Harvest Time!

Students in ENVS 230 “Sustainable Agriculture” had an exciting lab day on Wednesday:  our first harvest of the spinach we have been growing in our experimental beds since the beginning of the semester.

First, check out the progress of the garden as a whole (compare to planting time five weeks before):

We are striking a balance between scientific experiment and aesthetic pleasure.

First, the science.  Students carefully measure the length of the longest leaf of each plant:

Then harvest and fill up bowls of nearly perfect spinach leaves:

But it’s not all work and no pleasure.  We also have a blind taste test to see if we can discern differences between spinach fertilized with five different fertilizer types:

And finally we just eat salad!

And to think, you get credit for this!

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Learning Garden Update 01

Here is part two of the photo log of the Sustainable Agriculture class’s Learning Garden planting.  (See here for pictures of the initial site preparation).  The class planted two different kinds of beds.  The first were experimental beds with spinach planted in different spacing and fertilizer combinations:

 The students have to plant at precise distances to keep the experiment robust:

They also got a surprise visit from celebrity guest Peg Cornwell, a gardening lover with a green thumb:

The second kind of beds are “personal beds” in which students may plant whatever vegetables they want, and in whatever combinations they desire:

Finally, we also planted several beds of cover crops in order to track their progress over the fall, winter, and even into next spring.  The bottom bed has oats and buckwheat undersown with white clover; the top bed has crimson clover and a special variety of radish that penetrates deep into the subsoil.

Stay tuned for more updates, including the surprisingly robust growth of all of these crops despite being on autumn’s doorstep.

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From Sb’s Desk: Food

I’ve been pleasantly surprised that food is a topic that continues to cross my desk and computer screen. I saw a lot of food-related documentaries this summer, which finally pushed me over the edge to give up meat for a while. I continue to listen about food, and continue to learn about the holistic, all-encompassing benefits of giving up animal products, red-meat in particular.
The problems with red meat are the most dangerous in food production. Combining pastures and the acreage required to grow animal food, a third of the landmass on earth is used to produce meat. Most of the food is corn, which makes cows sick (and in need of a constant antibiotics) and produce more methane than if they were eating grass. Cows produce greenhouse gasses at rates comparable to our transportation system. One pound of meat uses 1800 gallons of water and emits 26 pounds of greenhouse gases in production. (http://www.dothegreenthing.com/blog/what_a_difference_a_meatless_monday_makes) These are objective consequences, not to mention the mistreatment and sad life in industrial-scale farms.
After the animal’s life has passed, there is compelling evidence that meat and dairy consumption, at “Western-diet” amounts (averaging 3x more than other countries), is dangerous and has directly led to our heart problems at least, maybe diabetes, blood pressure, and some cancers as well.

So, if reducing or removing animal products from our diet is so beneficial, why aren’t more people doing it?

My guess is diet norms, and the information produced by the 74 billion dollar industry to perpetuate our high consumption levels. We’ve been told so long we need protein and calcium that we couldn’t get in sufficient amounts without meat and dairy; it’s part of our culture. We were raised to eat sausage or bacon for breakfast, a turkey sandwich or burger for lunch, and a roast beef or chicken for dinner, and one who doesn’t must be weak or malnourished. It doesn’t matter what the food is paired with; you probably won’t eat much of it anyway. They are side-dishes or toppings, those green things. The key to this dismissal of fruits and vegetables is the assumption that they are unnecessary. The truth is that fruits and vegetables are more necessary than ever, with epidemics of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, low energy and high work ethics, and there is compelling evidence that produce could be the cure.

How can we change?

Make vegetarian and vegan dishes the norm. Get yourself comfortable cooking and eating without meat and cheese before lessening butter and eggs. Choose to make butter a special occasion, meat once a month, and cheese a distinct taste instead of a regular topping. These are personal commitments that take individual initiative, and that take motivation. The best way to keep motivated is to find a supportive community who believes the same.
The Westminster Vegan Dinner is a long-standing monthly dinner that builds community with our neighbors as well as our campus friends. The first dinner of the year is Thursday, September 20th. The RSVP system has changed to a website where anyone can sign up for set-up, cooking, attending or clean-up. http://www.westminsterpresbyterianwooster.org/calendar/2012/09/20/wpc-vegan-pot-luck The meals are followed by a speaker with a message applicable to this conscientious community.  All are welcome, and students are not obligated to bring a dish.
COW’s Vegan CoOp will begin Saturday, September 29th under the new leadership of Adair Creach and Jesse Tiffen, mentored by the CoOp senior Brian Lupish. These meals are bi-weekly, but will not feature any speakers. Instead, their purpose is to build campus community and provide a venue for environmentalists to innovate together. RSVPs are also expected online, looking for volunteers to cook and clean as well as attend.

For those who can’t attend these special events, or want to do more day-to-day, Kittredge is open for lunch and dinner, and is always vegetarian. There is a comment box outside of Kittredge for critiques, concerns and compliments.

Something to look for in November: meat-consciousness week. Monday through Wednesday will be a film series about the variety of reasons to go meatless more often, and the problems our massive meat consumption creates. Thursday will coincide with a Westminster Vegan Dinner or Vegan CoOp dinner with an emphasis on joining the regulars to cook a vegan meal. Friday will end with a Meat-Free panel of college community members who will answer questions about how they do it every day.

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The COW Learning Garden: A Space Transformed

Students in ENVS 230 “Sustainable Agriculture” have the unique opportunity to practice what their professor preaches, as they plant and then manage the Learning Garden all autumn as part of their lab experience. The following photos are from their first lab, when they transformed the garden from one large block of buckwheat cover crop into a tidy set of beds for class experimentation.  Watch the gardenscape change! STAY TUNED TO THE BLOG FOR MORE GARDEN UPDATES.

Pre-transformation: Mostly buckwheat, being grown as a cover crop

Students start weeding by hand….

…. and cutting the buckwheat with a scythe!

The weeds are cleared….

… the soil is raked smooth….

… landscape fabric is carefully laid down…

… and covered in straw. Topsoil is added to the soon-to-be beds, and all the buckwheat residue is piled into a giant compost pile (lower left).

And finally the students start marking out their beds.

Now it’s time to plant these seedlings!

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Happenings (September ’12)

Hello there!

Here’s a list of the latest ‘Green’ happenings on Campus.

1. Sustainability Coordinator

The College has finally appointed a Sustainability Coordinator! Hooray!

She is Sarah-Beth Loder. Contact her at sloder@wooster.edu!

 The Wooster Voice is publishing an exclusive article on her, so keep your eyes peeled!

2. Fresh Produce in the C-Store

Hungry for fresh vegetables? Head over to the C-Store and enjoy the taste of freshness in every delicious bite.

 Already enjoying said produce? Send an email of Thanks to The Director of Campus Dining, Chuck Wagers, at Cwagers@wooster.edu!

 3. Read Food Challenge

Check it out at http://realfoodchallenge.org/

Interested? Contact Cara Jackson at CJackson13@wooster.edu!

4. Upcoming Events

Vegan Meal @ Westminster Presbyterian Church

Date/Time: 20 September 2012, 6.00 pm

Location: Mackey Hall @ Westminster Presbyterian Church

Sign Up: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/4090E49AFAF23A13-vegan


Subscribe to the RSS and or stay tuned to updates next month.

Feel free to direct any queries to me at jwu15@wooster.edu

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Fall Events

Welcome back to the start of the school year! We’ll have a number of events of interest this fall. Some are sure to come up later, but here’s a sampling:

The Art Museum will be presenting a video, Tooba, in the Sussel Gallery. Tooba is the name for a woman and a tree, and refers to a mythical female character from the Qur’an that suggests a type of sacred or promised tree. Opening reception is September 6th.

The Wooster Forum includes a speaker, Gidon Bromberg, who will focus on the role of water in the Middle East — how it contributes to conflict and how protecting water can encourage regional cooperation.  He will be speaking in McGaw on October 8th at 7:30.

Also consider venturing off-campus.  Janine Benyus will be speaking about biomimicry in the Great Lakes region at the University of Akron on September 20th.  Tickets are required but some free tickets are available; check here.

Finally, the environmental studies program will continue its bi-weekly brownbag discussions at noon in Morgan 309.  The first one will be September 21. Speaker TBA. Watch this space!

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The urban farming learning curve

Editor’s note:  This is the second of Adam Donnelly’s updates from his summer internship at Community Greenhouse Partners, a startup urban gardening and permaculture initiative in inner-city Cleveland.  Click here to read his first update from June.


The summer moved quickly at Community Greenhouse Partners. Now that my internship is finished, I can look back on how much my knowledge I’ve gained and how much my role in the project has changed. When I started, I needed constant instruction on what to do, how to do it, and what its purpose was. By the end of the internship I was able to work almost independently, seeking out what needed to be done and drawing on previous experience to decide how to best accomplish it. One of the first things I did at CGP was plant a series of beds according to the instruction of the farm manager, Ben. Many weeks later, new beds needed to be planted and Ben was not around to take over the project. So the other intern, Zach, and I used what we learned on that first day and in the previous weeks to guide the planting of these new beds, along with giving instruction to two new interns and several volunteers.

This bed needs planting

By the end of the project Zach and I were primarily responsible for the microgreen program. Microgreens are the first, tiny greens of a plant (we grew sunflower, radish and beet, for example). We were responsible for not only planting them, maintaining them and harvesting them, but had control over what got planted and on what schedule. It was apparent to me how much I had learned about this project in the last several days when I had to walk new interns through the entire process of growing microgreens. I found it extremely difficult to condense 2 and 1/2 months of experience in to a short conversation. To me, this spoke to the value of learning by experience. I found myself unable to transmit many of the things I had learned through trial and error and observation. I may also be a lackluster teacher, but there is certainly a lot of knowledge that simply must come from experience, not instruction.

Greens emerging

I think that is what I’ll take away from this internship, beyond the practical skills of gardening and how to work collaboratively with other people. I learned how important experiential knowledge is, and how being thrown into a situation that you are unfamiliar with is an opportunity to learn new things. I’m excited to take that knowledge with me as I go abroad (to France) next semester, and as I return to Wooster. I would definitely recommend this internship program (and others like it) to another Wooster student next summer.

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LEED Gold!

 The Scot Center has been awarded LEED Gold certification.

First: Hooray! By obtaining LEED Gold certification for the new Scot Center, the College of Wooster is signaling that it values environmental sustainability and is committed to finding ways to reduce its environmental footprint.  As individuals and as institutions, we need to be conscious of the environmental implications of all of our choices, just as we would consider the financial implications, and make those considerations part of our decision process.

Second: What does LEED Gold mean? LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is an internationally recognized set of standards, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2000, to evaluate the way in which a building is designed and constructed.  LEED certification depends on assessment by an independent party, so it’s more than just PR by an institution or architect.

LEED standards evaluate such things as site selection, water use, energy use, materials used and disposed of in construction, indoor air quality, and design innovation. How high a rating a construction project gets depends on how many points it accumulates in different categories. LEED Gold is better than Silver, but not as high as Platinum.

Third: What does LEED certification miss?  It has aroused its share of controversy. Most importantly, it evaluates a building, for the most part, as an object rather than as a process.  If you build a new office building, LEED will say whether the construction of that building was guided by environmental considerations rather than whether or not the building was needed. It also largely ignores the way in which the building is used. So even if you are utilizing a “green” building, you can still do so in an environmentally damaging way. As one critic wrote, “You can drive a Prius in a way that gives you the fuel efficiency of a Hummer.”


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Urban gardening…. for whom?

Here is a post from the other intern working with Community Greenhouse Partners in inner-city Cleveland, Zach Sheehan.  (Click here to read the first post from Adam Donnelly).

* * * * * * *

For the past month I have been living in Cleveland, gardening.  Yes, that’s right, gardening in Cleveland.  I am spending the summer at a non-profit called Community Greenhouse Partners, or CGP for short.  Our property is an old Catholic school building and the surrounding parking lots.  We have built greenhouses right on top of the asphalt; many vegetables do not need very much soil depth to thrive.  I have been learning lots about actual gardening, but working with the soil is only a small part.  I am helping to construct an irrigation system that uses rainwater and gravity to slowly water our plants for us.  In the near future I will be lending my hand in the construction of a new greenhouse.

There’s more to a greenhouse than just the greenhouse. In the climate of northern Ohio, even a greenhouse needs supplemental heat in the winter, which CGP provides here with a homemade and super-efficient “rocket stove” fashioned from an old metal barrel.

So how does this partnership of people plan to help the community with our greenhouses?  The secret is in our micro greens, which we sell for about $16 a pound…wait, how is that supposed to help a poor community?  Isn’t the idea to provide fresh, affordable greens to them?  Not some fancy salad toppings that cost more than many cuts of meat. Unfortunately, like many things in life, this organization needs money to function, and the micro greens are a great source of income.  Ok, so it is not quite as bad as I may be making it seem.  I’m just trying to explain what I was thinking when I arrived.  I partially expected to jump into this great little oasis in the middle of a real live urban desert.  However, as I have been learning, there is quite a gap between the discussions in the classrooms in Wooster to the streets of Cleveland.


In a classroom setting, many discussions end with what may seem like a solution.  For example, the current state of CGP would probably seem like an acceptable solution for the problem of urban food deserts.  It sounds good: a local non-profit growing healthy, organic food for the community.  However, building such infrastructure takes money, and it is hard to make money only selling goods at bottom prices.  So, we end up having two different branches.  We grow micro greens by the pound for high-end restaurants and as snacks for curious customers at farmers markets shoppers, while at the same time growing lots of leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard and lettuce that are cheaper by the pound.  Once again, this may seem like a solution, but that would be assuming that the people we are trying to target know what we are offering, or how to eat it.


What are microgreens? THESE are microgreens!

I have been to multiple markets so far, and at every one I have had people ask me if they could eat the greens we were selling.  People simply do not know many of the vegetables that are out there, especially if they are a little stranger than the normal lettuce and spinach.  This points to another problem besides just availability, people simply do not know what to do with some food.  It is easy to put a TV dinner in the microwave, but harder to know to sauté kale with a little oil and garlic for a tasty treat.  We really need to get the people from the community involved with what we are doing, but once again this takes money.

The plan is to build a long, narrow bed that we can break up into sections so our neighbors can have their own little plots.  We could help them and provide some assistance, but they would be responsible for the wellbeing of their patch.  This would hopefully get them more involved in their food.  Many people do not know, or care really, where their food comes from.  This way we could get them actually involved in getting their dinner, or at least their salad, from a seed to their plates.


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Urban Gardening in Cleveland: Gaining Steam

Following is an update from Adam Donnelly, a rising junior who is one of three Scots serving urban garden internships in Cleveland, sponsored by the Center for Entrepreneurship.  Adam is interning with Community Greenhouse Partners, an ambitious initiative that took over a huge abandoned church and its asphalt-paved property in the heart of east Cleveland last year and is attempting to turn it into an oasis of greenhouses, vegetable beds, and a forest garden.   Sarah Kristeller, an intern working for a more well-established urban gardening program, recently sent in her own update which you can read here.

Here’s Adam:

Tomatoes coming on strong

Things are moving along here at Community Greenhouse Partners. We are currently selling our products at four different farmers markets, are distributing to the local community supported agriculture group “City Fresh”, and have sold our products to multiple local restaurants. We are also in the process of finishing two new hoop-houses and building another from scratch. These new locations will give us more room to plant microgreens, which is becoming our most widely sought after product.

As far as what I am doing personally, I am trying to get involved in as many aspects of the project as possible. I have done lots of laying soil, seeding, watering and harvesting, but have also helped setting up the new irrigation system that will utilize rain water to water the beds on the north side of the site. I have also spent many hours at farmers markets and other events trying to not only sell our food but also let people know what we are doing and why we believe it is important. As I have gained more experience in how the farm runs and in how organic food is produced in general, I have been able to participate more and more in the brainstorming and decision making that goes into making the project move forward. I am no longer just taking orders, but also offering my opinions and suggestions on how things can be conducted more efficiently.

Would you believe this hoophouse is built right on top of asphalt?

I’ve already learned an immense amount about the process of growing food. I know very, very little about biology or ecology, but the environment here at CGP has given practical knowledge in these subjects through loads of hands on experience. I have my own personal garden where I’m allowed to grow (or rather, try to grow) anything I want, and seeing what works and what doesn’t and then asking why, is very rewarding. I am always encouraged to ask questions, and I always receive informative answers. What is most rewarding about the knowledge I’ve gained is that I can almost immediately pass it on to others. There have been countless instances where a volunteer or community member has asked me a question that I was able to answer only because my environment allows me to receive an education in growing food, along with a job doing it.

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