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On Leaking Faucets

Posted by: cohenoa | July 7, 2014 | No Comment |

The KlawAfter moving to Charleston without a place to live and suffering a series of frantic and disappointing Craigslist encounters, I found myself a room to sublease.  I met with the current resident of the room the same day I contacted her, checked out the second story home once, and moved in a few hours later.  It seemed like I was getting a great deal – the home sat right near Colonial Lake and I was paying under $600 per month, utilities included.  I shared the house with three girls, all of whom seemed to be agreeable human beings from my limited impression of them.  It took me a few days to realize how unsavory my situation actually was.

The faucet dripped.  Constantly.  The only way to make it stop was to push down, hard, in just the right place and in just the right way.  I was the only one who would make the effort to get it to stop or put a mason jar underneath to catch the water, but I would come home to find that the tap was leaking so much that it might as well have been on and the mason jar – overfull with water – had been defiled with soap and dish scum.  Then their water bill came in and usage was astronomically high, something like three times what one household would normally use in a month.  I was astonished that my housemates had done nothing to fix the problem up until this point, nor even considered it a problem, and clearly there were no intentions to act in the immediate future.  It was infuriating that around the world people kill and die for access to drinking water but my privileged housemates were wasting it without a second thought.

So what did I do? I did some research, rode my bike to the nearest bathroom supply outlet, bought some replacement parts, and fixed the faucet.  It took me maybe an hour.

While this is indeed a great outlet for complaining about my living situation, I do have a point.  Sustainability is not some highfalutin word for soaring idealisms and unfeasible praxis – it is about real people and solvable issues.  At its core it is about making your stomping grounds more efficient, and consequently more livable.

So let’s leave “sustainability” for the thinkers.  The common man has his equally noble role to play: to make his living space as livable as possible with what he’s got.  And it’s easy.  Keeping your kitchen clean, using diluted dish soap, taking shorter showers, using less toilet paper, flushing less often, fixing your screen door with a piece of used floss, that sort of thing.  Reducing then reusing and only then recycling.  It’s not about the environment; it will be fine with or without us.  It’s about you, it’s about me, and it’s about all the leaky faucets on this rock we call Earth.  Anything less is a fundamental lack of respect.

-Corey Klawunder

under: Uncategorized

Green Fireworks?

Posted by: cohenoa | July 4, 2014 | No Comment |

fireworks5As we enter this 4th of July weekend our minds fill with wonderful thoughts of barbecues, flag waiving and most of all, the spectacle of fireworks. Being a firework enthusiast myself I was interested in learning more about these enchantments, but also weary of what I might find. 

In addition to the traditional recipe for things that go boom, today’s billion-dollar Pyrotechnic industry uses metals such as magnesium and copper to achieve different colors and light intensities. [1] Recently as firework shows have become more technical, some fireworks even contain computer chips to help timing.

As I read more about fireworks and their ingredients my worries were confirmed with reports of toxic byproducts of firework displays such as heavy metals, chlorates, and dioxins accumulating in the air, water, and land. These products are mostly the result of the oxidizer component of the firework breaking down. [2] Talk about a buzz-kill.

This dark side of fireworks at times may even pose a serious threat to air quality. During extreme instances the EPA takes notice [3]. This toxic side effect of fireworks and safety concerns has caused some cities to opt for expensive laser shows over the traditional firework displays. 

However, to the relief of firework lovers like myself, there is the possibility of green fireworks, and not just in color. Fireworks have been developed and used that utilize nitrogen rich compounds and other less toxic components. These new ecofriendly fireworks can also be smokeless. To put the cherry on top they are even said to be more vivid in color than standard fireworks.

As one can guess, there is probably a reason we don’t use them—price. These green fireworks are currently cost prohibitive for larger scale shows but have been used for smaller scale displays. Perhaps, in the future given the right consumer demand we can have large-scale shows using smokeless, more colorful, and non-toxic fireworks.     

-John Brooker

Sources

[1] “Chemistry of Firework Colors.” About.com Chemistry. Web. 01 July 2014.

[1]Wiley-Blackwell. “Environmentally Friendly Fireworks And Other Pyrotechnics.”   

      ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 March 2008.

      <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080317102449.htm>.

[2]“Treatment of Data Influenced by Exceptional Events.” EPA. Environmental 

       Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 03 July 2014.

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We Came, We Saw, We Smelled

Posted by: cohenoa | June 30, 2014 | No Comment |

10436085_797599710264215_8518982736669780004_nLast Monday morning at Bees Ferry Landfill in West Ashley, the Office crew got to learn a few things about landfills from Bronwyn Santos of Charleston County’s Environmental Management, who was kind enough to give us a tour of the 700-acre trash heap.

The first thing that took most of us off guard was how scenic the site appears as you enter—the rolling hills, now considered sanctuary grounds for wild birds, are actually heaping piles of waste that have since been covered over with dirt and grass. Piled in the back of a pickup truck, we rolled past these grassy mounds and soon arrived at the fresh fill. While the smell of methane was reasonable to expect, we couldn’t have anticipated the crazy number of gulls that flocked over our heads like a Hitchcock movie while Bronwyn explained the workings and composition of the landfill. Some of us picked our way through the rubble and mud to get closer to the worksite, where men in bulldozers were filling a gigantic valley with truckloads of trash. The scene was incredible—it was as if the earth had broken open and oozed out old mattresses and sneakers and broken chairs and plastic bottles, waste that formed cliffs where vultures and gulls could perch. 

From what Bronwyn told us, a few statistics were particularly striking. Apparently, 25% of the waste sent to Bees Ferry is recyclable paper. From the amount of plastic bottles we saw strewn around the dirt-trash mountain range, it’s clear that a much higher percentage of that waste is recyclable material in general. Another 28% of what they receive is food waste. They’re the only landfill in the region that will receive food waste, so a lot of it is sent here. It makes sense then that they have a compost operation, which we got to witness next. Taking place within the area that is technically reserved for piling waste, the compost procedure mixes this food waste (nitrogen) with yard waste (carbon) to create a good amount of dark nutritious dirt that they process and resell for $10 a ton (definitely a steal.) The dirt is also used to mix in with the landfills and to help “close” them up when they’ve reached capacity. We learned about the “recipe” for a trash fill, which includes a plastic catchment layer at the bottom that is meant to prevent toxins from the waste from seeping into the environment, and several deep wells that allow for groundwater testing and treatment. 

Even while addressing this regimented management, Bronwyn was in no way disingenuous about the unsustainable nature of the whole operation. According to her, the facility—which is only a decade or so old to begin with—is sure to reach its limit in only 20 years. This was pretty shocking to hear; even worse is that there’s no purported plan for what to do after that. No catchment layer can prevent this literal wasteland from toxifying the environment around it—not to mention the grievances of surrounding communities, from whom the facility receives regular complaints. So even while Bee’s Ferry is a special case in that it composts and has a mixed fill and is quite regulated, it’s still a temporary and even hazardous solution—yet landfills in general are our most standard method of dealing with waste. 

Visibly seeing the masses of trash we generate, and what becomes of it, should not be such an out of the ordinary experience. If it were up to me, school systems would mandate educational field trips to local landfills. Just as people should be more aware of where their food and materials come from, they should know where they go. Seeing and knowing about what comes of the waste we generate is a necessary first step before you can convince people to care about their role in the issue. The culture of mindless disposal is not sustainable—we’d like to cover the problem with grass and call it a bird sanctuary, but when the trucks roll over and cause the whole earth to shake, it’ll be clear that we are no longer standing on solid ground. 

–Genna DeGroot

under: Uncategorized

Even though I’ve only been in the Office for around two weeks, I’ve learned very quickly that the only thing that I knew about sustainability – that it has to do with environmental science – was wrong. Sustainability simply means preserving the world we live in, including the people who depend on it, for generations to come. As a result, it crosses into nearly every field. And perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of sustainability is one that is also most crucial – its relation to human health.

In 2011, there was a serious measles outbreak in Minneapolis, which resulted in over 3000 individuals being exposed to the disease. A new study published by Pediatrics revealed that the root cause of the epidemic was one unvaccinated child.

According to the authors, the 30-month child demonstrated clear early signs of measles upon returning to the United States from a trip to Kenya, where he presumably contracted the disease. Unfortunately, despite fever, cough, and vomiting, the child prior to effective diagnosis of measles ultimately passed the incredibly contagious virus on to another household member as well as three other children in a child day-care center. The measles quickly spread from individual to individual within the small Somali immigrant community in Minneapolis, a region generally considered to be a low vaccine uptake area.

Although only 21 people were diagnosed with measles directly related to the incident, researchers estimate that it was the largest outbreak of measles in the area for more than 20 years. According to the study, 16 of the 21 diagnosed with measles weren’t vaccinated, despite the fact that 9 of the 16 unvaccinated people were age-eligible for the MMR vaccine. The MMR vaccine not only protects against measles but also mumps, rubella, and chicken pox. Over the group of unvaccinated people diagnosed with measles, 7 were not vaccinated due to safety concerns.

Over the last decade, Somali children living in this specific community have experienced a significant drop in MMR vaccine coverage. While in 2004 over 91 percent of children received vaccination, by 2010 the percentage dropped to 54 percent. Although there are a number of factors that could have led to this significant decrease, likely the main root cause is the misinformation about vaccination that spread throughout the U.S. linking vaccination to autism. (This original paper has been entirely discredited by professional health officials, researchers, and community leaders.)

This alarming information relates to sustainability in a number of ways. First of all, we as a species cannot begin to create and develop solutions to more “traditionally” sustainability issues relating to the environment without our health. Recycling, lobbying against clearcutting, protesting fracking, biodiversity conservation and everything that might immediately come to mind takes a backseat to being healthy enough to take action.

Second, this root cause of this issue – the one unvaccinated child – unveils some of the most fundamental problems behind a large majority of sustainability issues. First, people do not immediately recognize the consequences – both short-term and long-term – of the decisions that they make today, not only on themselves but on other people and the world around them. I’d guess that the parents of that child who chose not to vaccinate him had no idea it would lead to more than 20 other cases. Similarly, one might not know that not cutting plastic soda rings may end up entangling and killing marine animals.

This leads me to my second point – this issue proves my personal opinion that one of the major issues behind nearly every single environmental issue is a lack of communication – whether it’s between different fields, within the sustainability field, between the public and private sectors, or with the general public. Misinformation, in my opinion, is a major killer. 

Fortunately, this also means there is a very simple solution to very complicated problems – communication and collaboration. If that Somali community in Minneapolis had been exposed to enough information that there is absolutely no link between vaccination and autism, they might have taken the time to vaccinate their child, especially if they had known how dangerous measles can become in serious cases. If people are aware that bottled water and tap water are essentially the same, they might stop buying plastic bottles of water. 

Not only can we educate people (and ourselves!) about the simple roles that we can play in living sustainable lifestyles, but who knows – maybe the next great environmental breakthrough will come from someone who might not have traditionally had access to the right information. Regardless, I’m a firm believer that communication is key. 

-Emily Li

under: Uncategorized

Clean Up Your Next Trip to the Beach

Posted by: cohenoa | June 19, 2014 | No Comment |
090904-01-great-pacific-garbage-patch-gyre-ocean-trash_big

An image of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which has recently grown to the size of Texas. You can help prevent ocean pollution by participating in beach sweeps.

What do a toothbrush, a fishing hook, a shovel, a piece of caution tape, a flip-flop, a water bottle and a tent have in common? Well, unless you plan on constructing some kind of contraption with random items, the answer is, “Things I’ve found on Folly Beach.”  Weird right? Wrong. These items are commonly found on the edge of America and rarely given a second thought by beach-goers. Isn’t that sad? We live in a society where beach litter is so common that many people rarely give a second thought about it.

Lucky for us, South Carolina beaches aren’t plagued with as much litter as some other beaches states, especially Hawaii. Due to the islands’ close proximity to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, large amounts of plastic and other waste wash onto the white sandy shores. On the more northern beaches, there is so much litter that the plastic has integrated itself into the sand, giving the beaches a multicolored look.

 According to Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit organization that works to educate the public on the importance of healthy oceans, the most common items found on beaches are cigarettes and cigarette filters. Commonly people toss their cigarettes on the ground, assuming they will decompose because the outside is made of paper. In reality, the filter doesn’t decompose at the same rate as the rest of the product, leaving it to pollute the oceans. After cigarettes, the nine most common things found on beaches are as follows: food wrappers, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bags, bottle caps, cutlery, straws, glass beverage bottles, beverage cans and paper bags. These items are used around the world every day so it is no surprise that they can be found in mass amounts on sandy shores.  

With this amount of waste washing onto beaches around the world, one can only imagine the volume of waste currently residing in waterways. While the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one of the most well known issues involving ocean pollution, there are actually 5 gyres around the world, each collecting trash. In some places, the pieces of plastic outnumber the marine life. This debris causes a lot more problems than altering the appearance of your favorite beach. For marine life, coming into contact with debris can be a fatal experience. Not only does the pollution disrupt natural habitats, but also sea creatures can become entangled in debris such as fishing line and bottle rings, causing them to suffocate. Some marine life, such as sea turtles, face endangerment due to ingestion of these items. Sea turtles specifically will eat plastic bags, which they believe to be jellyfish – a fatal mistake. As more marine life ingests the debris, small amounts of plastic are increasingly found in seafood that we eat regularly, which poses a threat to human health.

Now this is all very depressing and sad and I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wow, there is so much trash in the ocean and I’m only one person. I can’t do anything.” WRONG. By spreading awareness about this issue and actively participating in clean up efforts, you can do a lot. The Ocean Conservancy hosts an annual International Coastal Cleanup where thousands of volunteers around the world participate in beach sweep in hopes of making a dent in the large amount of debris returning to the oceans.  In 2014, 648,015 volunteers collected 12,329,332 pounds of trash over 12,914 miles of beaches. If picking up trash isn’t your favorite thing to do, you can pledge to stop using some of the most commonly found items including plastic water bottles, plastic grocery bags and straws.  Small changes affect everything and those small changes start with us. So the next time you are taking a walk on Folly Beach and see a water bottle or straw, pick it up. Make sure to check out this link for 10 things you can do for trash free seas.

-Virginia Whorley

under: Uncategorized

All About the Greeks

Posted by: cohenoa | April 16, 2014 | No Comment |
Virginia and her sorority sister at the Greek Week/Sustainability Week Kickoff Event

Virginia and her sorority sister at the Greek Week/Sustainability Week Kickoff Event

When you ask someone to define “sustainability” you get answers ranging from recycling to those that seem to have come from Dr. Vandana Shiva herself. In the three months that I have been working with the Office of Sustainability, my definition of sustainability has changed multiple times but always includes positive relationships and the process of building them. Some could say that sustainability is the synergistic relationships between individuals, between organizations, between natural ecosystems, and between each other to ensure a better tomorrow.

In September 2012, I was initiated into Kappa Alpha Theta, a Greek letter women’s fraternity that is a part of the National Panhellentic Council. Being a part of Theta has been a life changing experience and has not only given me sisters that I can count on, but it has given me the opportunity to learn and grow in my values as a young woman.

Greek life has gained a pretty strong reputation over the years and is part of almost every college campus in the United States. This type of community that serves multiple campuses and holds a strong presence on those campuses (20% at CofC) is a community that is able to make an impact. As someone involved with the Greek Life community here, I am confident in saying that we all share core values close to our hearts and truly strive to be the best we can. Historically Greeks hold higher GPAs, participate more on campus and many have gone on to be quite successful. (44% of U.S. Presidents & 76% of congressmen & senators have been Greek.)

This desire to get involved with the campus community is something that is essential to sustainability. Thanks to two determined members of the Panhellenic council, in the fall of 2012 the Office of Sustainability launched the sustainable Greek chair initiative with a handful of representatives from organizations on campus. Since then, the program has grown and now includes 21 members from 13 organizations. Every other week we hold a meeting for the chairs where they learn about a new aspect of sustainability and the ways that they can educate their chapters. We also have been working toward holding events with the Greek Life Office in hopes of strengthening the relationship between the two offices. Our first event was held Monday April 7th, a kick-off event for both Sustainability Week and Greek Week. Not only was this the first event to be co-hosted by the two offices, but the turn out and interest was incredible! While we did have to move venues due to inclement weather, I am very happy with the way the whole thing played out.

In a way Greek Life is the perfect example of what sustainability is; it is many synergistic relationships working together (within chapters and among organizations) to create something bigger than an individual and something that strives to impact the future. Greek life is a living organism just like a human and just like the entire College of Charleston campus. I believe that this is the start of a beautiful and sustainable friendship between the Office of Sustainability and Greek Life.

-Virginia Whorley

under: Uncategorized

Standing on the cure for the allergy epidemic

Posted by: cohenoa | April 2, 2014 | No Comment |
10allergies-cover-articleLarge

Photo by Ceyln Brazier

Have you noticed that you can now order gluten-free foods in restaurants and many of your friends have allergies to things as seemingly harmless as dust? The population has become increasingly more allergic to the environment and more sensitive to all types of food. Have you stopped to think what has changed? What is different in our world today that might be the cause of all this? Before launching too quickly into a debate on climate change or political banter, let’s look at something much more pragmatic.

The human body is an amazing battlefield, emergency room and well-oiled manufacturing plant that runs flawlessly and unmonitored day after day, year after year. The only thing standing in its way is the mind’s decisions that lead to exposures. In other words, what you put in your body, where you live and where you work has an effect on the daily operations of your body.

In recent years there have been numerous studies suggesting that the environment has begun to take its toll on our fragile, human bodies.  What has been called the “allergy epidemic” since the late 20th century has produced a 2 and 3 fold increase of allergic disease and asthma.  1 in 5 American children have a respiratory allergy like hay fever and 1 in 10 have asthma. Also food and skin allergies cases continue to rise. For instance, 5% of the population is allergic to peanuts and other foods. These data have doubled in the last 15 years.[1] But researchers are suggesting that there may be something we can do about this. Although some allergic conditions are genetic, and some of these allergies are due to environmental exposures, there is plenty of research to suggest that the solution may be in the dirt we dig.

Also there is a strong suggestion that you are susceptible to the exposures of your mother for the entire 9 months you are in the womb. What happens to your mother during this time may affect your vulnerability to many diseases even decades later from heart disease and obesity to schizophrenia! [2] For instance one study showed that an infant’s risk of eczema was inverse to the microbial load in her mother’s mattress.[3] Additionally, children who are born into families that own livestock and handle manure are exposed to many more microbes than those who are not. It is these children who seem to be invulnerable to allergic disease later in life. Especially if their mother’s carried them along during daily farm chores during which time they had the opportunity to be exposed to a plethora of both good and bad bacteria.

We have heard for many years that digging in the dirt has health benefits. And that “mud pie” you made as a child had more in it than just bacteria, fungi and roundworms in it. It has been suggested that it may have been a “primitive self-vaccination” by letting your immune system get accustomed to the bacteria within that particular soil. [4] However the dirt from the garden or even the cornfield is considered sterile unless it has the exposure to the fresh manure and thus fresh bacteria from the cows or other farm animals. [5] So even if you didn’t grow up on a farm or have not been exposed to these environmental elements, it is not too late for you! You can get exposure to these types of environmental exposures and according to research, still prevent new allergic sensitivities from developing.

In a study performed in Denmark, young adults who begin farming (with livestock) were less likely to develop new allergic sensitivities than rural peers who chose other professions. Existing allergies did not disappear; rather the farming environment seemed to prevent new sensitivities. [6]

In closing it is important to note that by playing outside, taking walks with friends and potentially exposing yourself to new environmental microbes can benefit your health and the health of future generations! Even if you don’t have plans to be a farmer, there are other ways to get outside and get back to nature. I hope that our generation takes advantage of this beautiful planet while we still can. As technology takes over our world, you still have the opportunity to choose whether you go outside and join friends for a neighborhood BBQ or sit alone in the sterile environment that is your living room, watching television. I hope for our future generations you choose to go outside and dig in the dirt, get your hands dirty and embrace the bacteria all around you!

-Keri Hlavin



[1] Feature, Katrina. “Food Allergy, Food Intolerance, Food Sensitivity: 5 Myths Debunked.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://www.webmd.com/allergies/features/food-allergy-myths>.

 

[2] Velasquez-manoff, Moises. “A Cure for the Allergy Epidemic?.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 9 Nov. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/opinion/sunday/a-cure-for-the-allergy-epidemic.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.

 

[3] Velasquez-Manoff.

[4] Viinikka, Tai . “The hazards and benefits of eating dirt.” AboutKidsHealth. N.p., 16 May 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/en/news/newsandfeatures/pages/the-hazards-and-benefits-of-eating-dirt.aspx>.

 

[5] Riddle, John . “The “Big 8″ Food Allergens.” The “Big 8″ Food Allergens. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://www.healthcentral.com/allergy/food-allergy-225110-5.html>.

 

[6] Velasquez-Manoff.

under: Uncategorized

Dixie Plantation and Will Allen

Posted by: cohenoa | March 26, 2014 | No Comment |
dixie-plantation-trees

Dixie Plantation provides students with the opportunity to experiment with organic farming techniques.

This past Saturday I joined the Office of Sustainability on a tour and workday at the Dixie Plantation student garden. This wasn’t my first trip to Dixie Plantation, but the remarkable beauty of the plantation never fails to surprise me. If you have never been to the plantation, I would highly recommend a visit. Our tour guides, Carmen and Nolan, allowed us to get our hands dirty in the garden while also providing a great overview of the various sustainable agriculture efforts at the student garden. Projects in the garden ranged from commonplace herb gardens to the bizarre, such as vermiculture (earthworm culture) and apiculture (bee-keeping)

The most exciting part of Dixie Plantation and the garden is the potential for the future. The garden has already expanded from its original size to include experimental land plots for independent student projects, and it is very possible that this growth could continue. Potential projects such as an aquaponics system (which harnesses a natural symbiosis between fish and plants for food production) as well as a black fly larvae composting system may also be implemented at Dixie plantation. Dixie plantation is also home to many other fledgling program such as student research stations, forest management programs, nature trails, and fundraising to name a few. A major question for the future of the College of Charleston is how Dixie Plantation will be utilized.

These exciting agricultural projects at the Dixie garden echo the work of the internationally recognized urban farmer—and former professional basketball player—Will Allen. In Allen’s recent visit to the College of Charleston, he gave the audience at the Sottile Theater a walkthrough of his work in urban farming and how sustainable food production improves the health of disadvantaged communities. This improved health includes both physical and societal health, resulting from education and exposure to sustainable agriculture as well as an increased sense of community. In the words of Will Allen, “We cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system.” This same principal holds true in Charleston and is addressed in part by some community gardens and organizations that are already in place, such as the Greenheart project and the Chicora Place Community Garden.

Although the College of Charleston is not the same as the disadvantaged communities that Will Allen normally works with, the College could also benefit from expanding its sustainable agriculture efforts. Although there are many competing interests at Dixie Plantation, as a student, I believe some priority should be given to expanding the current sustainable agriculture efforts to a scale that could provide a reasonable amount of food for the college itself in a sustainable way. In a program such as this, not only could students, faculty and staff enjoy the benefit of healthy food, they could also learn about sustainable agriculture and use the program for outreach programs in much the same way Will Allen has done with his organization Growing Power. Although a project like this at Dixie Plantation would be far down the line, it is exciting for me to think of what the College of Charleston and Dixie could become.

-John Brooker

under: CofC Agriculture, Sustainable Food
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Sustainability Abroad: The One Acre Fund

Posted by: cohenoa | March 24, 2014 | No Comment |

DSC0018In East Africa, agriculture serves as the backbone of most countries’ economies, however agricultural productivity in these areas has consistently dropped in recent years.  There are multiple factors contributing to this decline including degradation of natural resources, decreased market access, low investment in training and research, and general reduction of human health/life expectancy.  One Acre Fund, a start-up non profit organization based in East Africa, is working to combat these issues; through implementing a business strategy model, the organization is helping farmers in rural areas of Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to build a smallholder network and increase regional agricultural productivity.  One Acre Fund is working with established systems in ways that promote collaboration among communities and create a realistic platform from which to address some of the world’s most pressing environmental and social problems related to agriculture.

As a relatively new organization, One Acre Fund has already taken great strides in improving the harvest yields of farmers in rural East Africa.  By constructing a sustainable market system made up of a four-component process (providing farmers with credit and supplies, delivering materials directly to isolated geographic areas, training farmers to improve their production methods, and increasing harvest sales by opening access to markets), representatives from One Acre Fund are empowering farmers to improve the profitability of their land and eliminate hunger and poverty in their communities.  They estimate that in 2020, their organization will serve 1 million farm families (consisting of more than 5 million people) and these farmers will produce enough surplus to support another 5 million neighbors.

The unique combination of staff that One Acre Fund brings together is key in maintaining the sustainability of the organization.  The collaborative efforts of local farmers and international workers allow One Acre Fund to promote leadership development and an outlet for career growth, both domestically and abroad.  One Acre Fund is expected to grow substantially in the years to come: multiple pilot locations in different African countries are being explored and the organization has successfully built the capacity to open a new country operation every year.  One Acre Fund’s approach to sustainability has effectively combined a business model method with local entities, international development staff, government officials and private sector groups to create a system that produces results in these rural communities.  Through this innovation, investment and collaborative effort, One Acre Fund is contributing to drastic positive changes in the status of agricultural production and distribution in East Africa and serving as an example for sustainable organizational and community development.

Check out their website at http://www.oneacrefund.org.

-Erika Hoffman

under: Uncategorized

1966957_10153895065090576_2137361900_nEach year, CofC students anxiously plan their spring break destinations to vacation hotspots,excited for some sun, beach and relaxation. But what if you want to do something different? The Office of Civic Engagement  has developed a program for students to do spring break the “alternative” way. This past break, I had the opportunity to work on an agroecological farm for a week in beautiful San Isidros, Costa Rica, with the College’s Alternative Break program. The trip centered on seeing aspects of sustainability at work in the farming systems and practices, experiencing the Costa Rican culture, and developing our own opinions and ideas regarding the topic of sustainable farming and the environment.

As we rode up the rocky mountainside to Don Villalobos’ farm, La Gran Vista, we passed by slopes covered in sugar cane. It was a hauntingly beautiful sight. From our windows, we saw breathtaking forested mountainsides in the distance. Closer were the vast fields of green stalks alternating with charred stubble of harvested sugarcane. Smoke and ash rose from where the field workers burned away pests and weeds in preparation for harvest, supplemented by the sugar cane factory visible at the bottom of the valley. At the top of the mountain, we entered the gates of La Gran Vista and were enveloped by fruit trees, a very social flock of chickens hopping up the hillside, and terraces of vegetables, medicinal plants and flowers.

The first morning, Don took us on a tour of his farm. What I expected to be a 30 minute stroll turned out to be a four hour wildlife excursion. We began in the garden, where we munched on various treats, like peppers, stevia leaves, lettuces and tomatoes, while Don explained his open air green houses that enable year round growth. Then we headed back to the wood shed where we literally uncovered Don’s prized collection of California Redwood Worms, which are from the Redwood Forest and are speedy soil converters. We made our way to the energy source of the farm, the two little piggies that generate enough biogas to cook all meals on the farm. My favorite part of the farm was the delicious fruit orchards of citrus and starfruit that brimmed along the terraces, which were constructed to reduce soil erosion. We learned of Don’s background which is in environmental engineering, which brought him to a job with Costa Rica’s federal department of agriculture, as the sustainability director. Through this job, the microcosms of sustainable agriculture that compose the farm are projected and integrated into agriculture throughout the country.

As much as Don taught us, even more valuable was what he and his staff showed us. One can take classes and read textbooks, but it is an entirely different learning experience to eat breakfast off a tree or wrap your lunch in a banana leaf.  As members of the group, we each noticed our understanding the relationship between humans and nature grow and change throughout the week. Economics, Arts Management, Business and Geology students alike took away their own valuable lesson applicable to their area of study.

-Lisa DeAlmeida

under: Uncategorized

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