Friday, December 19, 2014

Food rescue: an inspiring movement in Indiana schools

A handful of months ago, a man named John Williamson reached out to me via email. He wanted to share a video with me about food rescue in schools. I was absolutely amazed. As John described the video, "Recently we piloted a [food rescue] program in an entire school system, in which every school participated in South Madison Schools. (Pendleton Heights) 5,500 milks, 5,500 juices, and 9,600 entrees were preserved in 2013-1014."

This is a compelling issue I've been dealing with in Indiana schools, mostly from the standpoint of students wanting to capture their food waste and use it in compost for their gardens. The reality that most students throw away their uneaten food to rot in landfills and create methane emissions is simply too much to bear.

Add to that the other reality — that of hunger and food insecurity — and it seems downright criminal to throw perfectly good food away. In fact, most students with whom I work consider food waste a social justice issue, not necessarily a climate change one.

Along comes John Williamson and the Food Rescue Network to put a major dent in the atrocity of food waste. In that initial email to me, John said: "40% of our food is wasted in America, and it emits methane gas from landfills that is many times more harmful to our environment than CO2. And of course 1 in 6 in America (1 in 20 in Hamilton County) are food insecure."

John and I have been trading a lot of emails since then, and the subject is such a big one it's taken me many weeks to get around to grappling with it.

Thickening the plot is a recent email John sent, detailing the federal law aspect of this. John said:

"In 2012, the United States government changed laws to encourage schools to donate their surplus food. The government even encourages schools to share their stories about how they reduce their food waste through food recovery on the USDA website, and it is encouraged on the EPA website as well. These new laws mirror the 1996 Good Samaritan laws, and the articles below verify these initiatives. There are simply no more legal barriers or governmental concerns or prohibitions. It is in fact the opposite, where it is now promoted."

I was finally able to arrange a trip to a school — West Clay Elementary in Carmel — to see this food rescue with my own eyes. Thanks to John and to a volunteer, Nikki, who invited me to West Clay Elementary, I saw first hand how much untouched food is being captured at one school — and how it's being rescued and taken to a nearby food pantry, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church's Merciful HELP Center. Below, are a few photos from that experience.

Before you eye them, though, note that over 60 Indiana schools are actively capturing their food to hand over to food banks and food panties. Hundreds more have been introduced to the concept. You can read all about it here, on the Food Rescue web site.

Let me emphasize, then, that this was one day at one school. Multiply that by 60, then think about 2000 Indiana schools, or more.

Before the capture begins.

Basically, the "take" for one lunch period of many that day. 
Kids also recycle at West Clay Elementary! 

As part of the five-day collection, there are a lot cheese sticks. Over 150!

Volunteer Nikki (left) works with Cafeteria Manager Beth Galloway from West Clay Elementary to get everything accounted for.

Loaded up into Nikki's car.

Getting the food weighed at the OLMC Merciful HELP Center.

Kind of hard to see, but that's over 140 pounds of food, rescued over five days' time, in one school. 

Want to get involved in a food rescue program at your school? Contact John Williamson, he'll show you the way.

John recently shared a testimonial from people at the Fishers UMC Food Pantry: 

I just wanted to share with all of you how well your donations went over this week! All of the families were so grateful for the milk, fresh fruit and yogurt. The snacks and others items went well too.

One mom stopped me to specifically say thank you for the chocolate milk. Her son is having trouble putting on weight and the doctor recommended chocolate milk as a good way to help. Unfortunately with tight finances she has been unable provide the chocolate milk for him. I wish you all could have seen the truly grateful look in her eyes as they held back tears. She was deeply grateful!

Thank you so much for the extra effort it takes collect and store these items! Your efforts are making a difference after just two weeks!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Children's House: A nine-week immersion in climate change

Way back in the early '90s I taught Language Arts at a Montessori-based, one-room-schoolhouse kind of place, The Children's House. My step daughter Clare had already been attending The Children's House when the Language Arts position opened up, and school director Louise Brannon decided I had the right mixture of characteristics to step up and into the position.

I was not so convinced. At that point in my life, all I really knew how to do was paint houses and write weird stories. I had no training in teaching, no confidence that I could pull off something like that.

Louise saw something in me that I did not see myself, and I will always be grateful. The next four years were a stupendous experience for me, teaching kids, K-8, the wonders of Language Arts. I became a lot more adept at working with young people, and that training set the stage for this current period of my life, where I am often in schools working with students.

One school I spent a lot of time in this fall is, in fact, The Children's House. What goes around comes around. In September, The Children's House teachers asked me to consider leading a nine-week intensive with the students, and it didn't take much deliberation to say yes. And so this semester I've been involved in a school-wide, cross curriculum immersion in climate change and sustainability solutions.

I've visited about once week, doing various presentations, including one that teaches the science of climate change via bumper stickers. Visitors have come to the school to demonstrate gardening techniques; we've had Butler students visit as well, observing the curriculum and interacting with students and teachers.

Now that we're at the end of the journey, it's time to reflect. It's been incredible, full of field trip adventures and school-based fun. And I only know a portion of the curriculum, as The Children's House teachers — Tristan Gilkey, Abee Louden, Jenny Ollikainen and Mary Sexson — have been doing lots of instruction about climate change.

Earth Charter Indiana's program Sustainable Indiana 2016 also jumped into the fun. Here, correspondent Dick Clough interviews six year old student Adelaide about her diagram to help the planet.

This whole experience has felt like coming home: Abee is a former student of mine, and Mary is the person who took my position when I left in 1994. So it has a small, intimate feel, an interesting platform when you consider that the subject of climate change is so vast — and can be perceived as impersonal. We tried to make it personal, to connects the proverbial dots of climate change, food systems, weather extremes and health impacts.

I don't know how I did. We'll have to see what youth action and leadership emerges. I'm simply grateful for having been invited into a very special space, a school where project-based learning is the default, and children are encouraged to explore their passion.

Here's a parade of images that address a portion of our time together.

One day, we visited Butler's farm at their Center for Urban Ecology. Students toured large urban farm.

What's a climate change intensive without bikes? Nothing! We toured the shop and warehouse of Freewheelin' Bikes.

The students didn't like the smell, but Ivy Tech Culinary Arts' machine that turns food waste into compostable materials is state-of-the-art and an ambitious means of keeping methane out of the atmosphere.

The rain barrel system outside Ivy Tech; at-the-ready to water the adjacent garden.

Eskenazi Skyfarm farmer Rachel White talks to the students about the farm atop Eskenazi Hospital.

At White Pine Wilderness Academy, checking out the brand new sweatlodge.
Greater Good Gardens' Chris Cruzan displays the basil starts he's going to leave behind at The Children's House.

Basil starts in place; Chris talked with students about hydroponic gardening and also aeroponic gardening. Below this lid is a five gallon plastic bucket complete with an aeroponic system that Chris gave to the school.
Those familiar with my blog know I take plastic food into schools so students can learn about the connection between food choices and water and carbon footprints. It's also a lot of fun.
At White Pine Wilderness Academy, the students can feel the heat from the coals via the previous night's fire.

Turning last night's coals into today's fire, perhaps a metaphor for youth leadership and climate stewardship.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

You had our back: A report on the Environmental Rules Board hearing

After the meeting: A portion of the supporters pose for a photo.

By all rights I should be disappointed. Maybe even devastated. But for some reason I am not.

Yesterday, the Environmental Rules Board refused again to grant us a public hearing for a climate action plan for Indiana.

After a much-needed good night’s sleep, I awoke undaunted.

Maybe I’m feeling upbeat because of the crazy way the day unfolded.

A few of us arrived for the beginning of the meeting at Government Center South, downtown Indy. We weren’t on the agenda for this hearing, and were planning on speaking during the “Open Forum” portion. Given numerous past experiences — and the volume of work the ERB has to accomplish at these meetings — we figured we wouldn’t take the proverbial stage until 3:30 at the earliest.

That’s why we told our supporters, including a couple dozen middle school students, to arrive around three. We didn’t want people to arrive at 1:30 and sit around for two hours, missing work or school.

Here’s the problem, though. The ERB was galloping thru their agenda, to the point where it looked like the Open Forum was going to begin at 2:30, WAY earlier than expected.

At 2:30, not even half our scheduled speakers had even yet arrived.

A flurry of texts

The next hour would prove to be one of the most adrenaline filled hours in recent memory. While Earth Charter Indiana members and supporters stationed inside the hearing room were furiously texting me updates, I was stationed at the public entrance, quickly escorting arriving supporters to the appropriate location.

Most on my mind was identifying speakers as they walked in — the first to arrive were Charlie and Jean from Columbus. Thank goodness! I told Charlie that while I had assumed there would not be time for him speak, given our planned slate of five speakers, I now NEEDED him to speak, to stall for time for three others who had not yet arrived.

One of those three soon walked in: Denise Abdul-Rahman, climate justice chair for the NAACP. She launched into a trot when she saw me jumping up into the air.

Meanwhile, texts were flying at me from at least three people in the hearing room exhibiting anxiety about the lack of speakers.

I walked/jogged Denise to the back doors of the hearing room. As she walked into the room, she literally heard her name called to speak.

It was like a movie where everything happens in the nick of time!

Sure enough, when I returned to the public entrance — it was nearing 3 p.m. by now — the middle schoolers had finally arrived, lining up. Project Libertas students were coming to witness the proceedings to study civic engagement.

I had been telling numerous schools about this opportunity to engage in civics, and how the Environmental Rules Board is a place where they can be heard, and this independent school seized the teaching moment.

One Project Libertas student, 8th grader Maddie, was one of the two speakers we were most anxious to hear. The other, Cora, also an eighth grader, from Eastwood Middle School, arrived with the Project Libertas caravan. (See below for their testimonies.)

The middle schoolers were moving like tai chi masters through security check, as one of our supporters, Julie Rhodes, arrived from the hearing room to announce they were closing the Open Forum.

Like heck! Maddie and Cora, come to the front of the line!

There was still time.

No wait! Cora set off the security alarm and had to be swiped with a wand.

At last, I ran with the two eighth graders to the room where they immediately went to the front to speak.

The jig is up

For me, I had missed the entire show thus far: Rosemary, Bill, Charlie, Jean and Denise, all with prepared testimonies, giving mostly legal perspectives on why the ERB has the authority to grant a hearing so that our concerns about climate change can be expressed. Imploring the ERB to take action on behalf of the younger generation. Desiring the implementation of a Climate Action Plan for Indiana.

But I was not going to miss this, the younger generation having their say.  

Before you read their testimonies, below, I want you to know a few things. One, the ERB said no. Two, one ERB member, Tom Anderson, made the motion for the public hearing. Three, there was no second to the motion and so it died. Four, the ERB stated once again they thought the General Assembly was the appropriate way to go. Five, afterwards, a couple of ERB members said they would try and be helpful in finding legislators willing to craft to bill regarding a climate action plan. 

Six, as the kids spoke and the ERB processed our testimonies, supporters continued to arrive. It was just after 3 o’clock at that point, still earlier than I thought we would begin.

I think that’s why I am not discouraged.

You had our back.

Whether you showed up, or contacted me that you couldn’t show up, you, like me, know the jig is up. The climate crisis is upon us, and our political system — our leaders — are ill-equipped to move quickly enough to meet its challenges.

Right at the time when we need leaders and clarity the most, we are mired in bureaucracy, propaganda and confusion.

Punting the can down the road and over the precipice.

Yet yesterday, at the hearing, everything came together at the last moment.

I know that’s what we’re all dreaming of, because the predominant Western narrative traces that trajectory; darkest before the dawn, help arrives when all seems lost.

Folks, the climax is coming, and the heroes and heroines — ALL of us, including members of the ERB — are battling and worrying and working hard and waking up in the middle of the night saying I am not doing enough.

It’s hard, and what’s especially hard is to keep fighting.

I’m telling you, if you ever waver, then listen. Listen to the youth.

Here’s what the youth had to say that day.

My name is Maddie Brooks and I am an eighth grader at Project Libertas.

This past summer I was taught to use my voice. To stand up. To make myself be heard. But in order to be heard, you need an audience willing to listen. That’s your role today.

Climate Change has been demanding to be noticed lately. And a lot of people have chosen to ignore or deny that fact.

Not us. We have noticed.

We’ve noticed the temperature rising.

We’ve noticed the ice melting.

We’ve noticed the extreme weather conditions.

Some people may have excuses or say we’re imagining all of these situations, but being doubted on facts – it wears me out. Let alone all of these guys.

On behalf of the youth, I ask you to take the necessary and responsible steps, as our state’s leaders, to grant us a hearing regarding a Climate Action Plan, to ensure my future is guaranteed.

Citizens of Indiana are counting on you. Each and every one of you have the chance to make a difference. So, ask yourselves, “Why not take it?”

My and future generations are depending on the decision you make. Our futures – they’re in your hands. It’s up to you if they are good ones or not.

And now here is Cora:

Hello. My name is Cora Gordon. I am an eighth grade student at Eastwood Middle School. First off, I would just like to say thanks for giving me time to share my opinion and for listening to me. I am here to express the fact that we — as in Indiana — need a Climate Action Plan.

Climate change is a real, hard-hitting challenge that we MUST face. It is not something that can just solve itself.

Now, I know some of you probably think that nothing major will happen until you are dead and gone, but what about my future? I want to grow up and I want to get a job, but the way things are going now, my full time job will be surviving.

And what about generations younger than me? Will they even know what life was like when people didn’t have to scramble around like animals for food?

In all honesty, I am terrified. I am terrified for my future and also for Indiana. So, think to yourself, do you really want all your hard work for this country to be all for nothing? Do you want your kids, nieces, nephews and grandchildren to have to give all they have just to survive?

Or will you have a plan? Will you have a plan that could save hundreds of thousands of lives and futures? Because I need that plan. And so do all the generations younger than mine.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Saving the World thru (Kids Making) Bumper Stickers

I've had a remarkable couple of weeks working with students at The Children's House, and we're just getting started. This is quite the delight for me, because I taught at The Children's House in the early '90s, and so returning here feels a lot like coming home. Two of my three kids graduated from this school, and there are numerous other family and personal connections.

This experience is also the opportunity to work with the entire school, from kindergarten on up to the 8th graders. It involves the entire school in a remarkable, cross curriculum immersion on the subject of climate change.

I guarantee I'll unleash a bunch of content about this 9 week project, but for now I'd like to concentrate on today's experience and the creative explosion I witnessed at the school.

For last year's Indy Fringe festival, I collaborated with artist Will McCarty on a bumper sticker version of my climate reality slideshow, entitled Saving the World thru Bumper Stickers. I still occasionally use the bumper stickers in my work, but I hadn't pulled out the entire slideshow until last week for a presentation to Ball Sate University students on brevity in communication.

Here's an example of what Will and I put together:

That Ball State experience provided the inspiration to bring the bumper sticker show to The Children's House today, and afterward, I asked the students to create their own stickers.

Feast your eyes on the creativity of these kids.

The irony is not lost on them: Cars = carbon emissions. 
Just in case you're having any trouble reading this, it says "cow farts are real." We talked about methane in the context of animal agriculture and the gases they emit.

This student was inspired by the leafblower bumper sticker, above.

I thought the positivity of this bumper sticker — and those below — was brilliant. 

Hard at work!

There's a lot of concern in the school that a melting Arctic will be problematic for Santa.

You have to love the optimism of this one.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The joy of playing with plastic food

Welcome to the sordid, behind-the-scenes world of activist tabling at festivals. It can be a thankless and exhausting task. You sit and watch as dozens, even hundreds, of people walk by your table. You want to save the world; they are hellbent to find the beer truck, the music stage or the toilets.

Believe me, I know. I've sat behind a table at too many festivals to count.

Today's, however, was the most fun ever — in part because I've never had so much help. But more so because I usually just have a petition in hand. This time, because of Climate Camp, we had numerous items to use in interaction with festival goers.

Kristina Hulvershorn (left) with Maddie and Cora.
If you've read my blog about our recent Climate Camp, you know we did a lot of fun activities, including learning about the water and carbon footprint of food choices. It's an eye-opening exercise, and even though you intellectually know it takes more carbon to make a pound of beef than it does to make a pound of carrots, it's something else to see it represented with actual items. You get it on a deeper level.

And that's what Maddie, Cora, Iris, Claire, Ocean and Jasmine did on Labor Day at WARMfest Community Day at Broad Ripple Park.

This plastic food looks pretty realistic! To the right is our Climate Camp exercise to "visualize" a pound of CO2: it's the equivalent of 27 balloons.

Thanks to Kristina for all her hard work in putting these items together.

It was such fun to see our Climate Campers walk WARMfest folks through the carbon and water footprint protocol. People were kind and attentive. Some folks pushed back a bit, questioned our sources, etc. These were good exchanges, excellent practice for our youth.

At one point, a gentleman asked the youth if they were "pushing vegetarianism." They paused and I seized the opportunity to jump in, because I really liked his question, and wanted it to be truly heard. I told him that it was too easy to "push" something — like eating vegetarian or riding a bike or using solar or whatever.

I am guilty of wanting people to feel guilty about their personal consumption behaviors. It's something I'm working on, and here was an opportunity to shift our emphasis.

I told the man what we were trying to do was simply present a better way of assessing the consequences of our food choices. Make whatever choice you want; just note its impact.

From then on, I overheard the youth take up that perspective, and explain to people that they weren't trying to push anything. Just show some facts.

Cora holds out some garbanzo beans.
Jasmine and Ocean enjoy some festival goodies. We did not assess the carbon and water footprint of their flavored ices.

Claire, on the right in between Cora and Maddie, joined us midway through the day and quickly learned the materials. There's Iris, to the far right.
It was a long day. For a couple of our Climate Campers, it was grueling — over 8 hours. They were discouraged by some of the interactions, by a lack of urgency among some in the crowd, but they had no idea how it usually goes: a partially filled out petition. A plastic cup you didn't intend to use. A apple core you don't know what to do with. A constant stream of passersby who don't stop in.

Today, we had something more than that. We had real interactions with people. Lessons learned; lessons exchanged. Plus everybody got to play with plastic food.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The first-ever Climate Camp

It's two days after the close of the first-ever Climate Camp and my mind is full of images of this extraordinary week. I hope you don't mind I dump some of those images into this blog, as it will help scratch the itch of the need to begin to process what this experience meant.

I bet our campers, nearly 20 kids, aged 9-17, are going through a similar process.

Nearly everyone I talk to has a camp experience in their past. I believe the characteristics are similar, whatever the specific content of the camp: the awkward beginning where no one knows each other, the immersive experience of the camp, and the bonding that inevitably occurs. 

Climate Camp co-coordinators Mat Davis, Kristina Hulvershorn (with the Peace Learning Center) and myself were committed to not overbook the schedule. I hope we accomplished that!

For the record, Climate Camp was July 21-25. It was a day camp, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except we went later for our Friday showcase -- more on that, below. It was a partnership between the PLC and our Earth Charter Indiana youth program, Youth Power Indiana.

We ate vegan all week long, thanks to Indy Urban Acres, Georgetown Market and Second Helpings — whose availability to our camp was through the American Culinary Foundation, Indianapolis chapter. Our campers learned the connections between personal consumption, pollution — mostly fossil fuel pollution — climate change, and solutions for positive growth.

Enough words, in this case pictures DO tell a better story than I can express in prose.

We began our camp with a hike thru the beautiful Eagle Creek woods, where Peace Learning Center is located.

One of our first activities was to connect personal consumption with the concept that our consumer impact on the earth can be perceived as an act of violence. We did a "roots of violence" interactive lesson.
Mat Davis, right, addresses the campers.

Matt Shull, left, visited from White Pine Wilderness Academy, talking with campers about nature, animals, primitive skills and wilderness connection.

The paparazzi descend upon deer scat.
One constant theme of the camp was that nature wastes nothing. Nature in fact turns waste — poop! — into energy, and nothing is lost in the cycle. To that end, we studied the materials economy:

The materials economy works on a lineal path that creates waste and habitat destruction. Aiding in this area of study was a showing of Annie Leonard's "The Story of Stuff."

With the help of Big Car, we developed a t-shirt, modeled here by Maddie.

Campers each got their own t-shirt. As you can see the back of the shirt lists projections by the majority of climate scientists, regarding a near future of 2035. Along with a few solutions, too!
How do you visualize a pound of CO2? Why, with balloons of course! Here, Lucy, Alden and camp counselor Alexis Litz from Hanover College, work on the balloons.

On Wednesday, campers took to their bikes for a tour of The Nature Conservancy in downtown Indianapolis.

Next stop was Second Helpings. Second Helpings chefs prepared our lunches — and our Friday dinner — with a vegan approach. Our lunch at Second Helpings was amazing.

On the Cultural Trail to the Indiana State Museum, home of the annual Eco Science Fair and Going Green Fest. Some of our campers utilized the new Pacers Bikeshare system. 
Group portrait atop the Eskenazi Health Skyfarm, where food is grown for patients and staff.

This Skyfarm blew all our minds, that a hospital would put a farm on its roof!

Another stop that day was to visit the Indiana Statehouse. Jesse Kharbanda, left, from the Hoosier Environmental Council, talks with campers about climate change and policy.
Tyler Gough, of Indy Urban Acres, talks to the campers about the food he grew that contributed to our vegan meals over the course of the week. Indy Urban Acres grows thousands of pounds of food for Gleaners Food Bank, to help feed those whose who are food insecure.

Tyler talks about heirloom tomatoes, his favorite!

Tyler in the hoop house, where he can grow food year round.

This gives you an idea of what we ate during Climate Camp.
Chef Thom England, Culinary Instructor at Ivy Tech, shows us around the Culinary Arts building. There, chefs learn all sorts of sustainability actions.

Lunch at DUOs Cafeteria continued our effort to feed campers locally sourced vegan food.

The balloons are taking shape! 28 balloons = one pound of CO2.

Jonathan and Noah served as emcees for our Climate Showcase at the end of our camp. We had poetry and song and theater and visual art.

The campers created a play that day, fossil fuel vs. renewable energy. Happy to report that renewables ultimately won the battle!

Aspen, one of our older campers (17; not pictured here), created a compelling performance art piece, combining a music video about human negative impact on the planet, with projections from our t-shirts.
This performance art piece was particularly effective at both sending the warning signal regarding the destructive path we're on as well as pointing toward a way forward that helps heal our relationship to this only planet we have.

I was in tears watching these kids stand and stare at us in the audience with these placards of horror. They are asking us for our leadership in this quest to reduce human impact and enact a new, lighter, more conscious way of being, so that the future they face is not so harrowing.

To say Climate Camp created hope to all assembled is a profound understatement. The next generation of leaders stand before us, ready to make a livable world for all.