Category Archives: sustainable agriculture

Gardening With The Kids and DIY Almond Milk

            This week has been rough and I know the upcoming weeks are going to bring a lot of work too. I can say that the garden event with 13th and Union 1st graders was a success last week and the week before that. For those that may not have heard about this event already, our house invited over 1st graders of 13th and Union to learn about basic concepts of sustainability, permaculture, and planting seeds. They were very excited and had a lot of questions as well as a lot to share. Erin Sullivan, the VISTA, helped make this event possible by coordinating permission slips, bringing the kids over with the teachers, and supervising the children. She followed up with me after all the events were over and expressed how much the kids loved the event and had a lot of fun. The second graders even got a little jealous and want to visit the garden. I wish we could’ve done more events with more grades but the PSSAs were going on this time of the year and we are very busy with final projects and exams ourselves. Before leaving the house this semester, I hope we can discuss ideas, topics, event ideas amongst the housemates to create a guide for the next housemates. This event or something similar should continue in the future to start getting younger kids to think about the interconnectedness of their lives and the world.

            Apart from the garden event that I hosted this semester, Sam, our one housemate, has been getting into making her own almond milk. Between herself and I, we use a lot of almond milk/cashew milk containers, which are not recyclable or compostable. She wanted to avoid this by trying a more natural approach to almond milk by doing it herself at home on our dining room table! She soaks the almonds in water overnight and then mushes it and makes a liquidy paste out of it. The first time, the almond milk was pretty chunky but now she bought a special bag for it online, which will hopefully keep the chunks out for smooth almond milk. Down below there is a link for how to make your own almond milk at home.

 

Have a good summer and try to keep the AC off!

 

Renee

 

http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-almond-milk-at-home-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-189996

 

Milking the Almonds (Also, bye)

Hello friends! This is my last blog post for the year, which is bittersweet because that means I’m damn close to becoming a Big Girl. Help. I’ll talk about some new stuff we have been doing in the house and then a little about my plans for after grad.

This month, one of our goals was to reduce our waste output in the house by limiting excessive packaging. Since a consistent waste item Renee and I end up trashing is almond milk cartons, we figured that we could try our hand in making almond milk ourselves. The two of us bought almonds and some cheese cloth to filter it with. It was easier than I could’ve hoped! For each cup of almond milk, we soaked it in 3 cups of water overnight. In the morning, I got up and drained them. Then, I put them in the blender with 4 cups of water, vanilla, and cinnamon. After that, it’s ready to be drained and drank!

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Our first batch of almond milk 

The first time tasted great to me, but had a lot of pulp because the cheese cloth had pretty big holes. I purchased a special ‘nut milk bag’ (yes, that’s actually what it’s called) for my next batch and got no pulp at all. Progress has been made Some recipes suggest dates for sweetening and thickening, which maybe I’ll try next.

Also instead of buying chick pea cans, which I would buy a lot of, I bought a bag of raw chick peas to soak and cook myself. I haven’t perfected that quite as much as the almond milk which is upsetting, but I’ll keep working on it.

In other news, I start working probably the week after graduation, which is May 21st at Albright. I’ll be an Assistant Director at the Fund for the Public Interest office in Ridgewood, where I canvassed for two summers on issues revolving around clean water and public health issues. We collect petitions and sign up members for the organization to fund our political action. So, weirdly enough, I’m going to be my past-self’s boss. And I’ll have a salary and stuff. WOAH.

After the summer, I’ll be packing up and moving to New Brunswick to work in NJ’s main Fund for the Public Interest office, where I’m committed through August 2018. Committed for over a year for a job where I will be working probably about 65 hours a week. As spooky and tiring as that sounds, it is exactly where I hoped to be out of college. Influencing political change is one of the most important things to be doing always, and especially in this potentially damaging administration. I’ve been able to do so much just as a canvasser and field manager, so I can’t wait to see what I can help others do.

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One of our morning meetings in the Ridgewood Office ’15

Of course I’m going to miss a lot about college, but I honestly can’t wait to finish this chapter of my life and start the next. Reflecting, I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve gotten to have in the sustainability house. I went into the house wondering what more I could possibly do to be more sustainable, and I’ve definitely learned more skills and habits that I will carry with me. Things like making almond milk, composting, reducing packaged goods, and gardening are just some of the skills that I will surely continue with. Additionally I’ve grown to admire and adore the people in this house, so saying bye may prove to be a bit difficult. But, we shall see. Next year’s group of ladies are fantastic beings, so expect some quality content from them.

Thanks for keeping up this semester and watch out for our last few posts,

Sam

Sustainable Straws and Events

With weekends, spring break, volunteering, and other errands, my car accumulates the trash of not only myself, but of others as well. I have one grocery bag that is a little larger than your average plastic grocery bag which collects all types of waste: trash, recyclables, and compost (even reusable items which I’ll get to in a sec.!). I’ve started to take more effort to wait until I get home to sort through my waste, which ensures that my items are being recycled, composted, reused, etc. rather than put it in any bin that claims to recycle. For example, while dunking my donuts (which means going to Dunkin’ Donuts) I use the straws that they have there, as I don’t remember to bring a straw with me the majority of the time. From these straws, I had the idea of running string/yarn through the straws running down like those beaded curtains that you put between door ways. This could be a cute idea for the sustainability house for another example, other than the bottle wall, of ways to reuse objects that would otherwise be thrown out.

Permablitz was successful and the garden is ready for the summer interns as well as for my 13th and Union events running this week. Each day this week the second graders from 13th and Union will be coming down to the garden to plant some seeds, in the hopes that the flowers will bloom in time for Mother’s Day for the kids to give their mom or guardian something nice. I’m hoping this event will run smoothly and will only improve in quality each day we do it. Along with planting the seeds, there will be a mini-garden tour if it seems right to do and their attention is captured, and there will definitely be an educational component on seed growth, compost, and other content that seems fitting.

I hope for the best and for good weather!

Renee

Vegan Baking Event & Answering “Why Vegan?”

Hello friends,

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Let’s talk about veganism. I only recently went vegan, deciding to transition in August of 2016 after being vegetarian since 2006. Throughout my experience in these lifestyles, I’ve found that often the word ‘vegan’ tends to have a negative connotation. People assume that vegans are pushy and judgmental (which is, of course, the case with some people as within any group), assume that vegans are limited to living off of lettuce and carrots (a slight exaggeration to actual views hopefully), and look down upon the lifestyle because (I think) it doesn’t match up with they were taught was “normal” growing up. However, after all of the knowledge I’ve gained from my environmental studies classes as well as the information I myself have attained, I’m immensely passionate about helping others learn and fight the stigmas they have been fed on a vegan lifestyle. One easy way to do that is to show the average omnivore the yummy stuff that can be made without any animal products, which is exactly what I based my event around for the semester.

I had my house event earlier today, and I thought was successful and enjoyable for those who attended. The event was Vegan Baking at the house, which I gathered would provide a good setting to open a discussion about vegetarian and vegan diets. I figured that, while environmental studies and science majors may learn about the drawbacks of animal agriculture, other students may not be aware of the extent of the issue. Even those aware may just need a push or awareness about the feasibility of cutting out animal products. This motivated me to create an event where I could get students of all majors and interests to come together and openly talk or at least think and learn about these issues.

I printed out three articles to have people skim through while we waited for people to arrive and for our yummies to bake. First and foremost, I wanted to find an article that discussed meat specifically (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/meat-and-environment/). This article discusses the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions it takes to produce meat products, the dramatic amounts of deforestation needed to provide land for livestock, the water pollution factory farms produce, and more. According to the article, meat consumption “tripled to about 600 billion pounds while population grew by 81%”, and mentioned that meat consumption was predicted to grow even more tremendously in the future. This, as many articles would agree, would put an even bigger stress on the environment and human health.

Second, I wanted to print out something easy and to the point for people to browse through, which brought me to this article (http://www.chooseveg.com/environment). This one was colorful and visual, something I figured people would appreciate. In images, it compared the amounts of energy and water used to produce soy vs. meat, it revealed that 30% of our land mass is used for animal agriculture, that 80% of deforested land is now being used for cattle pasture, etc. I found this to be the article people were looking through more than others, which I assume has something to do with the fact that it was more visual.

Lastly, I wanted to bring up the impacts of dairy specifically. I hear people question veganism by saying that products like dairy and eggs should be fine, because “they don’t harm the animal” which is arguable in itself. (Dairy cows have to be repeatedly artificially impregnated in order to produce milk and are most likely used for meat once they can’t produce milk any longer). However, even putting animal ethics aside, there are still environmental tolls that come with these animal industries. I found a New York Times article discussing the issue (https://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/05/04/business/energy-environment/how-growth-in-dairy-is-affecting-the-environment.html), highlighting the large amounts of pollution and how it impacts areas surrounding pastures. Greenhouse gases from feed production, manure, milk processing, and cow released methane are of a concern both locally and for the big issue of climate change. In some areas, like Riverdale which was mentioned in the article, parents are sometimes afraid to have their children play outside or invite visitors over because of the air pollution produced by nearby dairies.

That being said, these articles hopefully brought up some good and convincing points to those in attendance. For the most part, I think people were more focused on the yummy baked goods we were making! We made three of my favorite recipes for vegan brownies, chocolate chip cookies, rice krispie treats. There are specific marshmallows and chocolate chips you’ll want to look for if you want your recipe to be vegan, but often dark chocolate chips are fine. (Just read the ingredients. Or feel free to ask me for help! Internet is a helpful resource as well). I opened the floor for others to suggest baked goods to veganize, and one student suggested banana bread which turned out AMAZING! Seven students, not counting house students, came out to the event. This was honestly a perfect number for me, as I didn’t have too many people to talk over and assist. By the end of it,  some students were discussing their desires to go meatless and everyone seemed to love the recipes. Hopefully, my event lit a few sparks, helped spread the word about the ease of baking without animal products, and helped de-stigmatize the word “vegan”.

Now, have some pictures! Blake took a bunch as well, which hopefully I’ll get to share with you.

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Rice Krispie Treats & Brownies (The brownie crew made a cute marshmallow heart)

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The delicious banana bread

If you ever want any recipes or vegan tips, feel free to just ask!

Until next time,

Sam

Economics and the Environment: Analyzing Various Perspectives

The question of sustainable living goes much deeper than the daily changes we make in our lives to save water and energy and resources. It means confronting our individual, local, and global paradigms, it means deciding what we value in the world, how we imagine our future, and what our relationship to each other and the earth is.

Embarking on a journey of sustainable living requires a deep confrontation, analysis, and development of our ethics. This semester I am taking an Environmental Ethics course that is dramatically reshaping my perspectives and I would like to open a conversation with all of our readers about these themes. Today, I’d like to talk about an email by Lawrence Summer. He was the Chief Economist of the World Bank and signed this memo in 1991:

DATE: December 12, 1991
TO: Distribution
FR: Lawrence H. Summers
Subject: GEP

‘Dirty’ Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.

— Lawrence Summers
At first glance, this email appears grossly classist, racist, environmentally damaging, and a serious breach of human rights and equality. How could one justify the mass exportation of pollution to poor populations? How is that fair? Why can’t we address pollution itself instead? How could anyone believe the detrimental health effects from dirty industry are justifiable for any population? When I first read this letter in my Environmental Sociology course, I thought all of these things and I was absolutely horrified. Now, I am taking my environmental ethics course and we took a deeper look at some aspects of what was put forth in this memo.
In my environmental ethics class, we read a source discussing the meanings behind what Summers is saying. According to this, and our discussion in class, Summers is raising the point that in these poor countries, the benefit of wages outweighs the benefit of a clean environment – it is a question of suffering from death by starvation or pollution. He essentially argues that due to poverty, the demand for industry and jobs is higher than the need for a clean environment because of survival needs, that the demand for a clean environment is a function of rising income. Bringing in industry, even if it is polluting, means economic growth, which environmental controls would slow.
Akin to this argument is the discussion of sustainable development in poorer nations. Some environmentalists argue that richer nations should invest in sustainable development in undeveloped nations as reparations for the environmental destruction they have caused and as a means to alleviate poverty sustainably. But, there are arguments against this from people in these countries because many rich nations raised their standard of living through the use of cheap fossil fuels. They argue that a plan of sustainable development denies them the same opportunity to raise quality of life cheaply and quickly. So, the same could be said for those arguing to keep polluting industries out of poor countries. Does this deny them much needed economic opportunity to which the cost of pollution is something they are willing to pay? If demand for clean environments increases with income, couldn’t it be possible for polluting industry to come in and provide jobs, increase income, and down the line lead to a higher demand for a clean environment and thus the institution of environmental controls can be implemented once the control is there? Maybe, maybe not.
The the capitalist system relies on market forces, and working within this context, maybe Summer’s perspective makes sense. In the richer nations, there is demand for cleaner environments. In poorer nations, there is demand for economic opportunity, even if it has negative environmental impact (and thus negative impact on human health). In terms of supply and demand, it would make sense for polluting industries to go to those countries. The demand for the products that have a polluting production process exists, and thus either these products need to not be produced, or their going to have to be produced somewhere – who is willing to produce it?
I think overall though, Summers argument still leaves much to be desired in terms of environmental protection and human safety. But, how do we balance environmental and economic needs? I believe an important part of the solution is using market mechanisms to force industry to be less polluting and pay fair wages in all countries. A cultural shift in the consumer consciousness of rich countries may be the best approach. We must internalize the externalitites – both of the environment and labor. If the demand for ethically produced goods, being the least environmentally damaging and produced with fair wages, is present, then industry will have to modify its practices. This would mean higher costs for Americas and other rich nations, but this would reduce the gross over-consumption by requiring smarter and less purchasing due to the higher cost. Wages in rich nations could also be raised to account for the high costs. The issue would be that this greatly decreases profit for industry. While profit is the main goal of capitalism, shifting how profit can be made is necessary to have a more equitable global society. Corporations should not be making billions of dollars if they are destroying the environment and paying people unlivable wages. This kind of solution may slow growth, but it would equalize standards of living more fairly. In the long term, capitalism is an unsustainable system, but it can not be overhauled in a night. We must use the power of demand to change it for the better, and slowly transition into an overall more equitable, sustainable system.
We want to hear what you think! How do we balance economic and environmental needs? Does Summers present a valid argument or is it wholly unfair? Is providing jobs or protecting the environment more important? What responsibilities do we have towards future generations? We want to hear what you think!

New Year, New Semester

Hi reader friends,

The bunch of us are back to take on the new semester after very eventful breaks. Personally, I explored a lot of vegan restaurants, cooked & hiked a lot and did my share of political action against our new white house administration, which you may know is not the most environmentally geared administration.(Women’s March on NYC  & Paterson Great Falls National Park

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Paterson Great Falls National Park (1/10/17)

pictured below) 

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Women’s March on NYC (1/21/17)

Three housemates were able to study abroad as well, which I’m sure they would love to elaborate on individually.

When most of us arrived back on Sunday the 22nd, our heat was broken which left us shivering for two nights straight, but I mean at least we saved gas, right???? No, it was bad. But eventually it WAS fixed and we are back to freezing a bit less. Even with the heat functioning, there’s still some work to be done in the house, which is incredibly drafty. Up in mine and Ellen’s room, the windows let in a lot of cold air. I attempted to close up the AC by taping a folded blanket around it, and after checking in on it about a second ago I’ve noticed that the blanket has already fallen off. So, I’m gonna have to try again at that or think of something else. Ideally, I’d like to take the AC out for the winter, that way there’s much less room for drafts. Even with that, we need to work on insulation.

We’ve had our first meeting as a house already, where we have set big goals and I have already noticed our renewed determination. In our efforts to reduce waste and increase compost, we have been paying more attention to the packaging we buy when out grocery shopping. While out yesterday with Renee, she helped keep me on track and we made sure to minimize the non-recyclable or compostable waste we were bringing into the house. Another idea for a similar purpose was to have communal paper waste box downstairs that Gina could take to get shredded at her job, to then be used at compost. This became an idea because of all of the leftover papers we have from last semester and our desire not to add them to our amounts of waste.

Other than that, there’s not much to discuss yet since it is so early on. I’m taking two scheduled classes, three including the course credit from living in the House, so I’ve got plenty of more time this semester than I did last. It will be interesting to see how much more time I will be able to devote to the house all things considered. I’m excited for the events we will be hosting this semester as well, as I’ll be ideally hosting a vegan baking session with facts on environmental benefits of eating less animal based and how to accomplish that as a college student with limited food options. Now that we have formed bonds and mutual respect in the house, I think we will have an even more successful semester this time around.

I’ll keep you posted,

Sam

 

 

Weird Weather and Funky Feats

Hello All,

Thanksgiving is coming up and the weather is getting colder and colder, with the occasional 70˚F weather with snow, rain, and lightning later on in the same day. We’ve managed to keep the thermostat at 65˚F on auto so the house can manage itself with this fluctuating weather. Hopefully cheaply, we’re planning on implementing more carpets into the house to add some warmth to it, at least on the floor. A challenge for the house will be how to keep the cold out of the house from the windows.

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(A tofurky in honor of Samantha Colombo)

The house has worked together to follow through with the new flushing method (If it’s yellow, let it mellow) and we have seen less flushes and less water being used in the house. We have made it a goal to include and encourage guests in using our method as well as long as they’re okay with it. Hopefully we can see even more of a decrease from last month’s water usage.

On a fun note, we have started some house projects which involve painting and organizing! We hope to finish a 3D leaf project for a painted tree already in the house which will look amazing. To accomplish this, the housemates have been collecting leaves from the ground with their fall colors and froze them in the freezer to preserve their color and shape. Blake had some leaves in the freezer which prompted a conversation, as they were for one of his personal projects, which in turn gave me the idea to use real leaves to finish the tree painting in our house.

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For next semester, I’d like to see the house make and use DIY laundry detergent, fabric softener, soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and whatever else to reduce waste and save money.

Image result for diy laundry toothpasteImage result for diy laundry detergent

Happy Holidays,

Renee Gares

 

 

Picture Credit:
http://www.ilovevegan.com/how-to-cook-a-tofurky-roast/
https://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=125511
https://www.diynatural.com/homemade-toothpaste/
http://www.lifealittlebrighter.com/2013/07/diy-laundry-detergent/

A Fine Start Toward Living Sustainable

Hi There Friends,

My name is Renee Gares and I am a junior at Albright College living in the sustainability house this year. My majors are biology and Spanish, yet I am not quite sure what my future holds for me career-wise. Gina and I were already living here over the summer as garden interns, so we’re pretty familiar with the house already. With the exception of air conditioning because it was summer time, Gina and I managed to live sustainably as we composted, showered with the timer on to limit ourselves to six minutes or less, and washed larger loads of laundry. I, along with my housemates, continue to do these habits as we’re living in the house now along with plenty of other sustainable methods.

At first it was challenging to wait until a large load of laundry was dirty in order to clean it. It’s best to wash clothes in larger quantities to save on water and you should always wash on cold unless you need warmer water for a stain, whites, or whatever it may be. I’ve gotten better with this and only wash in large loads and sometimes even do laundry with Gina my roommate.

During the end of summer and the beginnings of fall, we opened many windows and doors to allow a current to flow through the house, cooling it down. Air conditioning uses a lot of energy and is expensive to run, so this was a quick solution to a hot or warm day.

For our ant problem during the summer and the beginning of the semester, Gina and I found some additional methods to get rid of them compared to harsh chemicals. We found out that ants don’t like lemons or cinnamon, and sprinkled and spritzed that around the kitchen. Eventually, the ants were gone and we still use lemons and cinnamon in our house to ward off ants.

In the kitchen, our house has also cooked some “family dinners” which limits the amount of gas used to cook, water used to wash dishes, and grocery items that could potentially be wasted. We compost any food scraps that we can to put in our compost bins out back to make soil for the next growing season. It’s fascinating watching things that used to be cardboard or a corn husk turn into nutrient-rich soil.

It’s simple to live sustainably, it just takes a conscious effort to follow through with it. The environment keeps me motivated to keep doing what I’m doing and I will definitely carry out these practices from the sustainability house into my future home.

I hope to report back with fun reflections of our events and other things we do in the house!

Renee

 

Spreading Sustainable Living: Insights from Life at the Albright Sustainability House

What kinds of approaches and challenges are there when attempting to establish sustainable homes, centers, and communities? To me, living sustainably is not just a matter of acting sustainably, it’s about building strong relationships that utilize everyone’s unique talents and cultivating community that creates and enriches the long-term goals of sustainability: creating a world that is viable now and in the future. This in itself requires a deeper look at the ways in which we can and should build community structures based around sustainability and the challenges of doing so. If we wanted to spread “sustainability houses” across our community or even in general, how does our experience here in the house help? Looking at the approaches, successes, and challenges experienced in the sustainability house provides important perspectives to consider when spreading visions of sustainable living. We have developed a number of ways of creating and maintaining a successful, harmonious, and effective communal sustainability structure, albeit not without its imperfections and questions of application in “the real world.”
We do a number of things that work very well. First, we have a house manager that serves as a central source of organizing activities, behaviors, requirements, and events. While there is this form of central leadership, each member of the house serves as a “council member,” where everyone has an equal and democratic say in what we decide to do. We have weekly meetings to discuss steps forward, challenges, and changes that need addressing, as well as to collectively work on group projects. We (as we’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts) have also created a chalkboard wall in the kitchen to serve as reminders of upcoming events and assignments and designed info-graphics for sustainability tips in each common room of the house. We also have 5 people here each with different skill sets and interests. Our majors range from environmental studies, environmental science, education, marine aquatics, philosophy, and political science. Instead of focusing on purely environmental sustainability approaches, we encourage the participation of everyone’s unique paradigms to inform and enrich our approach to sustainability. And really, environmentalism in itself is a topic that must be approached from all of these angles and more. These aspects of our home make for an effective way of ensuring that we meet our goals of sustainability, hold each other accountable and keep each other driven, continually progress and evolve in our activities, and overall create a successful program and better world.
All of these approaches provide valuable examples of ways in which effective sustainable homes through open, communal structures can be created. This is not to say this is the only way, but from this experience, I believe that approaches that only address required sustainable behavior for individuals that leaves everyone to their own devices not only leaves more room for people to not fulfill their requirements, but also falls short of what living sustainably should really mean. Living sustainably in a singular pocket is not sustainability because it does not actively work towards a more sustainable world. Yes, singular changes in behavior is important, but the challenge of sustainability is getting many to live this way – we must actively change the world or else the big changes needed will never happen. We at the house are not only modifying our own behaviors, we are also actively engaging in projects and community outreach that actively works towards creating a better world. We give tours of our house and our community garden to the local elementary school and local summer programs. We go to the local elementary school to do environmental education programs. We hold events on campus to get more students active in environmentalism and sustainable behavior. We write this blog and have created a social media presence to show what we are doing and spread the joys and challenges of this experience. I believe that any group working towards building communal sustainability must think beyond their immediate surroundings and become an active member of the sustainability movement.
While we do a number of things that I find to be integral to creating a successful and true sustainable home, the success our situation is not entirely applicable to widespread creation of other sustainable homes. In living here, we have incentive to do things for many reasons. We are living as part of a program on our college campus – our work in this house counts as course credit so we are graded and given a number of assignments we must complete. All of us applied to live in the house out of mutual and predisposed interest in sustainability. We receive (some) funding from the college to do our projects. While this is a great program that is beneficial for many parties, it exposes the challenge of how to have programs and homes like this in “the real world.” Where is the incentive for the average citizen to live in a sustainable house (whether than means converting their own home or joining a group)? It requires sacrifices, money, and active work. One must always be checking their habits as they go about their daily routine. Installing compostable toilets and solar panels is vastly expensive. Constantly engaging in activism and community outreach requires extensive work and time. Without say, a college program, government funding/incentives, or truly dedicated environmentalists, creating sustainable homes and communities is quite the challenge. But – that’s why what we do here is so important – those of us truly dedicated to the environment and/or those of us with the privilege to be a part of a college program, must always attempt to lead the way. Our lifestyles, projects, and communal outreach must serve as positive examples, shining beacons, inspiring alternatives to the status-quo.

Join the conversation – comment below and add your two cents! What are successful ways of creating communal structures based around sustainability? What do you think people must do and be in order to be truly sustainable? How do we spread sustainable living? How do we make sustainable living appealing to the average citizen? How do we fund these projects?

Cultivating Community, Service, and Environmental Stewardship: Permablitz 2015

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By Ellen Underwood

In the small tract of land between 14th and Linden streets that we call home, there is something beautiful happening. Between the house and our sustainable garden, we have turned a small amount of space into a center for environmental living and learning. Nestled behind the sustainability house, right next to the experiential learning center, the Albright Sustainable Garden is without a doubt my favorite place on campus. This year was my second year running the garden and my second year watching it come to life and die away, of watching it live and breath and slowly fade, only to be reborn again the next year like a phoenix from the ashes. For me, it is a shining beacon of sustainability, a symbol of our individual ability to transition away from consumption to production, from environmental degradation to positive improvement.

Throughout the summer we provide locally grown, organically produced veggies, herbs, and fruits for the Albright community. Leftovers feed us and/or get donated to the local homeless shelter. We learn how to sustainably produce food and have better impacts on the environment IMG_0387with rain barrels, a rain garden, soil creation, resource re-purposing, and more. My favorite days though, are when we give children from the local elementary school and summer camps tours of the garden. To share the joys of food production and sustainability with younger generations, and to be met with excited, shining, and passionate faces when we do, is an unrivaled feeling for me.

But now, it is fall (and quickly turning into winter!) and the season is over. It saddens me deeply, but we were able to have one last gasp of garden fun at this year’s fall permablitz. What is a permablitz you ask? It is a super fun day of hard work that builds community, engages people in community service, and cultivates environmental stewardship. The word itself is a mixture of permaculture, which is a sustainable farming method, and blitz, indicating lots of hard work in a small time frame! Each year in the fall and the spring we call upon our fellow students to help us prepare the garden for the coming season. With winter creeping in, there was much to be done and we were met with many caring and helping hands to get it accomplished.

First, we had to pull out all the previously productive plants whose lives were now coming to an end (insert sad fIMG_0386ace here). The next step was to cover the now bare and vulnerable soil from wind and water erosion as well as fertilize it a little for the next season. We did this by placing a layer of leaves collected from the Albright grounds, a carbon source, then a layer of coffee grounds collected from our campus coffee shop, a nitrogen source, and finally a layer of hay from a local feed store in Oley, another carbon source, to top it all off. One of our main goals in the garden is to utilize resources that may have otherwise gone to waste and to source these things as locally as possible. The best part — it’s easy! Another activity was cutting back our native plant rain garden which helps it grow back better each year. The last step of permablitz winterizing was outlining the plots. First, before the permablitz, I went out and expanded the size of the plots since they had inevitably lost surface area throughout the season to the large layer of mulch we had laid down at the spring permablitz.This is especially important because part of permaculture design is to maximize space to make the area of land as productive as possible. Recently a symbolic (and very old) building on Albright’s campus, the White Chapel, was knocked down. It was sad to see it go but we found a way to help it live on. Instead of letting all the old bIMG_0394ricks from the chapel waste away at the Albright dump, we took an adventure to get a bunch of them, then used them to delineate the garden plots. This had a few benefits. First, it makes the garden look way more presentable which is important for our tours. As the bricks settle in they will also prevent some erosion in the plots that are on an angle. Now, after the fruits of these labors, the garden is clean, beautiful, and protected for the coming winter season.

The garden interns, Aly and Emily, and our garden advisor, Dr. Jennings, teamed with members of various fraternities and sororities, the biology honors club, E.C.O. club, scholarship volunteers, friends, students, faculty, and families, all coming together on this wonderful day to blitz our cherished garden. The result? A strengthening of our Albright community ties, commitment to service that benefits our community’s garden, and active participation in and learning of methods of sustainable living. It is inspiring to see so many people of many backgrounds and interests, all working together in the name of the garden. Some people don’t even know where their food comes from beyond the stIMG_0398ep of them purchasing it in the grocery store, so connecting people with a sustainable food source happening right in their community, and getting them to participate with it, is exactly the kind of thing our unsustainable world needs. In my own experience, working in the garden is thoroughly therapeutic. It makes me feel healthier and I feel a great pride in cooking food I picked from my backyard only a moment ago. I believe that the more we can connect people with this type of feeling, the more we can begin to change the damaging paradigms that allow us to fall into the trap of industrial agriculture and processed food, the closer we can get to transitioning to more ecologically friendly lives.

See below for more great pictures!

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