Class Analysis

Every week I looked forward to going to class, not just because I was interested in the topic of sustainability, but because every class I learned new ways to make my life more sustainable and in accordance to permaculture principles.  Through this class I was able to greatly expand my knowledge on how much of a difference I can make by doing seemingly small things.  For example, through our walks through the Arb I learned the various ways to use local produce to its full extent, and also through our waste journal and the subsequent tours of the campus farm I learned how important it is to use everything to its potential.  At the campus farms I found it amazing how little space they were using to produce and cultivate so many different varieties of plants and herbs.  This really reinforced the principles of stacking functions and maximizing the potential of local plants that I found so interesting in Holmgren’s text and in the class.  I feel that in the other environmental classes I have taken they have been focussed too much on the ‘big picture’ and how large corporations are screwing up our ecosystem beyond repair, and something that I loved about this class is how it focused specifically on what we can do and what we still can change, and in that way it gave me such an optimistic view about all the small things that I have started to do that will truly make a difference.  So many of the principles that Madeline taught us are very applicable to daily life, and I felt that this class went beyond the classroom and taught us to discover the spaces and nature that exists around us at this University and the vast amount of resources that we have at our disposal.  Not only are permaculture principles relevant for our ecosystem but many principles like stacking functions and using our resources to the full extent were really great for me to hear because as a freshman at this university it can sometimes feel very overwhelming, and it is nice to have a direction as to how I can really start to take advantage of the great opportunities that being at Michigan gives me.   I really enjoyed going to the campus farms and visiting areas of campus that I would not have seen otherwise, so I definitely would have kept that the same, the one thing that I might have changed was I really would have enjoyed working more hands on with the campus farms, and it might have been cool to be able to do our own sustainability ‘project’ and be able to plant some vegetables or plants local to Michigan and see how they grow and change through the course, applying sustainability concepts to how we grow them along the way.

I also elected to search for an internship, and that process is going well so far. I had a meeting with the career center a couple weeks ago to get me started on that process and have identified the way that I want to go about looking for an internship, most likely through the career center and using the resources of the University.  I am really excited to highlight a specific field and pick a company to work with, but I am not yet decided on the specific field of work that I want to apply for this summer, most likely I will apply for a broad range of different areas and then see which one suits me best!  I had a great experience with this course and am excited for the rest of my experience as a student at the University of Michigan!

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Waste Journal

Day one (Friday November 1) :

-Cereal Bar wrapper

-coffee cup and coffee sleeve

-two pieces of paper

-the frillies on the side of paper

-four gum wrappers

-five tampons, tampon applicators and wrappers

-the sleeves of a shirt that I cut for halloween

-three Q-tips

-a bag of chips

-half a pb sandwich

-a water bottle

-three cups

-a paper plate

-five paper towels

-half a piece of chicken, a third of a plate of salad, a little bit of yogurt

-toilet paper

-25 napkins (in the cafeteria)

Day Two (Sunday November 3)

-A box of Altoid mints

-3 gum wrappers

-two blueberry pancakes and three pieces of bacon, a third of a hot chocolate

-a twix and sweettarts wrapper

-the halloween spider web stuff that I put up on my dorm door

-a cup of water

-two paper bags

-a small shipping box

-toilet paper

-mac and cheese container

-two plastic forks

-an Emergen-c container

-a broken hair tie

-10 tissues

-an orange peel

-two banana peels

-a jar of peanut butter

-a straw

-two small goldfish bags

-three Q-tips

Day Three (Monday November 4)

-three Q-tips

-toilet paper

-15 napkins (cafeteria)

-a half a bowl of cereal

-two banana peels

-some peanut butter

-seven gum wrappers

-three sheets of loose-leaf paper

-two pencils

-four AA batteries

-chapstick

-an m&m’s bag

-a small box and small wrapper of sour patch watermelon

-four tissues

-an empty bottle of toothpaste

-half a salad, a little bit of toast, A third of a piece of chicken from the cafeteria that was really spicy!

-ice cubes

-a box from pizza house

-a drink container and lid and straw from pizza house

-plastic wrappers

-a plastic cup

-a dasani water bottle

-tape

It was really interesting to me how much my waste varied depending on the day that I was recording it.  I am sure that there is a lot that I missed, just because I am not used to recording my waster and probably passed over a couple things that would be considered waste.  It is important to state, however, that my personal definition for waste in this exercise was goods that I threw away, rather it be recycled or put in the trash, and food that I did not eat that went to waste, even if it was composted.  I actually thought that I wasted a lot more than I did, but after looking through the waste journal I am going to try and use less paper towels, because I tend to use a lot of those, and that would be something that I could cut out fairly easy!

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Stacking Functions to prevent the Freshman 15 (Op-ed)

College is a time for experimentation and maturation.  A time where parents and teachers don’t nag you to get your work finished or to get to bed at a reasonable time.  This new ‘freedom’ can be seen through phenomenon like the commonly feared freshman 15.  The freshman 15 can be conquered through working out, but many students claim that they do not have the time with their studies.  Since arriving at college I have been experiencing different ways to creatively combat the freshman 15 from not keeping food in my room, which just leads to me eating my neighbors food, to trying to run on the treadmill while reading a book for my English class, which is very ineffective because it is very difficult to read while sweat is dripping down your face.  Although I must have looked a little crazy I finally found that reading while biking is the most effective, and it is okay to keep foods in your room as long as they are semi-healthy.

This concept of stacking functions and multitasking has been vital to my survival at college, and it can be useful for many other groups of people than just college students. Just as I try to maximize my time by combining things that I want to do, companies try to maximize their resources to get the most use of them. The use of fracking exemplifies this, in order to get every since last drop of oil out of the ground companies have begun to put chemical mixtures and pressure into the ground to force up this oil.  Although controversial for many reasons, the primary use for frocking is so that the oil companies can make the maximum amount of profit and produce the biggest amount of oil possible.

The oil company figured out the best way to get the most out of something, and if that principle was applied to or our daily lives there would be much less waste.  That shirt that I only wore once? I have discovered in college that there really is no reason to wash it if there is no stain on it or it doesn’t smell.  Now that may seem silly or gross, but laundry costs $1.25 and think of how many times washing that same pair of pants that never really get dirty can add up to.

Multitasking seems almost self-explanatory, if you can get two things done at once, why wouldn’t you? But a lot of times, while going through the check list of the day, people don’t take the couple minutes to see if there are things that can be done at the same time, for instance, why can’t you fold your laundry while cooking dinner?

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Disturbance to Students and soil

Excited to finally be able to sleep in past nine on a weekday, I am startled awake by the sound of jackhammers at the early hour, for a college student, of 8 am.  I woke up and looked out to see where the noise was originating from.  It turns out that the parking lot across the street from my dorm is being torn up and I looked down at what used to be a concrete slab which was now a big square of dirt covered by vehicles and construction workers.  I started to wonder what that lot used to look like with plants growing on it.  What a nice scenery to look out on.  Instead, I look out into the concrete abyss with endless cars rotating in and out as the lights from the lamps blare 24/7 into the window of my dorm room.

It was hard to imagine what I had always seen as a parking lot being anything different until I woke up that morning to see all the soil.  This brown nutrient-deprived soil had once been vibrant and full of life with plants and animals alike living and growing.  The way many cities and towns have developed they have neglected to preserve the wild-life and original soil, uprooting plants and forever changing the composition of the land.  It is hard to reverse what has already been done but steps can always be taken to try and conserve the soil and regrow plants that are native.   I do not know what this parking lot will be turned into, whether it is just being repaved, or will be a big parking garage.  But seeing the ground that had been covered for so many years by concrete made me see how destructive urbanization is to nature, and how, with cooperation we could use nature to better our lives while preserving the earth.  I hope one morning to wake up to look out to see some semblance of nature outside my window, but for now I have to get used to the early morning wake-up calls.

 

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Carbon Footprint

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I recently visited the Global Footprint Network to calculate my Carbon Footprint.  I entered in the amount of meat I ate, how much I drove, how much trash I think I waste, and many other details about my day to day life.  As I clicked the button that said ‘calculate’ I expected it to say my footprint was three, maybe four planets, but I was shocked when the result came up as 6 planets.  This means that if everyone in the world consumed and wasted as I do that it would take six planets to sustain the population.  This is a scary number.  I view myself as one that recycles and tries to limit my waste generated, when, in fact I am actually wasting much more than I think.  Something that I did not think about that has a big impact is eating local.  If I were to eat foods that were more locally grown, this reduces the number of miles that trucks have to travel in order to get the produce to me.  A lot of ones carbon footprint is based on how well they utilize the resources readily available to them, and how well they utilize the earth.  For example, during the day, it is not necessary to keep the lights on because of the natural light.  This is just one easy fix that if done every day will reduce ones utilization of electricity.  There are so many seemingly small things that I can change day-to-day that will in reality make a big difference on how many resources I waste.  As a result of this calculation of what kind of a footprint I have it has made me re-evaluate what things I really need, and what I can re-use or not use at all in order to reduce the amount of damage I am doing to the earth.  The earth is a resource that we will need to live of for millions and millions of years after we are gone, so I want to make sure that I treat it well, because we only have one.

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Overfilled Recycling Bin

As I lay awake in the library attempting to finish the last couple pages of a reading assignment, the constant hum of the printer consumes my thought.  Student after student get up from their chairs to claim the latest bunch of paper the printer furiously spurts out to accommodate the line of waiting undergraduate students.  As I squint at my shining computer screen I try to justify not printing out the reading, telling myself that I am saving up my allotted printing pages by instead looking at the pdf version.

So, what is the reason? Why are we printing all these pages when it is just as easy, and more cost effective, to obtain something electronically. The reason is that there will always be a difference between reading a book on, say, a kindle, or holding the book in your hands and being able to feel the texture of the pages as you comb through it.  This is what makes the decision of printing or not a hard decision to make.  I, personally, read better when looking at a hard copy of something.  I am a big fan of annotations and clog the margins of readings with weird thoughts and insights.  Those who have an easier time committing things to memory by reading a hard copy find it hard to read pages upon pages of a textbook from a screen.

Seeing recycling bins stuffed to the brim with used papers is good, we can repurpose those, however, wouldn’t it be nice to not even use the paper in the first place? Sometimes, as a student, your teacher tells you to print something, because sometimes they want a hard copy instead of electronic.  In this instance, it is not your choice to decide whether to save that paper or not.  I think for most undergraduate students, though, the thought that printing out that 50 page handout might not be the best use for paper is a passing one, as their studies take precedence over saving the environment. It is understandable to focus on studying, and the here and now of reading an assignment due soon.  In the type of college environment that we are in, we have so many resources available to us that we take for granted what the pounds of paper wasted each day actually do to the earth and the larger impact that saving one piece of paper could have.

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A memorable Saturday afternoon at the Farmers Market

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This is the Brines Farm stand.  I talked to the father of Shannon Brines, who started the farm.  His son started this farm behind his house with a small garden, and last spring they bought 88 more acres in Wester Township so they can grow more foods.  His son started to grow Organic foods because he was worried about where his food came from, and he did not like the fact that he did not know exactly what was used to produce his food, and if it was really organic or not.  Brines Farm uses totally organic methods to grow, and uses composted soil that they buy in order to reuse one of the earths valuable resources: soil.  Mr. Brines was very knowledgable about the process of growing organically and it was interesting to see how much work went into cultivating their spinach versus what goes into the mass grown spinach sold at our cafeterias or the grocery store.

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This is Julie, the owner and founder of Tasty Bakery.  I was drawn to this stand by the sign that said “gluten-free,” because one of my best friends is gluten free, and I thought it would be nice to get her some cookies.  Little did I know that I would love the cookies as well! As I began talking to Julie, I discovered that she created her bakery four and a half years ago after she discovered she had Celiacs disease.  She later began discovering more and more food allergies of hers that limited the sweets she could eat, which is why she wanted to start this company.  All of her baked goods are cooked with fair trade, organic, real ingredients.  And when I asked if there was a particular baked good that she was the most proud of she said without hesitation, “My Chocolate Chip Cookie!” She tinkered with some recipes and finally figured out the perfect combination of bases for it, and after telling me what they were she offered me one to try! Even though I can eat gluten this was easily one of the best cookies I’ve ever tasted, and it amazes me still how much better it is for you than, say, one of the mass made cookies in the cafeterias. I ended up buying a dozen cookies to give to various friends and to eat myself, and if you are interested in buying Tasty Bakery cookies they are for sale at various coffee shops and Deli’s around Ann Arbor, I know I will be buying many more!

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Another stand owner that I talked to was Mr. and Mrs. Brereton.  I was curious how they came up with the idea to make hickory syrup instead of the classic Maple syrup and found that they stumbled upon the idea when in a hardware store in Ohio, of all places.  They researched it more and started to buy Hickory Bark and boil it and sweeten it to make the syrup. I tasted the syrup and it is a lot more viscous than maple syrup, and you can taste the smokiness and sweetness that is the result of the syrup originating from bark.  At first, they started doing this just for fun, but now, in retirement, always sell at the farmers market.  Not only does Derek Brereton make his own Hickory Syrup, but he is also a published author of two books.  His new one called Old Barns and Country Skills of Southeast Michigan was recently published, and this was the first famers market where he had copies to sell! Outside of making the syrup Derek is very interested in human relationships to the landscape.  In his book, he discusses how before the car came out the barns were the center of life and how now it can be seen that many old farms are not being preserved and are rotting and collapsing.  With his beautiful photographs of barns around Michigan and his own barn and cabin that he and his wife built, it is clear that his interest in farming and agriculture goes way beyond selling syrup.

It is amazing the diverse and interesting stories that the people at the farmers market had.  They were more than willing to share their stories to me and I know that I will be visiting again soon! Below are some pictures of other vegetables and various things that I took pictures of at the market!

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