste, not to mention the hazardous waste like paints, cleaners, etc. And how about composting all the food waste coming out of the kitchens? (That compost could be used in the school gardens, of course.)

Alas, the list could go on. You get the point. As citizens of this community, we should be raising our voice on this issue. Some proactive steps now can have positive impacts for years to come. Do it for the kids, do it for the positive financial return, do it for the earth… just do it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tube For Tuesday: Edible Schoolyards in Action (Part 1)

I thought we'd start a new feature: Tube For Tuesdays. Each Tuesday, we'll highlight a YouTube video that helps showcase some of the great sustainability work going on out there.

Our inaugural clip is all about the creation of an Edible Schoolyard program in New Orleans. It's a little long for my taste (over eight minutes), but the story is inspiring. Next week, we'll showcase Part 2. See my previous post (immediately below) for some background and link to the original Edible Schoolyard in California.

If any teachers are stopping by, I'd love to know what you think of this concept. I recently drove by the new Ranger school and noticed a big plot of land between that school and the High School. How cool would it be to create some sort of program that both ends of the educational spectrum could be a part of?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Protected Farmland + ? = Secure Local Food System

Let me get something off my chest: My suppressed desire is to be a farmer. I’m not sure where it came from, but it's why I talk about food and farming so much here at Sustainable Sakonnet. But as my wife likes to say, "I didn’t marry a farmer." So for now, I get by with a small garden and big dreams.

To me, there's nothing nobler, more respectable than rising each day and growing that which nurtures and sustains your neighbors. Getting your hands dirty, smelling like rich, fertile soil all the way to your bones; learning how to be a better farmer with each passing season.

I was reminded of this when I received the Tiverton Land Trust's fall newsletter. The cover story, “Will buildings be our last crop?” was all about the need for preserving farmland and averting development, especially in Tiverton. Content is taken from an apparent interview with Mr. Tom Sandham, District Manager of the Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District. The most surprising stat: "Less than five percent of RI’s consumption of edible products is produced in RI." How amazing it would be if we could put in place a plan to grow that.

But saving farmland is only half of the solution. The other: Getting more people to embrace farming as a career and USE that saved farmland. I know that is much easier said then done. But people are doing it. Look at Andrew Orr in Westport.

There are two other ways that we could help chip away at the back half of that equation. While ideally they could work as a one-two punch, we could operate with one or the other (to begin with, of course).

The first is introducing some sort of agricultural education component into our schools. As the TLT highlights, we have that long history of farming here in town. So why not put in place a program that actually teaches that? A couple examples come to mind here:

• Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard project in Berkeley, CA, showcases the soup-to-nuts possibilities of getting kids growing their own food AND eating it.

The Food Project lies right outside of Boston in Dorchester and is connecting kids with the land to drive social change.

• And if we ever had a formal agricultural educational component in our schools, we could start up a Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter. By what I've seen and read, this development program is creating our farming leadership of tomorrow. There are already six local FFA chapters in RI. We should be the seventh.

The second way of fostering the development of future farmers is to create some sort of farm incubator program. These are basically training grounds, where new farmers can hone their skills, and develop and market their products in a more secure environment. Why not take one of these pieces of protected farmland and build that kind of foundational component? Again, some good examples:

The Intervale Center in Burlington, VT, is a huge, multi-faceted program – and a great success story.

The Farm School in Athol, MA, literally teaches kids and adults how to become farmers through intensive hands-on programs.

What I'd like to know is if anyone out there has been a part of or knows of people who have been a part of these types of ventures. Or, does anyone know if these conversations have happened at all in town? If so, I'd be interested in talking to you more.

Bottom line: We do have a rich agricultural heritage in Sakonnet. Saving the land is a great first step. But to truly be stewards of the land, we need to develop that skill and talent to work and cultivate it for future generations.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Help Set the Environmental Agenda at the State House

I received a surprise email today. State Representative John J. Loughlin II reached out to the readers of Sustainable Sakonnet to ask for ideas and input to help craft the upcoming legislative agenda. As he puts it, "I am always seeking new and innovative ideas that we can put in practice to sustain and protect our environment. Your input would be most welcome."

Personally, I think this is great and I appreciate the outreach. We may sit on opposite sides of the aisle with our party affiliations, but if someone asks you for your opinion, you best well give it to them.

Now is our collective opportunity. If you are at all inclined to share your voice, now is the time. I told Rep. Loughlin that I’d circle back with the results of this outreach.

Please, please, please post your thoughts and ideas. Nothing is too small or too big. Pass this on, talk to your neighbors and friends. Let’s connect and try to champion something for Sakonnet.


Sunday, September 2, 2007

11th Hour

So it looks like 11th Hour is the next rock-em, sock-em, wake-up-and-smell-your-unsustainably-farmed-coffee movie to try and move the populous to action when it comes to the environment. Sure to be as popular as An Inconvenient Truth, Leonardo DiCaprio's installment appears to be much more of an in-your-face kind of documentary.

I have not seen it -- the closest showing is up in Harvard Square (a lovely drive, don't get me wrong) -- but a tour of the supporting website, 11thhouraction.com does a good job selling the persona power behind the film. It's a who's-who of the modern environmental movement plus some other well-known faces thrown in for good measure.

Check out the trailer:

Now, I don't know what Leonardo does day-to-day to lessen his environmental footprint, but I do have to give a tip of the hat for trying to leverage his star power for something good. We all know that the more people who are informed and inspired to take action, the better our chances of turning this ship around.

Hopefully, a more local theater will pick this film up so that more of us in the Sakonnet area can check it out. If you've seen it, let us know how it was.

Until then, here's to turning back the clock.