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The Inspiration of Rachel Carson, ’29

We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost‘s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.

―  Rachel Carson,  Silent Spring

Rachel Carson was born in 1907, in a small town near Pittsburgh. In 1929, she graduated from the Pennsylvania College For Women (now Chatham University) with a degree in biology. In 1962, Rachel started a conversation that would reverberate across the globe for decades to come: She published Silent Spring.

 Silent Spring is widely credited with igniting the modern environmental movement. Time magazine named Rachel to their list of the 100 Most Influential People—and 25 Most Powerful Women–of the 20th Century, and she is considered by many to be preeminent environmental icon.

For half a century, Carson has been the patron saint of Chatham University. Just as Silent Spring singlehandedly inspired the environmental movement, Carson herself invigorated the Chatham mission.

“We claim Rachel Carson,” said Esther L. Barazzone, President of Chatham University, “but what does that mean? How are we going to live up to her legacy? One of my favorite lines is, ‘You need to have visible symbols of grace,’ which is a quote from Martin Luther. What is our visible symbol of grace?”

The answer: sustainability, a groundbreaking new field that has transformed how environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and engineers approach 21st century challenges.

Through our Falk School of Sustainability, students and faculty are re-examining the systems that underpin not just human life, but all life—including food, water, and energy. With the completion of our net zero Eden Hall Campus, we have a living and learning laboratory for sustainability, and the first of its kind in the world. Sustainability has been adopted as a core component of our university mission. We’ve implemented sustainable practices across all of our locations, and we introduce undergraduates to the field through a course and through an Eden Hall experience, regardless of their major. This approach creates a shared campus experience and helps integrate sustainability into other areas of study in the health and lab sciences, business and communications, and arts and humanities.

With inspiration from Rachel Carson, our efforts and commitments have earned us recognition as a leader in sustainability, including a Top 50 Green College ranking by the Princeton Review, a spot on Sierra magazine’s list of top 25 “cool schools” and a mention in Forbes as one of the places “contributing to Pittsburgh’s transformation into a destination for green living.”

Chatham University. It’s not just Earth Day. It’s every day.

 

Campus Community Profile: Mary Beth Mannarino

Mannarino blog[2]

Title: Associate Professor of Psychology
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Hobbies: Yoga, bicycling, reading, traveling, spending time with family
Joined Chatham: 2001

What is your main area of research interest?
I focus on connections between environmental health and sustainability and the health and wellbeing of people and communities.

What are some of these connections?
I’d say the connections show up in at least two main ways. The first is that climate change, pollution, and other factors are increasingly affecting mental and physical health. They can cause stress directly, if you’re living in certain areas, such as on a coast, or indirectly, as when air pollution affects health which affects stress. This is becoming such a large issue, yet most health professionals aren’t exposed to information about it unless they actively seek it out. Our program is really on the vanguard with this.

How so?
Since our psychology doctoral program began in 2009, we’ve offered a course in environmental psychology and sustainability. It’s mandatory for the PsyD students, and offered as an elective for master’s students. There’s interest in it across disciplines, too –we’ve had master’s students in Landscape Architecture and Food Studies take the class.

What does the class cover?
We talk about what climate change means globally, where we see effects in the US, and also how it impacts Pittsburgh regionally. For example, in the US, we see how drought affects the economic wellbeing of farmers and their families, and how this trickles down to affect food prices and food availability. So it’s not just “we have a drought,” but what does that mean? In most of our work, we emphasize social justice, because it’s often the people least able, due to limited economic means and education, to bounce back who are affected most seriously. Regionally, we talk about reliance on fossil fuels. Air quality is a concern. We look at how it affects children’s health in different parts of the city. It’s usually poorer kids who miss school, and get even further behind, and parents have to miss work to take them to the doctor, and so forth.

How else can connections between sustainability and psychology be made?
We stress sustainable considerations in clinical practice. For example, we think about mental health in terms of wellbeing, not just pathology. So we teach students to ask clients and patients what gives them pleasure, where they find relaxation in their lives, and how much of that they’re engaging in right now. We focus on change that persists well into the future. And we train students to consider environmental components in the treatment plans that they recommend.

What does that look like?
They might ask a client what their typical day is like, and what their work setting is like. Research has shown that access to nature and pets do a good job of supporting wellbeing, and can often be incorporated into treatment in a way that’s low cost and has no side effects. Community gardening can help with loneliness and depression in older adults. It’s not a cure-all, of course, but it can be quite powerful.

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What are your hopes for the upcoming year’s Global Focus on Climate Change?
Sustainability demands that you think and work across disciplines, and the nature of academia is such that it’s easy to stay in a silo of your own field. We’re hoping that the Year of Climate Change will get people talking to each other about what they’re working on, and about how we can collaborate across disciplines. It’s very exciting.

We’ve also been authorized by the American Psychological Association to offer psychology continuing education programs for credit. For Chatham, this means we can offer continuing education related to climate change and other sustainability issues to psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals. This is something we at Chatham really are uniquely positioned to do. We’ll be offering such a program during a conference that’s part of the Year of Climate Change in the spring, and bringing in activists and other people from the community.

Dr. Mannarino served as Director for Chatham’s Graduate Psychology programs from 2009-2014. She blogs about issues related to health, wellness, and sustainability here.

 

 

Natural Resources Leadership course

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Muddy Creek, part of the Cheat River watershed

Pittsburgh is a city of three rivers, in a county of 263 abandoned mine sites. If you appreciate water as a recreational resource, this is cause for celebration. If you’re savvy about pollution, it’s cause for concern.

This spring, Chatham launched a Maymester course designed to heighten both of these responses and show students ways to act on them. Natural Resource Leadership was taught by the Falk School of Sustainability‘s Michael Finewood and Sean McGreevey, Assistant Dean for Career Development. The course focused on acid mine drainage, with a side of whitewater kayaking on the Cheat River.

Acid mind drainage
An abandoned coalmine eventually fills up with groundwater. This water absorbs minerals from the coal that makes it very harmful to fish and wildlife. When it escapes the mine—and it does—it’s known as acid mine drainage or abandoned mine drainage (AMD).

After two centuries of mining in Southwestern PA and West Virginia, we sit on billions of gallons of this acidic water. The main pollutant of surface water in the Mid-Atlantic region, AMD is an enormous environmental challenge.

The process of treating AMD to make it safe is called remediation. Remediation may be active (e.g., chemical) or passive (constructed wetlands, which use natural functions of vegetation, soil, and organisms to clean the water). Both passive and active remediation are used at the Cheat River watershed.

Cheat River
The Cheat lies about two hours south of Pittsburgh, in West Virginia. In 1994, AMD buildup blew out the side of the mountain, turning the river orange for miles, killing fish as far away as 16 miles downstream.*  In response, an organization called Friends of the Cheat was formed, and has implemented fifteen remediation sites in the area.

Natural Resources Leadership (SUS 407/507)
The course met for three hours per day, four days per week, for three weeks. Here’s what happened.

Week 1:
Each day, class included lecture and discussion about leadership, water challenges including acid mine drainage, and contemporary water policy. Because whitewater kayaking is significantly more challenging than kayaking on still water, classroom time was followed by whitewater kayaking training in the pool at Chatham’s Athletic Fitness Center.

Week 2:
Students practiced their whitewater kayaking skills on Pine Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny, and spent time at two local remediation sites:

  1. Wingfield Pines in Upper St. Clair is a local park designed to filter metals out of water by circulating the drainage (which is fluorescent orange to start) through a series of ponds and into a wetland, where native plants remove the last of the sediment before the (now extremely clean) water flows into the Allegheny River. It’s a nice habitat for ducks, and for dog-walkers.
  1. The group also visited Emerald View Park, an urban park-in-progress in Mt. Washington. Emerald View is being created partly to restore the hillside after 150 years of mining, settling, vacating, and serving as a dumping ground. It’s in the early stages of becoming a site for AMD remediation, which means constant monitoring of water quality. “They need to monitor for about 1 1/2 years before they can develop the appropriate mediation techniques,” says Dr. Finewood.

Week 3:
Equipped with kayaks, sleeping bags, and a newfound understanding of water resource challenges, the group then headed to the Cheat. They met with members of Friends of the Cheat, with whom they spent mornings doing volunteer manual labor, including planting grass, rebuilding a dam, and rolling about 25 tires up a hill and out of the canyon. They also discussed acid mine drainage.

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In the afternoons, the group set societal concerns aside in favor of whitewater kayaking. The Cheat is known for tremendous kayaking, with beautiful scenery and interesting challenges for all levels. And even though each person is in his or her own boat, kayaking is very much a group experience, and requires significant skills in communication and envisioning.

One major goal of the course was to investigate how small non-profit community organizations can affect significant environmental issues. In the future, it may address issues other than water, such as ecosystems, biodiversity, and air quality. Course participants included Master of Sustainability students Josh Zivkovich, Ezra Welsh, and Kurt Lindsey, and undergraduate Chatham seniors Jennae Rekken, Erin Smith, and Nicole Werwie.

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 *Video and commentary about the blowout by bystander Randy Robinson is available here, here, and here.

solar cooking

cooking with hot dogs

Grilling. Each summer, millions of people look forward to rethinking cooking—to stepping out of the kitchen and onto the grass, patio, or beach. Now you’re cooking with gas, as they say. Or with charcoal. With a non-renewable resource, anyway—as we do whenever we cook.

But what if you could cook with a renewable resource? Cook with the world’s first fire, and cut out the middlemen? That is the promise—and increasingly common practice—of solar cooking. Solar cooking works by using curved and reflective surfaces to concentrate the heat of the sun on a small surface area, where the food is placed.

In some places, it’s huge—literally and figuratively. The Solar Bowl in Auroville, India is 45 feet in diameter, and can cook two meals per day for 1,000 people.

Solar Bowl at Auroville
Solar Bowl at Auroville

But most solar cookers are quite portable, and inexpensive. They save cost by requiring no fuel, and reduce environmental damage produced by the use of fuel. And—with the right model—they can do anything from grilling meats and vegetables to making soup to baking bread.

Intrigued? Join us for an overview of all things solar cooking, plus demonstration and food tasting, on Saturday, July 18 from 9:30am – 1:00pm at the Field Lab at our Eden Hall Campus, in the North Hills. The event—which is free and open to the public—will include a tour of the campus, where you’ll see some of our 400+ solar panels. They generate enough energy to power 14 homes for a year, but can cook a hotdog only indirectly. Learn more and sign up today.

harvesting rainwater at Eden Hall Campus

ThinkstockPhotos-99234163_v2In January, Governor Jerry Brown called a drought State of Emergency in California. Five months later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released data showing that May was the wettest month on record in the contiguous U.S. with an average precipitation total 1.45 inches above average. While these are two very different problems, they both point to “two sides of the same coin:” how we must manage water more effectively in our changing climate.

Pittsburgh is rainy: We get an average of 146 days of precipitation compared to a national average of 100 days. On those days, excess water – water that is neither collected nor absorbed by the ground – flows into storm drains. Underground, the stormwater system joins with our sewage system, and sewage and water travel together to be treated at the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) wastewater treatment plant, which processes up to 250 million gallons of wastewater daily.

This system worked fine when it was built at the turn of the century, and it still works in dry weather. But the population has grown, and now whenever it rains more than ¼ inch, the system becomes flooded, and ALCOSAN must close its gates. Sewage flows into our rivers, streams, and creeks, carrying debris, chemicals, bacteria, and animal waste.

At Chatham University’s net zero Eden Hall Campus, we are modeling both innovative and age-old techniques around water management, including rainwater harvesting for collecting and using rainwater. For his thesis project, Master of Sustainability alumnus Tony Miga ’14 designed and implemented a rather large-scale rainwater harvesting system for Eden Hall. On a Friday in May 2015, it was used for the first time.

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Barn and underground cistern tanks

Here’s how it works: Rain falls onto the roof of the storage barn, runs into the gutters, and is piped into three 1500-gallon underground cisterns, where it’s stored for use for irrigation. Overflow from the cisterns waters a nearby rain garden.

“Debris from the rooftops gets mixed in there,” Miga notes, and water is filtered six times, starting with fine mesh screens that fit over the gutters and ending with a UV filter that eliminates pathogens and other contaminants. “It’s probably overkill for our purposes,” he acknowledges. “We’re only using it for irrigation. There’s very little risk. We’re not spraying it, or bringing it into buildings. “

The state of the gutters before being cleaned

When the system is turned on, water runs from the cisterns, underneath a road, and into the moveable high tunnel and hoop house on the other side, where it’s used to water crops. It’s not the only source of water there – a line for municipal water was added for flexibility, back up, and research. Miga says that it allows them to experiment with using different types of water for growing. Harvested rainwater will also be used to irrigate the agriculture field.

hoophouse1
The moveable high tunnel and the hoop house

Miga anticipates that the rainwater harvest system will provide 35,000-40,000 gallons of water annually. He’s also proud that the project makes use of an existing structure, rather than calls for new construction. “We inherited this property, and we’re making an effort to use what is here,” he says.

At Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus,  rainwater harvesting is combined to manage stormwater runoff with permeable surfaces, natural drainage, 22,027 sf of infiltration galleries (small pipes in gravel that collect water when it rains), and almost 30,000 sf of rain gardens. Rain gardens feature deep-rooted native shrubs, perennials, and grasses that receive runoff from roofs, sidewalks, streets and parking lots, and hold the water in a shallow depression as it slowly infiltrates into the ground.

Eden Hall will also treat wastewater on-site, using a six-step system that can handle up to 6,000 gallons per day. Once disinfected, wastewater will be used for toilet flushing and irrigating land. Water quality will meet or exceed all State of Pennsylvania standards.

Learn more at chatham.edu/edenhall.

EDEN HALL GEARS UP FOR FACULTY, STUDENTS, AND WINTER LEAFY GREENS

ehc_1600x645Note: This story appears in the Chatham University Spring 2015 Recorder alumni magazine. 

Two and a half years after its groundbreaking, Eden Hall Campus continues to grow into an epicenter of sustainability and culture in the North Hills. Student commons and residence halls are taking shape, and endeavors to officially move the Falk School of Sustainability from the Shadyside Campus to its new home on Ridge Road have begun to unfold.

The Lodge, once a summer vacation home for female employees of the Heinz factories, is undergoing internal reconstruction as the future home of the Falk School faculty offices. Plans were developed by veteran space and facilities planner Charles Craig, a LEED- certified architect who has worked with Chatham since 1993, and is also working with Chatham on some renovations to the Shadyside Campus.

Craig worked with Falk School of Sustainability faculty and staff to identify creative and functional ways to reinterpret the Lodge for a modern office space. The aesthetic being considered for the Lodge embraces natural light flow and the collaborative spirit of sustainability. Office furniture will be mobile and independent of surrounding architecture, allowing workspaces to be reorganized quickly based on the needs of faculty, staff, and students. These movable studio offices will encourage impromptu collaboration and promote a more flexible use of space.

The student commons and residence halls are underway in preparation for use this fall. Walter Fowler, Vice President of Finance and CFO, attends weekly walk-throughs of the construction areas, and attests to the state-of-the-art design and efficiency of the buildings. “The residence halls are being built to LEED Platinum standards and are tightly constructed” he says, “with wall insulation over twenty inches thick and unique sustainable design features such as panels that run through the ceiling and control the air temperature.”

HERE’S A CLOSER LOOK AT WHAT MAKES THE RESIDENCE HALL EXTRAORDINARY:

Electricity: All power is provided by the solar panels on the roof of the residence hall. Eden Hall has over 400 solar panels across the campus that generate over 126,000 kilowatt-hours annually, easily enough to power more than 14 homes per year.

Water: Water in the residence hall is heated by solar thermal panels on its roof, and the toilet water is recycled from the the campus on-lot wastewater system. This system treats wastewater through a series of steps including constructed wetlands, a trickling filter, and a UV filter. Some of the water is dyed blue and used in the toilets in campus buildings, with the remaining being treated for irrigation on campus. The system treats up to 6,000 gallons of wastewater per day, and water quality will meet or exceed all State of Pennsylvania water quality standards for land application of treated effluent.

Heating and cooling: The residence hall is heated and cooled by Eden Hall’s geothermal system, which consists of just under 40 geothermal wells (mapped by GPS) across campus. These wells are about six inches wide and drilled 485 feet into the earth where two connected pipes are inserted into each well. A solution consisting of 75% water and 25% food grade propylene-glycol mix (which ensures that the water doesn’t freeze or harbor bacteria) is utilized within the pipes. The geothermal system uses the Earth’s temperature and energy storage capability to heat and cool the mixture, which is then pumped across campus into the buildings. In addition, a unique “heat loop” helps balance and share energy between the buildings as needed. In the residence hall, the geothermal-powered system runs the warm or cold mixture up into the ceilings of the rooms for a unique radiant heating and cooling system – the largest installation of its kind in the country.

Smart monitoring: A system that monitors energy use sends alerts to the facilities manager when it detects a change or inefficiency – for example, if a window is left open.

final interiorThe first Eden Hall student residents will live in single-occupancy  or suite-style rooms that foster a sense of family. A Wellness Community will support students as they transition to college life, offering a wealth of community-building opportunities and nature-focused activities in the spirit of sustainability.

The centrally located commons area will be the heart of the developing campus, and Fowler shared some intriguing news about its kitchen: “Eden Hall is a net zero campus, meaning we will produce as much energy as we use – except for the kitchen, which is an energy-intensive space due to its high heat needs,” he explained. “To counter this, we plan to run the appliances with microturbines that will generate that extra electricity the kitchen needs. They’ll first be run on natural gas, then switch to biofuels like methane once farm animals are added to the campus.” Even pots and pans are specially designed for this futuristic kitchen. The cooking range makes use of inductive heating, with the ability to almost instantly heat flat-bottomed cookware without losing heat to open air the way electric and gas ranges do. “Even if you removed the pan after cooking and felt the burner, it would be cool to the touch.”

While all of these highly efficient and modern technologies are said to dramatically reduce Eden Hall’s carbon footprint, where is the evidence? The commons building will have an energy monitoring facility in the lower levels to provide proof. Using a central software system, several flat screens will show real-time energy usage (and production) from each building on campus. Visitors will be able to see how the technology reduces energy use overall and adapts to different human uses.

In addition to construction and renovations that benefit people, plants are also being given extra support – lettuce, spinach, and Chinese cabbage to be specific. The Solar Hoop House, a structure designed to support young plants through the winter season, is already nurturing new life. Leafy green winter crops have been growing there since this January, tended by Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies students. Operational since November of 2014, the hoop house can remain at 80 degrees even in the middle of winter. External solar panels heat water that flows in a closed loop system beneath the floor of the structure.

Traditional hoop houses without heating capabilities have been used at Eden Hall for the past four winter growing seasons, but cannot match the growing potential of a heated hoop house. Allen Matthews, a food studies faculty member active in local farming for over 40 years, said students were unable to grow the quantities they needed using that system. Now they support dining services at the Shadyside Campus with the produce food studies students grow, year round. Matthews says students can gain a real sense of the work needed to grow and successfully sell produce on a regular basis – a perfect example of Eden Hall’s living and learning mentality.

Chatham’s Eden Hall campus brings degree programming, continuing education and professional education classes, life-long learning opportunities and cultural events to the North Hills communities and surrounding region.  In addition to Falk School of Sustainability programming, Eden Hall now offers convenient evening, weekend and online classes for undergraduate and graduate programs in business, education, psychology and nursing.

stage

Following the success of last year’s Eden Hall Summer Series, this year’s Summer Event Series is set to run June through September and feature a few similar events as well as new programing. The series kicks off June 5th with a performance by the Pittsburgh Opera. A whole day will be devoted to celebrating the creativity of children with the KidsCan Festival in June, and more musical and theatrical acts for all ages are on the docket for the amphitheater. Sustainability workshops will return to the Field Labs and examine a new range of engaging topics. The popular Harvest Tasting Dinner will close the series in September, treating guests to farm-to-table fare grown by Eden Hall students.

Eden Hall is rising quickly with support from donors and students alike. Chatham hopes to create a balance of historical beauty coupled with cutting-edge technologies that show Western Pennsylvania and the world how to transition into the next era of human achievement that respects and supports people and planet.

EDEN HALL SUSTAINABILITY WORKSHOPS

With the opening of the new Field Lab at the Richland campus this past July, Eden Hall Campus offered this summer’s first-ever sustainability workshop series. The workshops were designed to share sustainability principles with quick payoffs that participants could easily incorporate into their homes and lives.

First up was Roof Runoff: Rainwater Harvest and Usage led by Tony Miga, a recent graduate of the Master of Sustainability program. This past year, Miga received funding to install three underground rainwater catchment tanks that drain the roof of the Eden Hall storage shed. These tanks can fill their 50,000-gallon capacity with only a few inches of rainfall. The workshop began with a tour of Eden Hall, including a stop to examine these 50,000-gallon cisterns.

Then, attendees were led to the lab where they were able to make low-cost, high quality rain barrels. Power drills in hand, attendees bore holes for spigots and hoses in basic blue buckets, creating home approved rain barrels that act as a perfect local water conservation method. Think of these rain barrels as a way to lower your water bill while watering your garden, and an eye-catching conversation starter for your neighbors and friends.

On August 14th, our Field Lab served as the stage for a workshop again, this time for a compost tutorial. Chatham University and Nancy Martin of Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) delivered a presentation on the basics of starting your own composting operation. Martin is the Environmental Educator at PRC, and hosts a number of basic composting and vermiculture (composting with worms) workshops around the city each year. She shared information about what can and can’t be composted, how to prevent rodents and bugs from getting into your handiwork, how to maintain your bin, and how to use your compost most effectively.

Following a full campus tour, the composting students settled into an evening of “How-To’s” to make their composting efforts a success. In order to provide them with the tools to successfully compost, students purchased an Earth Machine composting bin, which can hold up to 80 gallons of compost, as part of their admission. The true takeaway from this event is that composting gives new value to scrap materials that would otherwise go to waste in the garbage. Soil made from composting is more nutritious, can be used as mulch, and overall is the economical choice for a healthy yard.

The concluding workshop for our Summer Series at Eden Hall was entitled Harness the Sun: Home Projects and Energy Saving Tips. The solar workshop centered around how homeowners can determine whether their houses are ready for solar panel installation, how it works, and policies in Pennsylvania that support solar technologies on homes. Dr. Mary Whitney, Sustainability Coordinator at Chatham, and Phil Long, a Burns & Scalo sales professional, delivered a presentation that highlighted important facts to consider about solar home energy, as well as taking note of small energy “zappers” around your home that use up more electricity than you might think.

Dr. Whitney provided participants with worksheets that calculate how much energy is consumed by household activities. She then brought out a Kill-A-Watt meter, a small instrument that plugs into electrical devices to show the real-time usage. Attendees were amazed by just how much energy devices consume, even to make something as simple as a cup of coffee. Dr. Whitney then offered tips on how to adapt solar energy to a personal home.

We are looking forward to hosting more lifelong learning workshops at Eden Hall this year, so stay tuned in and we’ll see you in Richland!

2014 FALK SUMMER SUSTAINABILITY FELLOWS: ROSE HERMALIN

The Falk Summer Sustainability Fellowships provide an opportunity for students in Chatham’s Falk School of Sustainability’s Master of Sustainability (MSUS) or Master of Food Studies (MAFS) program to engage in meaningful work or research in their field. The Fellowships are supported by the Falk Sustainability Endowment, and in 2014, were awarded to six students.

“Community diners” – also known as non-profit restaurants – are social enterprises. They usually provide free or low-cost meals to qualifying customers, or run on a pay-what-you-wish model. Locally sourced food is used as much as possible to keep money within the local economy, and diners frequently offer on-site job-training.

For her Falk Summer Sustainability Fellowship, Rose Hermalin visited two of these diners: Inspiration Kitchen in Chicago, IL, and Kula Café in Asbury Park, NJ, with an eye toward building a knowledge base for future community diner projects. Inspiration Kitchen is located in Chicago’s Garfield Park, which Hermalin describes as “a primarily working poor neighborhood with few other food options, though the restaurant attracts primarily customers from outside the neighborhood.” As with many of these establishments, Inspiration Kitchen must make sure that the restaurant appeals to both the community members who would benefit from its services, and those whose patronage would allow the services to continue. “As with most anti-hunger and anti-poverty organizations, Inspiration is invested in maintaining the dignity of their students and customers, so creating a comfortable environment for neighborhood families to go out is an important project for them,” writes Hermalin. The Kitchen was enjoying some success with its job-training program: community members were being trained in kitchen skills, which tends to lead to more stable employment with a great chance of employment mobility, and the program boasted a 75% post-graduation job retention rate 90 days after graduation.

Among the challenges facing Inspiration Kitchen is that of optimizing their meal voucher program. While the Kitchen has distributed thousands of meal vouchers through associated organizations (e.g., anti-poverty, job-training), only hundreds have been redeemed. The vouchers look like credit cards – and, like credit cards, are presented at the end of the meal – and recipients are invited to bring their family, with no restriction on what “family” might look like. Still, Hermalin suggests that the low return rate may indicate a need to further destigmatize free food, noting that vouchers for restaurant meals, with the associated connotation of “entertainment,” may be perceived differently than food stamps.

Kula Café is located in the West side of Asbury Park, NJ, a primarily African-American neighborhood with high unemployment rates. The Café’s aim is to establish ties with the East side, which is home to the town’s beach tourism, and therefore the majority of service jobs. Kula trains their participants in a 16-week program that focuses on the “soft skills” that are in demand for front-of-house positions, and in hospitality positions as a whole. Kula has partnered with a local restaurateur who employs program graduates in her establishments.

“Unfortunately, these jobs tend to be less stable than kitchen jobs, especially given the seasonal nature of much of the service/hospitality work to be found in Asbury Park,” says Hermalin. In addition, current funding stipulations require that Kula’s job-training participants be 24 or younger, limiting the impact on the community.

Kula’s menu items are designed to cost the same or less than the fast-food equivalents. “Their menu was designed with input from community members, and features mostly healthy versions of traditional Soul Food items (their Chicken & Waffles, for instance, is a baked breaded chicken breast on a whole-grain waffle, rather than the traditional fried chicken),” writes Hermalin. While next year Kula will start a garden and build a greenhouse, their current focus is on keeping food affordable, so they can’t be choosy about food sourcing. In addition to involving the community with their menu, Kula Cafe provides other events and programs, such as a jazz and blues night, and “Coffee with a Cop.”

One of Hermalin’s most significant findings was that the enterprises skirted along the edge of promoting narratives that “apply negative moral codes to food that’s culturally relevant to the community,” she says.  “And this creates unhelpful, negative associations between well-loved foods and health.” This conflict also shows up in a tension between financial and cultural sensitivity. “Lentil soup may be healthy and affordable,” Hermalin explains, “but it’s often thought of as hippie food.”

In both non-profits, Hermalin noted some degree of reluctance to talk about the projects in terms of class and race; for example, a tendency to refer to “high crime” areas, which, she points out, “puts them (the speakers) in the position or reinforcing negative stereotypes even as they try to advocate for the community.” She also noticed that the communities tended not to be represented within the non-profits that serve them.

Hermalin’s summer research forms part of her larger thesis project, which investigates questions of food justice, racial discourse around food, and how (predominantly white-led) non-profits can work most effectively within communities of color.

2014 FALK SUMMER SUSTAINABILITY FELLOWS: ZIG OSIECKI

The Falk Summer Sustainability Fellowships provide an opportunity for students in Chatham’s Falk School of Sustainability’s Master of Sustainability (MSUS) or Master of Food Studies (MAFS) program to engage in meaningful work or research in their field. The Fellowships are supported by the Falk Sustainability Endowment, and in 2014, were awarded to six students.

Zig Osiecki thought that his Falk Summer Sustainability Fellowship at John’s Folly Learning Institute – located on St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands) and dedicated to providing positive opportunities and environments to community youth – would be spent creating a more sustainable garden and a plan for its year-round use. He was wrong.

“The larger of the two cisterns, capable of holding ten thousand gallons and the only source of water for an irrigation system, was never fixed,” he writes. “I was told it would be operational by the time I got here but when I peered inside I was surprised to find nearly a foot of scummy water in the bottom, teeming with mosquitoes and tadpoles.  The roof is completely missing and there are cracks and holes throughout the inside,” he continues. “Tree roots have also found their way through the concrete and caused it to crumble in certain areas. I’ve had to reassess my work for the institute and make fixing the cistern a priority.”

And so began Osiecki’s induction into the realities of sustainability projects in developing nations – although “developing” is a strange word to use for an island that is 70% national park, and where the average price per square foot nears that of Aspen, Colorado. But St. John harbors extreme economic disparities. The side of the island on which JFLI is found is tremendously poor, and JFLI provides an important source of community and resources for the young during the yearly summer program. Despite its tropical location, St. John is largely desert, and, as Oisecki reports, “resources at the Institute are very slim and gathering the necessary materials has taken a great deal of time. There is still much to acquire. Concrete that was supposedly available at the institute had gone bad and turned into one big brick in a bag.  Thermo seal is expensive and there is yet to be the discussion on roofing materials. It will be done but there may be some Henry David Thoreau style bartering going on.”

Oisecki did repair the cistern. He also worked with JFLI to hold a farmer’s market on the main road in town. “We often ended up giving the food away,” he says, “but the important thing was to draw attention to the Institute, and foster good relations. After I left the island I researched desert gardening and believe that the JFLI has the ability to adopt various methods without spending too much money. However, to further aid them in their gardening goals I have been working on writing a grant proposal to fund the irrigation system and the necessary tools and supplies needed to complete this project and maintain it for future use by the kids and families of the community.”