Course Evaluation

Unfortunately, our wonderful semester of permaculture has come to an end.  I don’t think, though, that it’s principles and practices will be forgotten by the five of us as we continue to define our lifestyles and decide how we want to eat, use energy, waste, buy products, and interact with the world.  We were a small class, and that gave us the opportunity to experience some really neat, hands-on activities and discussions.  

How the permaculture principles were modeled within the structure of the course:

  • Each week we read one or two of Holmgren’s principles, and then we focused on those during our class period.
  • For example, after reading Principle One: Observe and Interact, we went for a walk through the Arboretum and actually practiced observing and interacting.  It was neat to watch our textbook’s ideas in the real world, which is something we don’t always get in other classes.
  • The week that we read Principle Six: Produce No Waste, we conducted Holmgren’s Self Audit to see what waste (of time, energy, or money) we were producing.  It was interesting and made me evaluate what I spent my time doing.  It was neat to hear how others in the class had actually made significant changes (like dropping calc!) based on their audit.
  • As we walked through the campus farm’s herb spiral or talked with permaculture business owners or visited the honey bees, we talked about what made these things different – how, specifically, they applied the permaculture principles.  Even talking about school work or our future plans, it was amazing how relevant the principles were!

Changes to course structure that I would recommend:

  • Overall, I liked the structure.  My favorite part was that we were rarely in the classroom – I loved visiting the campus farm and the Arb.  Even on the days we were in the classroom, we had guest speakers, never just lecture.  I think this kept us more engaged.
  • I think that maybe the blogging, reading, magazines, and out-of-class assignments were a bit too much.  I really enjoyed the out-of-class assignments (Farmers Market, Food Co-op) and didn’t mind blogging, so I would keep these two.  But personally, I found the textbook to not be engaging.  This might have just been me, but I had trouble getting through each principle and kind of zoned out as I read.  What about a one-page summary handout of each principle on CTools?  These would be easy to read and easy to refer back to.

Wrapping things up:

  • think all of my blogs are in. Please let me know if I’m missing one!
  • Not as my final assignment, but I’m also looking into internships for this summer. I’ve found two that I really like (though I’m looking for more!), attended an info session, emailed the director, and plan to apply over winter break.
  • I’m about to eat lunch with friends (to eat and socialize and provide a break from homework and plan a club project we have coming up), and later I’m going to run to my committee meeting at the Union so I get there faster and get my workout in.  Yay for stacking functions!
  • And finally, here’s some tea I made with the herbs we picked at the campus farm (this is a really unappealing picture, but I promise it was delicious!!):

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Waste Journal

Thursday

  • snicker doodle box (recycle)
  • q-tip x 4
  • chicken biscuits box (recycle)
  • gum wrappers and gum x 3
  • toilet paper
  • apple core

Friday

  • paper towel x 2
  • noodle package (recycle)
  • tissue x 16
  • toilet paper
  • gum wrappers and gum x 2
  • gum wrapper x 6
  • apple core
  • q-tips x 2
  • candy wrapper
  • paper cup
  • pipe cleaner
  • lots of dust and hair (from the vacuum)
  • plastic ziplock bag (recycle)
  • sticky notes x 5
  • leaves of paper x 14 (recycle)
  • empty milk carton (recycle)
  • tea bag
  • fabric softener sheet
  • package boxes x 2

Saturday

  • paper towel
  • toilet paper x 3

The general trend I’ve observed is that the more I’m outside of my dorm room, the less waste I tend to directly create. Perhaps it’s because I am always snacking when I’m at my dorm. It was interesting though, because I ended up wasting less than I thought I would (except on Friday when I cleaned the room)! Perhaps I missed some things and left stuff laying around instead of throwing it out right away. On Saturday, I was out of my dorm for almost the whole day and avoided creating too much waste so that I did not have to find a trashcan nearby. But I may have also missed recording some waste because I did not always have my notepad with me. I could change my snacking habits or snack in more environmentally friendly ways to reduce some of this waste.

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Farmer’s Market

I met two stand owners at the Kerrytown Farmer’s Market~

Walking through the market was nice and relaxing! The bustle of people there reminded me of the farmer’s market back at home, and it was a great trip to get off campus and see people other than the students and professors on campus.

The first one was Debbie Marx, who made all the jewelry herself! I asked her where she found her materials and she said that she’s had a fascination with gems ever since she was five so that’s when she started collecting beautiful stones. She goes to gem shows, and buys them from places, and finds them, and basically gets her materials from anywhere–there is no specific one place.

She gave me a sheet with a short autobiography to make my assignment easier and she told me that all students get a dollar off whatever they buy! Wow! Overall, speaking to her was a fun experience and she was a really friendly person.

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The second one seemed to be in a rush because I did go to the market sort of late, but she sells purses and wallets that she had made herself. Her name is Diana and she gets her materials from distributors. She’s been doing this for 40 years! Holy cow!

I didn’t get to take a picture though, sadly, because she seemed so hurried and busy. Maybe next time.

I wish the Farmer’s Market was a little bit closer to campus; I love the atmosphere and definitely would visit more often!

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My Ecological Footprint

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According to the footprint calculator, if the world populace adopted my lifestyle, at least 3.7 planets would be required to sustain everybody. I was actually surprised by these results, since after measuring my waste recently I realized how wasteful I really am, and expected the number of planets to be higher. 

For this questionnaire I went back in time and treated it as if I were living in my senior year of high school because I figured trying to estimate my energy usage here would be too difficult and inaccurate, whereas I have a pretty good idea of my house’s energy bills this past year. For me/my family, the main source of impact on the earth was in the services category, which I’m assuming encompasses heating, running water, and electricity services. Next came food, which was not at all surprising to me. While my meat consumption is relatively low, I have an unfortunate addiction to packaged foods which probably skyrocketed my waste/energy levels, considering there are numerous steps to the final product.

I don’t want to take the results from this footprint calculator too seriously, though. Since I used data from my household last year, it was hard to distinguish between how much of the impact on the earth was from solely me, and what was from my family collectively. Additionally, since my lifestyle has changed drastically now that I’ve moved to college, I’m sure I’m at least a little eco-friendlier this year. I walk everywhere now, I recycle more, and I keep my electricity usage as low as possible. There’s definitely room for me to improve, such as eating locally grown food and less packaged junk food; hopefully this year will see an execution of these changes to my lifestyle.

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Reflection

The honors course “Beyond Sustainability: The Methodology and Practices of Permaculture,” was unlike any class I have ever taken in my life. While I have a decent background in environmental science, permaculture was a new idea to me. While it continues to be a difficult concept to understand, the combination of the book and class time provided a great introduction to a practice I hope to keep involved me. 

Holmgren’s “Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability” provided an extremely detailed descriptions of the twelve Permaculture Design Principles. While the book was fairly dense at times, it gave all the necessary information to understand each principle, including a general idea and multiple examples. 

I found class time and “field trips” incredibly valuable throughout the course. While the book highlighted the principles of the movement, class time made the idea applicable and more real. We were able to see how Holmgren’s principles were actually used by people designing the campus farm, the arb, and home gardens. These trips also showed how easy it is to integrate permaculture into my own life. I know have a basic knowledge of herbology, how to create the most efficient garden, and much more! I loved getting out of the typical classroom setting, as it “created a disturbance,” and broke the routine of an otherwise strenuous day of classes.

The outside of class workload was a bit more than I expected for a one credit course. Sometimes it was hard to come up with ideas for a blog. As such, I decided to look into applying for summer internships instead of completing all of the blogs. While I haven’t applied to any yet, I’ve made some progress in terms of location and type of internship. I’m glad this was an option as it motivated me to start looking for internships early!

I thought that the reading required for the course was also a bit difficult. Holmgren’s book was extremely detailed, which made it a very slow read. For future classes, I would recommend either just skimming the book, or going over the principles with somewhat less detail in class and not using the book at all. I thought the class time was definitely more valuable than the reading. 

Overall, it was a great course! The instructor was obviously very passionate about the topic, and very willing to help students not only within the class, but in outside endeavors such as applying to internships and building resumes. I’m so happy I took the course, as it provided a different setting for me to learn a new topic, and gave me ideas for what I want to continue studying. 

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UM Sustainability Town Hall

Last week, I attended the University of Michigan Sustainability Town Hall. Having never been to a Town Hall meeting of any sort, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was very impressed with the event as a whole.

Upon arrival, there were stations set up with posters detailing different aspects of the University’s sustainability goals, a table with dozens of relevant texts, and of course, snacks.

After a few minutes, the speakers began. First someone spoke about climate change in general, and the arising problems. The next speaker addressed more specific affects to our region, and the last speaker discussed solutions to such problems and how the university is taking action.

Following the brief presentations, the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions. I was surprised by how many people lined up to speak. Everyone who asked a question seemed well learned in their topic, and genuinely interested to hear the answers. Overall, people seemed especially concerned with the University of Michigan’s steps to fight climate change.

Based off of the speakers’ answers, it seems that there are a lot of programs within the university that are addressing climate change, they are just not well advertised. The Planet Blue Ambassador program seemed to be one the speakers were proud of and very invested in. As a Planet Blue Ambassador, I will try to do a better job of making other sustainability programs at the university more well known. I’m glad I went to the Town Hall, and will definitely stay updating with the issues discussed. 

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My Ecological Footprint

Today, I took an online quiz to measure my ecological footprint, and came up with some shocking results. According to the Earth Day Network quiz, it would take over 5 Earths to provide enough resources if everyone lived like me.

While I know that I have access to and use more resources than many people across the globe, I was still extremely surprised to see my quiz results.  I don’t eat meat, always recycle, walk almost everywhere, only use public transport or carpools, and share a building with hundreds of other students! How can my lifestyle still warrant 5.5 Earths?!

The answer comments on the lifestyle of Americans as a whole. Just by clicking on “USA” for the first question raised my ecological footprint immensely. The footprint of someone with the same answers to everything but in a different country would undoubtedly be lower.

Unfortunately, I can’t put all the blame on my country of residence. My air travel added a lot to my ecological footprint, as well as my eating habits–not much of my food is locally grown. While I’m unlikely to reduce the amount of plane trips I take, I can take steps to decrease my footprint by eating more from sustainable sources. With a little research and more trips to the farmers market, maybe I can cut down the number of Earths I would need by the next time I take the quiz.

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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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Waste Journal

Over the past three days, I’ve tried to document all of my waste. Before I started, I defined waste as anything that I recycle or throw out, including food. Throughout the process, I discovered that I really don’t waste as much as I thought. 

Every morning, I threw out a couple tissues and a granola bar wrapper from my breakfast. Every night, I threw away a make-up remover wipe, and a piece of floss–not things that could be reused. 

The rest of my waste generally came from what I ate. I always threw out napkins after meals, and occasionally tossed food that I didn’t finish. I had a couple more granola bar wrappers, and an empty bottle that I recycled. One day, I went to a bagel breakfast with an organization, and had to throw out a plate, fork, and cup. Otherwise, I don’t tend to use paper utensils. 

Over the couple days I kept track of my waste, I discovered that most of what I throw out is not excess. I could definitely limit my waste by making sure not to take more food than I can eat, and by always remembering to bring my water bottle with me so I don’t have to buy extra bottles!

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Waste Journal

I started a three-day waste journal at the end of September, to try to capture my “beginning of semester” waste habits.  Below is the result.  Hopefully at the end of the semester I’ll do another three-day waste journal and see how they compare.

My definition of waste: Anything that I put in a trash can or even recycling bin (I include recyclables because it takes so much water and energy to recycle, and ultimately it would be better for me to not use the bottle, etc. at all) .  I also included organic matter, like apple cores, as waste because I’m pretty sure that the only dining hall that composts post-consumer waste is East Quad, and I didn’t eat at East Quad on any of these days.

Thursday, September 19

  • Greek yogurt container (recycled)
  • Apple cores (3) (I wasn’t sure whether to include organic matter as waste.  For the most part I think I decided it was waste. East quad composts – the other dining halls should, too!)
  • Apple sticker (why do they need these?)
  • Cardboard pizza tray
  • Sugar packet
  • Gum
  • Gum wrapper
  • Cotton balls (2)
  • Toilet paper 
  • Paper towel (2)
  • **Didn’t take little slip of paper with route on it at running club**

 

Friday, September 20

  • Coffee cup
  • Gum (2)
  • Gum wrapper (2)
  • Sugar packets (2)
  • Cantaloupe rinds
  • Straw
  • Stickie note
  • Toilet paper
  • Napkin 
  • **Didn’t take any paper towels!**
  • **Didn’t take route slip at running club!**

 

Saturday, September 21

  • Protein bar wrappers (2)
  • Apple cores (2), banana peel, pineapple rind
  • Sticker on apple
  • Greek yogurt carton (recycled)
  • Frozen meal packaging (box recycled)
  • Toilet paper flushed
  • Cotton balls (2)
  • Club handouts (recycled – I also said no to the handouts from my other mass meeting!)
  • Napkin
  • **Didn’t use paper towel to dry my hands!**
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