In 2014, during my sophomore year at Furman, I attended Farm Aid, an annual day-long music festival and environmental rally founded in 1985 by Neil Young, Willie Nelson, and John Mellencamp that serves as a fundraiser for independent U.S. farmers. While attending this festival, I talked to farmers and activists, attended seminars, and heard my musical heroes express their concern for our planet. Neil Young closed his set by donning a black shirt with “EARTH” printed across his chest and stalking the stage, speaking strongly and passionately about the effects of anthropocentric change on “Mother Earth”. This triggered something in me and I left Farm Aid 2014 knowing that I had to do something about the plights our land was facing… or at least equip myself with an education that would give me a fighting chance in doing so.
So, halfway through my time at Furman, I changed my major from Studio Art to Sustainability Science and, though it was a difficult decision, I knew it was the right one. Since then, I have held one position at the Furman Farm and two Shi Center for Sustainability Fellowship positions, all of which have furthered my sustainability science education and experience. I worked at the Furman Farm during my junior year at Furman, which led me to an internship at an organic, urban farm in Columbia, SC the following summer (a side note: if you’ve never worked on a farm, give it a try because it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had). After returning to school the following fall, I began my position as the Shi Center’s Rain Garden and Lake Restoration Research Fellow for which I connected with a leading Greenville landscape design architect to begin manually restoring Furman Lake’s riparian buffer zone and help plant the floating marsh islands that are now installed around the new wooden footbridge on the Lake’s North end. Some of you may have read my blog post from November 2016, “An Update On: The Furman Lake Restoration” in which I further detailed this process. During the Lake Restoration fellowship, I worked with and researched native plants to learn about the importance of native plants in restoring ecosystem functionality, particularly along water systems, which conveniently helped prepare me for my current fellowship position.
My fellowship this summer is with Ty Houck of Greenville County Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. For this project, I’m once again looking into ways to store and improve the quality of stormwater runoff from impermeable surfaces in the Greenville area, this time in the county of Greenville where the Swamp Rabbit Trail will eventually be extended. The land surrounding my project area is urbanized, so when it storms, most surfaces are incapable of absorbing water that would return to the groundwater system if it were able to properly infiltrate the ground surface. Currently, however, this water is flowing into a stream that runs along the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Excessive runoff coupled with the invasive, non-native vegetation that currently surrounds the stream has resulted in an eroded streambank with a straight path. For the first part of my fellowship, I am researching ways to increase the functionality and improve the aesthetic quality of the riparian zone for the stream. Later, I will provide recommendations of changes that could be made to restore the area’s natural function.
I love that the opportunities I’ve had through the Shi Center for Sustainability have been beneficial not only in an academically educational sense, but also in helping me learn about myself and the type of work that I wish to pursue as a recent Furman grad and I could not be more thankful that I have had the chance to participate in the Shi Center fellowship program.