Working in the Lending Library

March 7, 2015  |  Sust Blog, Alicia Perez '17

The Lending Library started with the purpose to bring new life to used books. Students were giving away books that future students were going to need. The Office of Sustainability saw this as an opportunity. We started collecting books at the end of each academic year and making them available to the whole campus community at the start of the following year for free. This way, students can save money by not purchasing expensive books and the books are not thrown away after only being used by one person.

The Lending Library’s system is simple: once a student checks out a book, it is theirs until the end of the semester. There is no limit to the number of books that a single student can check out; however, it is a library, so students have to return the books at the end of each semester to help the program continue.

We are now working to make the Lending Library both easier to use and more efficient. The first step is reorganizing the books and creating a cataloguing system that makes them easy to track. We are also starting a new system for checking out and checking in books so that the Lending Library is open and available for as many students as possible. In the future, we are looking to know what books people need the most and cater to those needs.

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The Food Hub Project

March 7, 2015  |  Sust Blog, Brent Lo '16  |  Sust Blog, Julia Goldman '15  |  Sust Blog, Julia Goldman '15

As a member of the New London County Food Policy Council Food Hub Project, we are currently partnered with the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut and New Venture Advisors in conducting a food hub feasibility study for New London County. The Council is a collaboration of food growers, local institutions and organizations, and strives to ensure that affordable and nutritious food is available to every resident of southeastern Connecticut. One effective way that has been replicated in other regions around the country is the creation of food hubs.

Food hubs are organizations that aggregate, market, and distribute the products of local and regional producers, with the end goal of strengthening the local food economy. Buyers might include restaurants, schools and grocery stores, and chefs, while suppliers would mainly rely on local farmers and specialty producers. Our consultants, New Venture Advisors, have been hired onto this project with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as part of a federal initiative aimed at improving local food system stability.

However, in order to implement a food hub, we are conducting a feasibility study, which entails a large scale cost-benefit analysis, a local production analysis and a local demand/consumption analysis. We are currently beginning the data collection process that will allow us to complete these three important analyses. To achieve this study we are collaborating with New Venture Advisors, a consultant group with expertise in food systems! To start the study we had a kick off event. The event took place at the Charter Oak Credit Union Headquarters in Waterford on Thursday, February 26, at 8:30 AM. There was a portion that was a presentation from the consultants and the leaders of the study, and we then broke up into three tables, having conversations about the food possibility of a food hub. We had over 50 community members from all across the county representing the sectors that will collectively make this study a success: growers, buyers, government, hospitals, non-profits, and K-12 and higher education. We were incredibly pleased to see the wide variety of community organizations represented at the kick-off event because this effort belongs to everyone in New London County and its ultimate success will depend on our commitment to open and dynamic collaboration.

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Policy work for the New London County Food Policy Council

February 15, 2015  |  Sust Blog, Eleanor Hardy '15

When I explain to most people that I do policy work for The Office of Sustainability, they look puzzled. I imagine this is because their first thoughts are somewhere along the lines of “how is policy environmental?” Or for those with a greater understanding of the definition of sustainability, "what does policy contribute to the spheres of holistic sustainability?” To be perfectly honest, I had similar thoughts, and only recently have I really begun to understand the relationship between policy and sustainability, and how my work with the New London County Food Policy Council (NLCFPC) has had widespread, and more importantly, lasting impact.

Doing policy work involves many things, first, getting to know politicians and forming relationships and researching what currently policies are in place. Next comes critically examining if current policies are effective and developing policy recommendations, in addition to extensive amounts of research into other policy councils and seeing what has been successful.

In working with the NLCFPC, there are many facets to food policy, from affordability and accessibility, to education and agriculture. While these different working groups develop ideas in order to make the work more sustainable while also benefitting the most people, the policy-working group is there to ensure that these changes are sustained as policies are what people are required to follow. If policy work were not present, then these new and creative ideas would not be everlasting and therefore not sustainable.

Because policy and the council itself deal with many different facets of food policy, the work we do is widespread. Our first job is to compile a list of policy priorities. By working with each working group I have been able to narrow down a specific policy to examine and critique what currently exists, while also working to develop policy recommendations and other improvements that can make a policy more sustainable. For example, Connecticut is part of the $10.10 minimum wage increase. While people initially think that an increase in minimum wage is a great thing, it's important to examine the whole picture. The increase means more money for people, especially those currently living in poverty, but it may also mean that they no longer qualify for SNAP or WIC benefits due to the increase in their salary. Policies such as these are important to consider, especially as they also overlap with affordability and accessibility of foods.

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A garden for the children

February 15, 2015  |  Sust Blog, Rebecca Brill Weitz '18  |  Sust Blog, Soo Cho '17

Our project is working to renovate the garden that belongs to the Connecticut College Children’s Program at 75 Nameaug Avenue. They have a small garden next to the school that the Office of Sustainability is working to bring new life into, in the form of vegetables for them to eat.

When we first started working, the ground was barely visible, the weeds and plants had gotten to the height of an adult! In other words, it was a mess and hardly what anyone would call a "garden". The first step was the clean it up. In two weekends and with the help of a couple of helping hands, we were able to clear the entire garden so the walkways were visible. We were now able to see the outline of the entire garden. After shoveling dirt out of the walkways in one workday, we were able to lay gravel stones everywhere, with the help of the amazing Jim Luce from Facilities, of course.

Now, we are actively looking/applying for grants so that we can fund the growth of the garden, like planting and maintenance. We are also collaborating with one of UConn's program called "Husky Reads." Their goal is to provide basic nutrition information and healthy food tasting to young children. Paige Ziplow, a Senior at Conn, is piloting a similar program at the Children's Program! Through this collaboration, we hope to work more closely with the children to integrate a solid garden curriculum into their education program.

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Mystery Solved: The (not-so-secret) Food Systems Sustainability Fellows Projects

November 13, 2014  |  Sust Blog, Julia Goldman '15  |  Sust Blog, Julia Goldman '15

This year, the Connecticut College Office of Sustainability has partnered with the New London County Food Policy Council (NLCFPC), hiring student fellows to help implement the plans of the Council. NLCFPC works to reduce food insecurity, improve diet-related health, and expand the viability of local agriculture throughout New London county. There are fellows working in five different areas to accomplish these goals. Each fellow works with community partners, allowing the fellows to make real connections with the community at large and to make lasting impacts.

The Emergency and Supplemental Food Systems Fellow, Ariana Pazmino ’18, and the Food Insecurity Fellow, Emma Galante ’15, work together to increase access to sustainable food in the county. Ariana collaborates with the Gemma E. Moran Food Center and Emma focuses on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)/WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) benefits. The Nutrition Education Fellow, Paige Ziplow ’15, meets with the Farm to School coordinator in the county to develop high school level workshops for students on sustainable food as well as curriculum for preschoolers and their parents and teachers at the Connecticut College Children’s Program in coordination with the Holleran Center. Eleanor Hardy ’15, the Policy Fellow, concentrates on implementing policy changes that affect the food system within the county and its residents. The final area of focus is on a food hub. The Council received a grant from the USDA to conduct a food hub feasibility study in the county, so the Food Hub Fellows, Wesley Conner ’17 and Brent Lo ’16, are searching for a consultant group to hire in order to complete that study.

As the Senior Fellow on the project, I oversee all of the work of the fellows, in collaboration with Josh Stoffel, Sustainability Officer at the College. Everyone is extremely excited about the impact this project can have on the county as well as the opportunities for community engagement! 

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The Return of the Frost

November 13, 2014  |  Sust Blog, Christine Roundtree '15

The Sprout Garden epitomizes time’s evanescence. As I walked in the garden at the end of summer, I worried about how weeds would eventually overtake the ripe vegetables and fruits. Fortunately, however, the student gardeners that arrived in the fall dispelled my fears that the summer’s work would go to waste.

When I met the other students, I knew our teamwork would make our garden the best it has ever been. We planned out the fall crop sections during our weekly meetings and divided the garden in order to manage each portion. Our planning has helped us to prioritize our tasks and remain organized.

We let the sunflowers and last three basil plants seed in the hopes that birds would peck away the pests and that individuals would enjoy the sunflower seeds and the sight of beautiful Velvet Queen sunflowers in the future. We also have covered our hoop house to allow us to grow greens and roots all winter long. Our effort to cover the hoop house went more smoothly than ever before, with more than 10 student and staff volunteers showing up to help. We owe a special thanks to the four Library staff that came up to help with this effort!

This fall, we had the honor to meet with one of the major donors who has supported the expansion and ongoing success of the Sprout Garden. We gave her a grand tour of the garden. She was impressed with the amount of hard work we had contributed to the garden and wished us luck for the winter season. Sure enough, it has been a terrific semester with the help of such caring and invested student gardeners. 

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Children to Get Groovy in the Garden

October 9, 2014  |  Sust Blog, Rebecca Brill Weitz '18  |  Sust Blog, Soo Cho '17

Did you know that Connecticut College has its own Children’s Program? It is located at Holmes Hall, 75 Nameaug Avenue (right down the road from the River Ridge Apartments). With about 90 students, the Children’s Program is an early childhood preschool program for young children of all backgrounds. The Program’s curriculum is based on the premise that play enables children to interact and learn from their environment. The children have enjoyed and learned from their interactions with the Children’s Program garden.

This year, the Office of Sustainability is collaborating with the Children’s Program to completely renovate the garden! We, Rebecca Brill Weitz and Soo Cho, are the Office of Sustainability fellows working on the many phases of this exciting project.

With the frost approaching, Mother Nature has set us an approaching deadline for getting work in the garden done this fall. We began our project by weeding, a hefty task given the garden’s location on prime sunny real estate. Fortunately, after just two days of weeding, we could see the layout of the garden. We now must decide how much of the current infrastructure to keep. Since the garden lies on a slope, we plan add crushed stone to all pathways in an effort to support rainwater to naturally filter into the ground.

Once we finalize the layout of the garden, we will decide on what to plant and where each plant will be placed. We will first choose the locations of the flower bulbs and garlic. The rest can be decided over a good cup of hot cocoa after the snow comes. After the bulbs are in the ground, we will mulch the garden and then let it sleep under the soft blanket of snow.

Long-term goals include building a curriculum for the students that incorporates the garden into their daily activities, mapping out the garden’s produce, and writing grant proposals. We want this garden to not only look awesome, but to be a place where the children come together to play and to grow. Keep an eye out for more updates about this amazing project!

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Sprout It Up, Harvest It Out: A Snapshot of Sprout Garden in the Summer

October 9, 2014  |  Sust Blog, Christine Roundtree '15

While the summer air made its way through Connecticut, carrots, onions, snow peas, and kale peeked through the dirt. Armed with a handy dandy post hammer, a four-foot ladder, and measuring tape, Emily and I successfully built a stable trellis system to support the growing snow peas in just two days! The addition of a tiller, new ventilation system for the hoop house and an irrigation system made the planting, weeding, and seeding processes efficient and enjoyable, even on hot and humid days.

Thanks to a kind donation from Jim Luce, Supervisor of Grounds at Connecticut College, of about seven different pepper plants, we yielded a spicy crop last summer. The types of peppers ranged from Habanero to Jamaican Hot Chocolate to Devil’s Tongue. Jim also donated eight zucchini squashes, which successfully filled a whole bed. We eliminated the raised beds at the entrance of the garden, making room for about 47 and a half beds full of popcorn corn, tomatoes, summer squash, carrots, snow peas, and kale. We also planted marigolds including African Tururu, African Special and Mexican Aztec Marigolds and three different types of sunflowers: Mammoth Sunflower, Sunshine Sunflower and Velvet Queen Sunflower.

Strategically aligned onions grew beside those beautiful sunflowers, which reached a foot prior to their harvest. Basil, meaning “king” in Greek, filled several beds. With a 184 plants, Basil certainly ruled the garden and produced delicious pesto. We look forward to another great summer season next year. In the meantime, taste the fruits of our fall labor in Harris and get involved harvesting this fall! 

 ‌Christine Roundtree '15 Sprout Garden sale

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Dishing Up Portland

September 22, 2014  |  Sust Blog, Azul TellezĀ '15

Azul Tellez and Emily MacGibeney are the Office of Sustainability’s Sprout Garden Fellows. Emily also served as a Waste Minimization Fellow in the office before going abroad for the Fall 2014 semester. They led a sustainable food initiative in Portland, Oregon this summer. Azul tells about their experience:

Emily and I spent the summer “Dishing Up Portland.” With funding from Davis 100 Projects for Peace, we made fresh and local produce more available in East and Northeast Portland, Oregon. Our project involved cooking with the produce of small Portland farms, serving the food at community events, and leading free weekly cooking classes. We also handed out educational materials such as recipe cards and encouraged people to go on our website to learn more about organic food.

Emily and I became interested in food deserts, geographic areas where affordable and nutritious food is difficult to access, through courses we’ve taken at Conn and as garden managers for Sprout. We have found that working with fresh, local and organic produce is crucially important for our health, our creativity, and taking care of the environment. The unequal distribution of such produce is extremely unjust; all people should be able to make their own, informed decisions about the quality of the food they eat and have access to it.

Based on our educational and personal backgrounds, a major question preoccupied us: what can we do to increase consumption of healthy foods, particularly fresh and local produce, in food desert areas? “Dishing Up Portland” gave us the opportunity to test how effective a project like ours can be and to gauge East Portland’s interest in and perceptions of cooking with local produce and other healthy foods. 

Although Portland is known for its foodie culture and stellar restaurants, not all Portland neighborhoods are equal in that respect. Although big company stores such as Fred Meyers and Bargain Grocery Stores exist in East Portland, their organic brands are overpriced compared to the non-organic brands of food. They also have a meager selection of organic — let alone local — produce, making pre-packaged meals and low quality produce the main options for East Portlanders. Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t make economic sense for customers to buy the $6 bag of organic wild rice over the $1.25 box of mac and cheese. Lastly, while East Portland does have a number of farmers’ markets, people of lower classes often don’t find shopping at farmers’ markets worthwhile.

This is where we stepped in. We wanted to show East Portlanders that shopping at the farmers' markets and cooking with the produce that they buy there is worthwhile, from an economic, sustainability, and culinary perspective. The goal of Dishing Up Portland was to make cooking with local produce and other healthy ingredients such as whole grains and legumes feasible and not daunting. Over the course of the summer, we crafted six different meals that featured seasonal and local produce and whose costs prove that buying organic, fresh, and bulk ingredients is equally or less expensive than buying pre-made meals or conventional produce. We distributed this information at our class, our food cart, and our website, which provides readers with information to make navigating the eating-local and cooking-fresh process easier for people who have had little experience doing it before or who have never been pushed to take interest in it.

Overall, and thankfully, this general aim of our project was clear and successful. While our project was a hit among people who have a sense of the importance of sustainability and the fun of cooking, we were simply not equipped with enough time or experience to make our project reach people who do not. We hope that a local community organization will continue our efforts by using and growing our website as an educational resource.

It was a great summer. Check out our website www.dishingupportland.wordpress.com for more information about our project!

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Camels Add Charm to Hodges Square

September 15, 2014  |  Sust Blog, Melanie Mason '16

When you think of the word “sustainability,” do images of neighborhood revitalization pop into your head? If not, they should!

During Orientation, new Camels, including those enrolled in three different first-year seminars, volunteered in Hodges Square as part of the College’s New London Community Projects program. Hodges Square is a business district one mile from campus that lost some of its charm when highways separated it from downtown New London.

Yet New London community members have not lost hope. The Hodges Square Village Association (HSVA) consists of businesses and residents dedicated to revitalizing Hodges Square through farmers’ markets, business development and beautification projects.

In collaboration with HSVA, incoming students, Manager of Sustainability Josh Stoffel, Senior Fellow for Communications in the Office of Sustainability Yu-Cheng Liu ‘17, and Senior Fellow for Resource Management Virginia Gresham ‘17 kicked off a substantial beautification process on Aug. 23, 2014. They painted the walls of a prominent gas station with energetic shades of orange and yellow, painted camels on flowerpots, gardened, and landscaped the area. They were pleasantly surprised by the results of their efforts. In the words of one first-year student, “It was great to see Hodges Square literally brighten over the course of a few hours, through the hard work and dedication of many community members."

As much as the students enjoyed working to transform the square, they especially appreciated the encouraging words of community members who were passing by the area.

Yet the project still has a ways to go. Fortunately, Connecticut College’s Office of Sustainability will continue to support the square. The Office has selected a representative, Taryn Kitchen ‘17, to serve as a member of the Hodges Square Village Association so that Connecticut College can stay intimately involved in the all future efforts.

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