Gardening For Good

By: Tim Sharp
This summer I worked with Gardening for Good to aid and promote community gardening in Greenville County. I have been putting off writing the blog post for my fellowship for a while; mostly because whenever I would sit down to write, I would end up writing something that I thought was boring or I felt like I was never doing anything romantic enough to write a blog post about. Well, my fellowship has ended and it is time that I finally write something for you to read.
             At the beginning of the summer I was starting to feel like I had breached the threshold of becoming an adult, mostly due to the routine that I had started. Each morning I would wake up, iron my shirt, listen to NPR on my morning commute, and work in my cubicle. Despite my earlier thoughts that I would die before I worked a nine to five job in a cubicle, I actually kind of liked the routine. I felt like an adult and my productivity really showed it. I was able to fly through my daily tasks of working on my brochure, online inventory of our tool library, or even systematically call each coffee shop in town to track down burlap sacks. Everything I did had a weight of importance to it and I often went home feeling like I had accomplished a lot. In July, halfway through my fellowship, Gardening for Good transitioned from the cubicles of Greenville Forward to the tool shed of Project Host.
            I was pretty excited for the transition to Project Host, because it meant that the dress attire would shift to casual and we would get wonderful daily lunches from the Project Host Culinary School. The dynamics of my fellowship were interesting because my boss worked part-time, while I worked full time, leaving me to work alone for half of the week. The first day that we moved into the tool shed happened to be one of the days that I was flying solo, meaning that I would have to rearrange the shed into a workable space that we could call our office. Luckily, there were two brothers that were volunteering for the summer who lent me a hand in creating “the office.” After finishing the move, and answering the questions, “Why do you guys have so many books?” and “Are you really going to work in here?” I started to prepare myself for a day of work in the tool shed. Instead, Voc, the older brother said, “No, no, no. Now you have to help us.” One hour and three buckets of weeds later, I earned a little bit of respect from the boys for returning the favor as well as the nickname “Baby Tim” for my obvious lack of garden know-how. After that day, the feel of my fellowship took a drastic turn.
            Suddenly, I did not feel like an adult, but a kid again. While my NPR relationship intensified as I listened to “Morning Edition”, “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” and, my favorite, “This American Life,” my sense of adulthood had vanished. Daily lunches with the brothers, Voc and Quay, made me laugh stupidly, weeding in the garden made me sweat happily, and working in the soup kitchen made me give generously. Thankfully, I was able to experience two working environments this summer that were polar opposites of each other and is food for thought as I start to decide the environment I want to work in after graduating college.

The Carl Sandburg Home

By: James Sturges

As a Computer Science major, my view is probably a little different than most. In my field, we expect things to run smoothly and well, like a well-oiled machine. Computers are my forte; you give them a command, they do it quickly and accurately (so long as the command was not misspelled). In my fellowship this summer, I have realized this is not quite the case with people more often than not.

I participated in two positions this summer. Firstly, as a ParKids Fellow, and secondly as a Citizen Science fellow, both at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina. In both, flexibility was the name of the game, and sustainability manifested in different ways.

With ParKids (a contraction of Park and Kids), I led kids who were in, well, parks, through a variety of different learning activities; some of these were related to Carl Sandburg and his poetry, and others were related to the environment. For younger kids, it is more important to get kids outside than to hammer in concepts of sustainability; kids get more excited about a cool bug than green energy. If you instill a love of the outdoors into kids, a love of the environment will surely follow. Sometimes, though, things would not quite click. During a poetry reading, the group might not have the reading comprehension needed to succeed, so I would step in and read for them while they act out the poem, or I would even act the poem to set an example for them!

For adults, though, it is a different story, and this is where my second position, Citizen Science Leader, fits in. I would train adults, usually retired, on how to identify different stages of phenology (stages) on trees and plants on the beautiful Carl Sandburg Home site so that we can understand how climate change is affecting when and how different plants go through their stages. Additionally, we monitor Monarch Butterfly populations to understand why the population is dwindling. I would additionally lead email correspondence; I would set up training sessions and set up appointments to answer questions about the process. Often times, at the last minute a person would not be able to make it to a training session, so I would scour the calendar for a free spot to make sure they get the training they need to collect valuable data for the site.

In both of these positions, though, I have had to learn how to become a more flexible person. The Carl Sandburg Home is a National Park, and park funding has been declining in recent years, so there are not as many hands on deck as we would like at all times, and so all staff and volunteers must be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Because of this, I might be tossed into leading a house tour with fifteen minutes notice, or move a table, or lead a school group. Learning to shift priorities and stay on top of everything has been the biggest skill I’ve gained through my fellowship.

My fellowship throughout these ten weeks has taught me so much more than I can express in one blog post, and I am very thankful toward both the David E. Shi Center and the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site for such a great fellowship opportunity this summer.

Building a Greener Greenville

By: Annie Peterson

As one of two Green Ribbon Advisory Committee Recommendations Fellows, I have the unique opportunity to research ways in which the City of Greenville’s Parks, Recreation, and Sustainability Department can incorporate sustainability into its projects. While this job may sound like a walk in the park, an incredible amount of time and effort goes into each one of the City’s projects.

I have spent the majority of the summer focusing on incorporating sustainable features into City Park, which recently broke ground in Southside neighborhood. The park will contain the historic Mayberry Park baseball field, as well as the Reedy River and the Swamp Rabbit Trail in that area. Additional park features will include playgrounds, basketball courts, community gardens, and an amphitheater for live performances.

Using the City Park Master Plan, I was tasked with determining the feasibility of pursuing Sustainable Sites Certification (SITES), essentially a LEED Certification for landscapes. SITES aims to act as a roadmap to sustainability for any property or landscape project. It offers a series of steps to achieve a list of prerequisites and credits. These prerequisites and credits cover everything from ensuring the sustainability of the materials used for construction to managing on-site soil and vegetation. The goal of the SITES initiative is to foster the creation of built landscapes that provide valuable services to both the environment and people.

My favorite part of researching SITES was speaking with project managers in other cities who have already achieved the certification. Their responses were interesting to say the least. While brutally honest about the financial and labor difficulties related to the certification, the men and women that I spoke with were incredibly knowledgeable in their fields and willing to share that wisdom. They offered me the kind of encouragement and advice that cannot be found in a manual. At times, they even made me laugh loud enough to turn heads in the office. Despite their complaints about the certification process, they all said the same thing. The benefits to the environment, economy, and community will make it all worth it.

Now, in my 8th week as a Green Ribbon Advisory Committee Recommendations Fellow, I have just begun my second major project, revamping the sustainable features and corresponding signage at the Greenville Zoo. While the Zoo already has numerous demonstrations of ways people can incorporate sustainability into their own backyards, the challenge has been how to encourage people to stop and learn about these features. With other attractions including endangered amur leopards, prehistoric aldabra tortoises, and sky-skimming giraffes, it is easy to see how backyard composters and rain barrels can get lost in the mix.

In the master plan for Greenville Zoo’s remodel, conservation and sustainability will play a more central role. One of the goals of the new zoo is to educate both children and adults about the role that all living things play in maintaining healthy ecosystems, and how to become stewards of the environment. By making connections between people’s actions and the effect they can have on the environment, more attention will be paid to the importance of sustainability and conservation for all living things.

Working as the Green Ribbon Advisory Recommendations Fellow has opened my eyes to the beauty of local government. The people at the City of Greenville, and other organizations I worked with this summer, are incredibly dedicated and hardworking. They put in long hours to ensure that our community becomes an ideal of sustainability, economic development, and citizen satisfaction. I am very proud to have worked with so many of these people this summer, and cannot wait to see where they take Greenville in the future.

Fellow Holism

By Adrian McInnis

As a Business & Administration major, I have dealt with many situations in my studies that have been perfunctory and solvable via quantification. For the most part, I was okay with making quick assumptions and running the numbers. A quick calculation here, follow this formula there, and let the numbers run themselves to a final. There were several scenarios where quantification was inadequate and judgment calls needed to be made though.

Those aforementioned judgments were not for me to make let alone anyone else’s; rather, it was a collective decision with multiple different disciplines being involved. The opportunity to work as a Fellow for the Shi Center allowed me to coerce with multiple disciplines and yield more sustainable answers. Decisions whereby all parties had a say in the outcome of a dilemma. Much like the decisions of the Green Ribbon Advisory Committee, sustainable solutions were always the better answer.

Though most people believe sustainability to relate to the environment, I believe it to be a holistic approach. The dimensions in my fellowships included the local community, tourists, private business, wildlife, and the environment. There were many priorities in decision making that yielded alternative responses; it may have been cost, it may have been political given upcoming elections, it may have been private economic development to boost the economy, and at times was about the environment.

During my work there, all of the reasons listed were given equivalent weight in discussions.  The most notable aspect though was that sustainability was woven into every decision. At this fellowship, I had the chance to compile a comprehensive report that considered multiple factors as to why Greenville could upgrade their building codes to the International Green Construction Codes. The experience allowed me to develop new relationships, experience new ways of thinking, and contribute to my growing lists of environmental accomplishments.

Here, change is ongoing and the people of City Hall guide the direction of that change. I am thankful to be blessed with an opportunity that the David E. Shi Sustainability Fellowship offered and encourage everyone that is able to apply for this position.

Forward Thinking

By: Phoebe Ferguson

“One technical definition of a system is as follows: a system is a structure of interacting, intercommunicating components that, as a group, act or operate individually and jointly to achieve a common goal through the concerted activity of the individual parts. This is, of course, a completely satisfactory definition of the earth, except maybe for the last part about a common goal. What on earth is our common goal?”

-Lewis Thomas, The Medusa and the Snail

This concept has been somewhat haunting me. In the context of my summer I was privileged to hop on board with Greenville Forward’s Vision 2025 Indicators project: a main tenant being – how do we represent where we are? How can we quantify/qualify where we stand in accordance to the goals of Greenville and who we want to be as a city, as a county, as a home, as a space?

As a way to do this, the Indicators are divvied up into seven segments: inclusive, healthy, learning, connected, innovative, green, and creative. This offers a framework to capture the status of Greenville in its steps toward achieving goals (consider poverty rates, median income, air quality, etc). Greenville Forward plays an intriguing role in addressing the complexity that accompanies such “common goals.” Facilitating and shepherding Vision 2025 means addressing how Greenville can improve quality of life and understand the dimensions in which to do so.

I’ve questioned, how do common goals like this take shape? With Greenville Forward’s vision to address this, I’ve done a lot of contemplating on how we step back and see the interactions happening across the infrastructure of our city. How do ideas/priorities/goals spread through people, organizations, government to produce change? This led me to the concept of social network theory and mapping as an attempt to visualize the organization of Greenville and capture how ideas/conversations are carried through a network of interacting players of non-profits, organizations, governments, and perhaps most importantly, people. To do so, I am exploring how to use Gephi and NodeXL to analyze social media networks as a means to glimpse into some of these interactions.

As a third-time Fellow, from Furman farming to filmmaking, this summer has been a stimulating one in which the exposure I have gained through my experience thus far with Greenville Forward has offered an environment that has continued to challenge me and inspire me to think harder about the questions that seem difficult to address or have a direct answer to.

Through Greenville Forward’s “Momentum Series,” which convenes community conversation on topics that carry weight, like community policing, I continue to understand how our interlinked lives maneuver ways to move towards a more socially just and sustainable world.

Stay Fresh,
Phoebe Ferguson

Better Care, Better Health, Better Community

By: Alice Williams

This summer I’ve been working with AccessHealth Greenville County (AHGC), a grant-funded organization that seeks to connect low-income, uninsured residents of Greenville County with access to a medical home and continuing health care. AHGC is based on The Duke Endowment’s two-state model with ten networks in SC that have achieved a 16% reduction in emergency department discharges and a 38% reduction in system cost, on average. On a daily basis, I research articles and statistics to support our grant applications to United Way and The Duke Endowment, assemble and analyze data on patient demographics, and attend local and state meetings with other AccessHealth staff. The funding source is a key issue for economic and social sustainability—grant money must be reapplied for every two years, and reliance on grants for the entire program budget raises issues about the program’s long-term future.

Since the hospital emergency room is required to see all patients, regardless of their ability to pay, it is used by some uninsured patients for everything from primary care to prescriptions. However, unless the situation is truly an emergency, this is a costly and inefficient way to provide care. South Carolina experienced a 50% increase in ER visits from 1999-2006, while the United States experienced a 32% increase over the same period. Additionally, numerous studies have shown that the uninsured typically have shorter lifespans and worse health outcomes. AHGC seeks to connect eligible patients with a medical home in Greenville, often the Greenville Free Medical clinic or New Horizon, a federally qualified healthcare center that operates on a sliding fee scale. As AHGC becomes more established in the community, we hope to also be able to refer patients to private practices and specialists. Through this approach, we hope to provide comprehensive, continuing, preventative care that will improve population health and reduce system costs.

AHGC targets those who fall in the coverage gap of having an income that is too high to allow them to qualify for Medicaid but too low for them to afford to purchase insurance. South Carolina was one of nineteen states that elected not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The expansion would have extended Medicaid eligibility to all adults with incomes up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), but under current South Carolina guidelines only adults with dependent children whose incomes are at or below 67% of the FPL are eligible for Medicaid. In Alabama and Texas, adults must have dependent children and an income at or below a mere 18% of the FPL to qualify for Medicaid. For a household of two, that’s only $2,868/year. The Affordable Care Act provides subsidies for insurance plans only for those with incomes ranging from 100%-400% of the FPL, which still leaves a significant coverage gap.

Learning about the daily challenges faced by the uninsured has been eye-opening. As a recent college graduate who is lucky enough to still be on my parents’ insurance, I was fairly ignorant of the complexities and expenses of seeking medical care for those without insurance. In addition to being uninsured, many AHGC patients also lack transportation, education, employment, stable housing, and even a reliable phone number or other means of communication.

The problem is so daunting that it can sometimes seem overwhelming—an estimated 716,000 adults in South Carolina are uninsured and 10% of those live in Greenville County alone. However, in working with AHGC and a variety of partner organizations this summer, I’ve seen firsthand the dedication to improving health outcomes for the uninsured and sparking health system change that focuses on preventative and population-level health.

Growing food. Growing people.

By Kristina Benson

My summer internship is unlike any experience I’ve had before—in the most beautiful sense. I am a Crew Leader for Mill Village Farms, a community gardening nonprofit organization which aims to grow food and grow jobs for teenagers in the Greenville area. We aim to provide produce to food deserts, neighborhoods with a lack of access to healthy food options.

I arrive at Sullivan Street farm each day at 8:00 wearing my “farmer pants”, Mill Village Farms tshirt, work boots, and whatever backwards hat I feel fits my mood. I bring chacos and a pair of shorts along just in case I am not working in the gardens. Sometimes I get a little change of scenery to help my other coworkers tie up loose ends in the office, run errands around town, or photograph field trips or events.

I love the farming aspect of my job—planting seeds, weeding, tilling, trellising, harvesting on Mondays and Thursdays. I get to help lead the Youth Crew Program (a group of 14 teenagers). A great deal of variety comes with our work because we have three different locations—a soil garden on Sullivan Street, a soil garden in Easley called Serenity Farm, and our latest addition—the Rooftop Farm in downtown Greenville. They are each so different and special in their own ways. I love the Sullivan Street Farm because it is situated in the central part of the Westside of Greenville. It is right next to Longbranch Baptist Church, the church which has been so generous to us in letting use their space, equipment and resources to develop our organization. The people are so kind and willing to help with gardening, field trips and our youth programs. This has opened my eyes to a different side of Greenville—one that is more impoverished but filled with opportunity and passion from its active community members. The rooftop garden is incredible because we have 50 hydroponic tower gardens, honey bees, and sunflowers lining the perimeter.

The media segment of my internship has been really exciting for me.  As someone who enjoys recreational photography and videography, getting to do it during my work day has been a breath of fresh air. I’ve been able to take pictures and make videos of our Youth Crew Retreat, various field trips that come to our farms, and even cooking demos from the Whole Foods’ Healthy Eating Specialist, Traci Barr. At the cooking demo, I photographed the youth crew members learning from Traci, and I also got to learn how cook Ratatouille alongside them. She showed us how vegetables should be treated, prepared and cooked. The coolest part about this experience was seeing the vegetables that I helped grow on the farm turn into a beautiful dish filled with nutrients for our bodies.

Lastly, an amazing part of my internship at Mill Village Farms is having the opportunity to help teach our Youth Entrepreneurship program. My project team is called the “Bread Winnerz’ and we are partnering with a local entrepreneur Banana Manna to create a zucchini bread that benefits both groups. We grow and harvest zucchini on the farm then bake it into a zucchini bread that we hope to sell at our mobile market, a traveling food truck that goes around the community selling produce. In our Wednesday classes we are teaching the teenagers about entrepreneurship but we are also teaching them life skills.

Working as an intern at Mill Village Farms has been such an incredible experience because I’ve gotten to learn about sustainable gardening, community development, and entrepreneurship. My favorite part about this summer is the relationships I’ve built with my coworkers and the teenagers I lead. I am surrounded by a community of people who encourage me, challenge me, and inspire me and I wouldn’t want it any other way.