Food Systems and Connections

Upon questioning my understanding of food systems, I find an accurate comparison in thinking of a door left slightly ajar. It goes as so: In a dark room, the light from behind a slightly cracked door leeks a sliver of simulated-sunshine onto the floor. Behind the door lies the intricate web that is food systems: farming, food access, health, social justice, institutions, environment, infrastructure, culture, etc. Where my understanding of food systems may have been quite utterly in the dark before, I have gained experiences that have allowed enlightenment.

A summer as the Assistant Farm Manager brought me first hand experience in actually producing food through managing an organic garden and exploring the various aspects of education, business, and environment involved. Expanding from my past Shi Center Fellowship, my current pursuit involves unearthing the story of Dr. Powers research on food deserts in Greenville County. It then follows the work of Dan Weidenbenner at Mill Village Farms and Reece Lyerly at Gardening for Good as they actively take part in the food system. Addressing food access and community vitality, the question arises: How can the multiple initiatives responding to food system issues such as food deserts most effectively/efficiently ensure positive/sustainable change across the boards of social, environment and economical health? In simpler terms, what defines success?

The aspects of producing a video to explore the connections between the above-mentioned variables involve planning and conducting interviews, editing and piecing together footage as I work with Andy, our videographer. But above all it involves telling a story. Using moving images and audio as a medium to

simply yet essentially offer a glimpse inside the lives of individuals and their relationship to, and impact on the world around them.

This past week I was able to attend workshops at the Sustainable Agriculture Conference held here in Greenville. Absorbing all sorts of relevant knowledge revolving around food systems, one presenter, Natasha Bowens (http://browngirlfarming.com/), particularly stood out to me in terms of impact. She re-emphasized the importance of storytelling and offered a refreshing perspective on the representation of race in the farming world. I only caught a glimpse of her story in the hour and a half of the established workshop time, but I question in terms of her impact on me, what defined her success? Perhaps her authenticity and ability to cast connections over everyone in the room.

There are obvious reasons why food systems are relevant to everyone. The inevitable connection is in the reality that we all eat. But all the threads that weave the food system together are not always easily or consciously seen. I hope this video can establish relevancy in the way the various dimensions of food systems are working in our community. Though five minutes of video is only a glimpse, I hope it can still cast connections over those who might come across it.

I catch tiny glimpses of people each day. From casual hellos with acquaintances to deeper talks with friends, conservations chip away at finding out who a person is and work to build bigger relationships. This video is only part of the conservation of a bigger relationship to the world, but we have a role in it.

As I work to tell this story, I know I am still writing mine. I will continue to strive to open doors in the hope that I may see more.

Stay Fresh,

Phoebe Ferguson

Assessing Furman’s Progress

Does Furman really care about sustainability? How do we compare to other schools? What changes can we make? These are all essential questions many students and faculty ask about Furman’s progress and it is part of my job to answer them. I am a Junior Assessment Fellow and have been working specifically with the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS). STARS is a reporting tool that helps universities measure their sustainability performance by pursuing various credits. These credits cover a wide range of topics in the fields of academics, engagement, operations, and planning and administration information.

I have recently been working on gathering the information for these credits. I first formed emails to send to faculty and staff about the specific material required. I am currently in the process of receiving these emails and collecting all of the needed information. The most challenging part of my job so far has been trying to understand the specific credit requirements. Even though there is a manual with required information for each credit, these criteria can sometimes be unclear and open to interpretation. Also, we are working with a new version of STARS this year, so the information is generally new even for the more experienced workers.

I work with a group of three other students, which is very helpful in the assessment process. Since this year we are completing two different sustainability assessments, more people were needed to finish everything on time. Also, there is a senior assessment fellow who has prior experience. I enjoy working with such a large group because I can ask for help if needed and receive a large range of opinions/ideas.

I am looking forward to getting our results back once we submit all of the data. It will be interesting to work with my assessment team to evaluate the changes that can be made to create a more sustainable campus in the future. I am already beginning to see trends in Furman’s sustainability progress so far. Even though we aim to receive a gold rating, the more important goal is to understand areas where Furman can improve and work towards making these differences.

Sidewalks, Bikes, and Overall Sustainable Transportation at Furman

This year I’ve been delighted to be working at the Shi Center. There are really some great projects underway and it is really a wonderful environment to work in. As the transportation fellow, my main responsibilities have dealt with making Furman a more pedestrian and bike friendly campus. This summer the Shi Center worked to take two major steps towards making this possible.

One of the more unique aspects of Furman is that students are required to live on campus. In 2008, Furman purchased the Vining’s, a near by apartment complex, in order to make room for housing more students. However, despite the proximity of the Vining’s, walking or biking to class has been a risky endeavor due to the high speed cars go as they drive on the road separating the Vinings from campus. This summer the Shi Center collaborated with the Vinings and facility staff in order to build a sidewalk connecting Furman to the Vinings. This new sidewalk allows for pedestrians and cyclists to leave their cars at home and instead, use a more sustainable form of transportation to get to class. In order to celebrate this great accomplishment and recognize the people who helped make this possible I helped organize a ribbon cutting ceremony and celebration on October 22nd. I believe this event was very successful. It began in front of Timmons Arena where we held the ribbon cutting ceremony and allowed for a couple of speeches. The Paladin Regiment’s drumline then helped lead off a parade of people who traveled as a group to the Vinings. Here we had food and raffle prizes to help thank everyone for showing up and helping to make this project happen. This sidewalk is a huge step to making Furman a more pedestrian and bike friendly campus, for it allows a large portion of the student body access to a safer route.

The second major accomplishment Furman made this summer is that is got a new bike rental program off the ground and running. FUPOB, the new bike rental program, allows for students to rent a bike, helmet, and bike lock for an entire semester for just $30.00. Currently, the program has twenty bikes, all of which were rented out for the fall semester. I’ve been working to make sure the program is running smoothly, and as a member of the program can confirm that having a bike has made a huge positive impact on my life. Being able to bike saves time, is relaxing, has allowed me to explore the nearby area, and is helping me stay in better shape. I absolutely love it. I can also tell that even after only renting the bike for a couple weeks I was already much more likely to buy a bike after graduating and would now definitely consider biking to work later in life. I am therefore very excited about this program. Not only do I believe it is having a positive impact on students throughout this semester, but I believe it also has the ability to spread bike culture on Furman’s campus, increase the likelihood students will continue to ride bikes in the future, and decrease the student population’s use of cars to get around campus.

As the transportation fellow, I hope to help Furman’s campus take further steps towards being a pedestrian and bicycle friendly university. Whether this means trying to get covered bike parking in residential areas to keep bikes from rusting and being wet in the morning, or working to make bike maintenance more accessible to bike owners on campus, I am eager to tackle more projects and hope I can help make a positive difference to Furman’s campus.

Laura McComb

Ecoacoustics and Ecomusicology

What are ecoacoustics? What is ecomusicology? These are some questions that I am sure not many people have even conceived. As an AVD Fellow creating an informational video about both of those topics, I should know the answers. But then again, most academics in both the music and ecology related fields are not completely sure what it is, or even how the two are connected. Ecomusicology, the study of ecoacoustics, is a relatively idea. But ecoacoustics have existed, in some form, for a very long time. Ecoacoustics are sounds inspired by nature, communicating the relationship between living things and the environment through sound. To do this, data is taken from the natural environment and translated into a musical process, thereby creating music of the environment.

As a freshman music major who is also interested in the environment, the job seemed to be quite suited for me. I knew that being a student at Furman University, a liberal arts college that supports the intellectual pursuits of its students, my conventional notions regarding every subject would be tested. I never assumed that as a classically trained musician, I would be studying the effect nature had on music and vice versa. Surprisingly, linking the two makes much more sense than I initially thought possible.

Music has been inspired by nature probably since the beginning of music; one of my favorite musical myths is the theme from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony was stolen from some song birds. With countless other examples, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to Ralph Vaughn William’s The Lark Ascending, there has been an obvious connection between music and nature, where nature usually inspires the creation of some fantastic music. We assume that nature cannot be affected by music in the conventional sense, but I’ve come to realize that may not be the case. Ecoacoustics mean to reflect the environment, sonifying nature and ecology into something that we can experience aurally. It is a new form a communication that composers are utilizing, making it harder to ignore the environmental problems our world is currently facing.

Music’s ability to communicate both ideas and emotion allows more contemporary composers to use it as a way to get people emotionally and mentally invested/aware of the looming ecological crisis. Ecoacoustics could play a vital role in the public’s future response to environmental issues. Imagine if people could hear the way the world was being negatively affected by humans; more people would know about negative human impact and do something to stop it! Granted, this is very ideological. But as a music student, I wouldn’t mind having an ecomusicology class as a course requirement. I could listen to and analyze some ground-breaking music while bridging the gap between the sciences and humanities together, like a true liberal arts college kid!

By Kate Stevens

Recycling at Furman

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The “3 R’s”. Every student learns these very early on, and recycling is engrained in our minds from that point forward. We know we should recycle, we’re aware of the benefits – the problem becomes the follow-through. Whether it’s lack of knowledge about local recycling programs, some things can be difficult to recycle, lack of close-by facilities, or sometimes just a harmless bit of laziness, I don’t know anyone that recycles as much as they think they should. This is exactly what those of us involved in recycling programs at Furman are trying to fix. There are, of course, many wonderful initiatives in place, but we’re always trying to think of how we can do better. Complacency is a bad habit to get into.

So how do we solve those issues? For starters, and what the bulk of my work thus far, is data collection. Simply being a student that spends a bulk of my time on campus has helped with that, along with both experimenting with bin placement and running my regular pick-up/clean-up routes. What do I see working? What doesn’t work? Are there any recycling locations that don’t get much activity? Are there any that seem to see too much activity? All these questions become important both to maximize our efficiency and to make it as easy as possible for people to recycle on campus. As I mentioned above, sometimes laziness comes into play – people may not walk an extra distance to recycle when a trash can is closer – so we look at all of these things in the hopes that given an equal choice between recycling and simply throwing something away, people can make the easy choice to recycle.

The other issue that I spoke about above that can hinder the amount people recycle is lack of knowledge about appropriate programs. I’ve already received a few e-mails from people on campus about this, “where can I recycle x, y, or z?”, and it’s our current focus to rectify this. How can we make sure everyone knows where they can recycle batteries, or old electronics, for example? It’s a very good question, and one that my advisor and I plan on spending the new few weeks figuring out.
All of these issues essentially revolve around one thing – ease-of-use. We can’t force people to recycle, but our hope is that if make it as easy as possible, and give people both proper knowledge and proper choices and facilities, that we’ll be able to vastly increase the amount of recycling that happens on campus.

Michael Mauney

Two Potential Problems

My work at the Shi Center has revealed some significant flaws within the world of sustainability. First off, the world of sustainability is political and the renewable energy market is dominated by government-enforced utility monopolies. Take South Carolina for an example. In early June, a bill was passed to raise South Carolina’s solar capacity for both residential and non-residential institutions. Everyone that had anything to do with politics in this state cheered and felt that a victory had been won. By examining the details of the bill, I have seen that this act does nothing more than provide a drop of water into a bucket for sustainability measures. The state kept the control of energy-generating systems out of the hands of the consumer and in the hands of the utilities, while still limiting the power that these systems can produce. Now I do not blame utilities for being so intrusive in legislation, they are the result of failed planning of an outdated business plan, which has difficulty catering to both renewable and non-renewable energy sources that are created either from facilities or residential homes. The utility companies are then forced to buy the energy produced from residential/non-residential areas by the government. Consequently, it is not economical for either the consumer or the utility to go “green”.

My other problem I noticed is the idea that it is not in the best interest of most people to practice sustainable measures. The companies who claim to be carbon neutral are not truly carbon neutral because buy their offset from other sources since that’s the most feasible way to do so. There are few companies actually achieve true carbon neutrality. The only organization that I have found that made it in their best interest to be sustainable is Wal-Mart, a company that has been subjected to criticism about their “environmental friendliness”. Wal-Mart has the most Mega Watts of solar installed than any other company in the United States and they were one of the first companies to go out of their way and request that their manufactures use eco-friendly boxes. Their criticism came from a woman named Stacey Mitchell who basically explained that Wal-Mart donated to free market groups around the country so they can monopolize solar energy. I am sorry to upset her “ingenious” calculations, but is it so strange that Wal-Mart would donate money to a group that advocates for free markets, considering that a free market is where a company like Wal-Mart thrives the most? The groups advocating for free markets oppose government subsidies for sustainability measures because these subsidies come out of the taxpayer’s pockets. Solar energy will never become popular because of anything the government will do for the consumers; instead, solar energy will become popular when solar is mass-produce for an affordable price. I will hope that other companies around the world will look to Wal-Mart as an environmentally friendly role model.

Benjamin Longnecker

Final reporting year

This is my senior year and also the third year that I’ll be working on Furman’s campus assessments the greenhouse gas assessment (GHG report) and the Sustainability Tracking,  Assessment, and Rating System (STARS).  Although its strange to say this is my last year of reporting for Furman, I’m quite excited about this years reporting.  Previously, years that we submitted both STARS and a GHG report had two fellows to work on the job.  This year we have three students working on the projects and me helping guide anyone who doesn’t understand any aspects of the process.  Having the extra hands working for the project both means we should be able to finish a little earlier than usual, and that we’ll be able to do more once we’ve finished.

Ordinarily after submitting the reports to The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and to the The American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) the fellow will still have a little work left to do.  We still have to decipher any changes in the emissions, try our best to understand whether the emissions factors that the calculator uses have changed, a policy has changed, or the specific action which causes emissions has actually become more efficient.  Collecting and presenting all of this information is crucial so that people understand how we’re making progress on campus and what changes have been successful.  Lastly the fellow must write a brief report detailing how the assessment was done so any new fellows will be able to understand and follow their work.

Only after all of this is done can a fellow begin to work on one of the most interesting aspects of the position.  Plans forward, possible improvements to look into, changes other schools have made which could be replicated at Furman.  All of these are also part of what a fellow can do and it gives the fellow a real chance to look for meaningful changes with real impacts that Furman could make.  With so many fellows working towards assessment this year I really look forward to having more time for looking at these possibilities.  Even more importantly for me, we have more opinions and perspectives when looking at the future and possibilities for Furman.  Although the work has only just begun, I look forward to one more year of good reporting full of interesting information and number crunching.  Having a group of younger fellows start this work too just makes it more interesting and I hope that they enjoy this coming year’s work as well.

Kris Hajny