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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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K-cup Planters & Kindergarten

Hey everyone!!,

We are finally at that time in the semester where everything is really coming together. Last time, I talked about the showerhead we really wanted to demo. Unfortunately, we never heard anything back from that company. I am currently working on finding another showerhead that does something similar or ever better! If anyone can think of any other showerheads that do something similar to this please post them in the comments!

My job this month was to get a jump-start on our partnership with the Albright Early Learning Center. We will be working with their Kindergarten Class this semester to teach them what it is like to live sustainable. For our first meeting we will be talking with them about what recycling is, how to recycle, why is recycling important, its impact on the environment and what can and cannot be recycled. Not only will this be an informational meeting with them but we also will be making K-cup planters with them! Okay so now you are asking yourself what is a k cup planter and what does that have to do with recycling?

A K-cup planter is made from recycled K-cups from a Keruig coffee machine. After brewing your coffee, tea or hot chocolate the K-cups can be taken apart by, removing and recycling the aluminum foil on the top and composting the grounds and filters. Then you rinse them out and set them aside to dry. Once they are dry, you fill the cup half way with soil and put your seeds in. Now that seeds are in place, you fill the remainder of the cup with soil and pay it down until it is firm. Then you add 1 tablespoon of water to the cup. Lastly, move the K- cup planter to a safe spot where it will get plenty of sun.

We all are very excited to get into the Kindergarten and work with the students to show how much recycling means to us, and how important it is overall. By passing on the information we know we are saving the environment one person at a time. The children will be able to go home from school that day and tell their parents about what they learned in school about how to recycle, what to recycle and why its important to recycle. The children can work with their parents and create a successful way that will work in their house to recycle and now that is even more people that are recycling just by visiting one classroom and talking to only a few children. However, can you imagine how successful this project will be when we present it to the five 1st grade classes in the spring semester? We cannot wait to see the outcome of these projects and help the environment any and every way we can! Can’t wait to let you know how our project goes!! Talk to you soon!

~Jess

Here are pictures of what the K-cup planters look like !

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