Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Vertical food, circular processes, smart businesses

Recently, I've been lucky to tour two facilities in Indiana, in two very different settings.

First is the beautiful Ivy Tech culinary arts building just north of downtown Indianapolis. I took a tour with Chef Thom England, Program Coordinator at Ivy Tech Community College. This visit was in the context of our partnership on the Climate Camp, so I wasn't really prepared for the tour, I was just there to have a conversation. It was mind-blowing.

Now, I want all kids to tour the Ivy Tech facility and see with their very eyes how food can be prepared responsibly, with as low a carbon footprint as possible, as well as seeing how waste can be kept to a minimum — and save money in the process.

The Culinary Arts Program is state-of-the-art when it comes to carbon footprint reduction in terms of food processing and preparing, from how waste heat is vented to the chefs learning how to utilize every single aspect of the animal so that nothing goes to waste.

This is what really got me excited, their food composting system, what's known as waste reduction technology. Here is the Ivy Tech facility's Somat unit:

It takes all the food waste — even bones (except for beef bones) — and processes it down to almost nothing. The Somat site says an 8:1 reduction, and I believe it, after Chef Thom's tour. The end product of this process can be used as compost or whatever you want. It's a natural byproduct, produced by this amazing machine.

In fact, Chef Thom pointed out their dumpster and said they are now saving $15,000 per year in reduced trash pick up costs. A win-win!

A couple weeks later I found myself in a very different setting, a warehouse tucked away on the west side of Bloomington. There I met the creators of the Garden Tower Project, a great way to grow food vertically. Here's Colin Cudmore, showing off an early stage of the life of a Garden Tower-to-be.

Vertical gardening is the future — and really, should be the present. Units like the ones created at the GTP are perfect for that: grow food in small spaces, create excess composting materials for additional growing needs, and reduce water use anywhere from 60-90%. Now that's conservation!

This circular pipe in the middle is the vermicomposter where your table scraps and bits of otherwise-recyclables (paper, cardboard) can go to turn into fertilizer for whatever it is you're growing. Colin and crew told me the vermicomposter creates a surplus of material that you can use on your other plants and gardens.

We know that population is growing, worldwide, and we know that most people will be living in cities. They will need to know how to grow food vertically and dispose of their waste products not just responsibly but as part of a cycle that mimics nature's impeccable process.

Here's what they look like in full regalia:

Entrepreneurs like Chef Thom and his crew at Ivy Tech and Colin Cudmore and his partners at Garden Tower Project are making the right, sustainable decisions, saving and making money. In the process they're teaching us to be better earth stewards.

Go here for more on the Garden Tower Project.

Go here for more on the Culinary Arts Program at Ivy Tech, part of the Hospitality Administration.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Celebrating Eco-Heroes in Bloomington

Of course, when I caught word of a contest among school children to express themselves via the arts regarding our environmental challenges, I did everything I could to attend.

Even and including burning carbons to get there.

Sure, enough, this event, held in Bloomington's City Hall and staged by the City of Bloomington Environmental Commission, took place on April 23, an appropriate gathering for Earth Week.

Mayor Mark Kruzan was on hand to deliver the prizes to the students, and generally crack everyone up with his sense of humor.

I met some great folks, which is always what's best about these sorts of things. Here are some of the pieces of art created by the kids, ranging from k-3 thru high school.

The winner of the high school competitors was by Sara Burgoon a student at Bloomington South High School:

This is, I gathered the third or fourth Eco-Heroes Competition, so if you live in the Bloomington area and are -- or have -- some creative-minded kids, keep an eye out for next year's event.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A perfect place to spend Earth Day: Oaklandon Elementary

Forgive my relentless enthusiasm, but Indiana's schoolchildren continue to inspire me — and, I hope, you. I learned that Oaklandon Elementary School was having an Earth Day work day from my friends at Oaklandon, along with Derrin Slack, Founder and Executive Director of Pro(Act) Community Partnerships, who helped turn this Earth Day into a session of enormous productivity.

Raised garden beds were built, trees and bushes were mulched, art work was created, drums were played and fires were sparked, all aided by dozens of volunteers from numerous local orgs and businesses. An amazing day! A lot was accomplished:

See the greenhouse in the background? Want to see what's inside? Follow me!

Who wouldn't want to go to a school where you had to at least occasionally put on boots and muck around?

One of the most exciting items in the greenhouse is this newly-built aquaponics system. Tilapia swimming below, greens growing above; students learning first hand how nature is a complex, self-perpetuating system.

As I said, trees were mulched:

The shed was painted:

Lest you think I was only taking pictures, I jumped in and helped with that project, one at which I am adept. What I'm not so adept at is primitive skills technology, so thank goodness Matt Shull was there with his White Pine Wilderness Academy wares:

Students learned the gaits of animals, and also learned how to start a fire with a fire bow drill. 

A good day was had by all! For me, it was such a good feeling to know our future is in good hands with these stewards of the planet. All we need to do is support them and their efforts all we can — and listen to them when they tell us what they need. 

Happy Earth Day to all and make every day Earth Day.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A year of living joyously

Almost one year to the day I rolled up to this school... and everything changed.

I was still working at NUVO and Indiana Living Green at the time, was loving my work, my workmates, but was increasingly urgent regarding our climate predicament and what to do about it.

I was invited to CFI #2, an IPS school situated downtown and by the time I walked out, I knew what I needed to do: Find a way to work, full time, with kids on climate issues and sustainability actions.

A couple months later, that wish magically came true.

This is what the school looked like today when I arrived.

What's that, you want to get a closer look at the bike rack?

My bike is feeling pretty cool, nestled between these festive bikes. Unless, of course, my bike is feeling rather wan and embarrassed.

Once inside, these greets my eye:

Here is a school that doesn't want to let anything go to waste. In fact, CFI #2 has a great relationship with The Can Lady, who will come and pick up these cans and return with money for the school. Cha-Ching!

Two elementary classes gathered in the media center (for my generation, it's called "the library"), some 40 or so kids. They were kind, attentive and had great input. This one student, Allan, got up and took over my presentation with a description of greenhouse gas pollution's impact on the atmosphere:

Awesome job, Allan. Next, the kids are making the motions of a jet stream made wobbly by the melting Arctic sea:

Here is Darcy explaining the positive feedback loop of Arctic melt:

Students show off the greens they're growing:

Here is their aquaponics set up, designed and monitored by the students:

Students at CFI #2 are savvy about all types of composting, too:

All in all, it was a lovely visit and a reminder to me how sophisticated Indiana students can be about waste, energy, food and recycling. These kids — and their terrific, supportive teachers and principal — inspire me, and should inspire us all, to be better stewards of the earth.

This time, cycling away from the school, I had no epiphany, in fact I didn't need one. I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What we talk about when we talk about food

For those of you following my climate chronicles — and I don't mean just this sporadically-penned blog, but the amazing adventure I'm enjoying — you'll know that I started this gig with Earth Charter Indiana with the idea that I was going to talk to Indiana kids about climate change.

Well, I do that, but guess what, kids already know about climate change because they learn about it in school.

And so, I often find myself listening to kids talk about food. And in the process, I find that the issue is their frustration with their food systems: what they eat, what they are not allowed to eat, what their food is served on, and what they're allowed to do with their food waste.

This issue is so massive, I will only try and bite off, so to speak, a little bit in this particular blog. Our new web site, Youth Power Indiana, will track these discussions, frustrations — and ultimately, celebrate the numerous successes of school kids all over Indiana when it comes to food and food systems.

Last week, I visited Decatur Discovery Academy. This remarkable high school attended the Eco-Science Fair at the Indiana State Museum for the Going Green Festival in March. I was so impressed with what these kids are doing at their school regarding sustainability stewardship, especially in the area of food, that I had to do a site visit.

Food scraps from lunch are collected in this pail...

...then dumped into their composting area outside, adjacent to the school.
Raised garden beds are recipients of the composted nutrients.
Listening to the stories of these students, I learned that the school had supported a student-driven initiative to bring a chicken coop to the school. This program idea was initially rejected by the school board. The school tried a different approach, letting the students themselves approach the school board.

I can only imagine how irresistible that was! Indeed, they were granted the permission to build and place a chicken coop on their school grounds.

The existing chicken coop, in need of an upgrade.
Their new chicken coop in its construction phase.
See above for a student-led design for a new chicken coop. Their old one is a bit dilapidated, in part because of its exposure to the elements. They believe this construction will be more durable.

What's next for Decatur Discovery Academy? Well, for one thing — besides completing the new coop — they'd like a bee hive, something they've been told they can not do. Perhaps the students advocating for it in person might make the difference!

I know that, for example, at the old Project School in Indianapolis, they had bee hives for two years, and not one kid was stung.

Also, apparently, there are bees LOOSED in nature! Crazy, I know...

The food saga continues...

This week I visited another Eco-Science Fair attendee, Paul I. Miller School 114. (If there is an underlying message you should take away it's this: You show up, I'll show up.)

Anyway, this IPS school had wonderful display at the Eco-Science Fair!

School 114; thanks to Jeremy McClean for this photo!

I met with the eco club, showed a bit of my presentation, but ended up spending the majority of time talking about ... yep, food.

The kids told me a harrowing story, one I think deserves a deeper investigation, in case there are some journalists reading this blog. The school used to receive whole fruit as part of a federal food program.

Now, they receive their fruit cut up in pieces and stuck into plastic bags.

If you think I am making this up, then feast, so to speak, your eyes on this:

See, you thought I might be kidding.

Want to see how it makes Luke, a student at School 114, feel?

Not too happy, is he?

The kids said they'd like to stop this silly procedure, but other than writing letters to leaders, they didn't exactly know what to do.

Nor do I. All I know is these young stewards of the planet are doing everything they can to improve their food systems, and we should do everything we can to help them.

In the process, we can support our local farmers, our local economy, and the health and well-being of our kids and our communities. Whatever obstacles exist should be solved.

Speaking of local farmers schooling and feeding kids, I left School 114 and in under 5 minutes found myself at the doorstep of Andrew Distelrath, whose Distelrath Farms is renown throughout the Indianapolis area.

Andrew Distelrath
Andrew's got big plans, including converting his farm into a school, where kids can learn much of their existing curriculum through farming. Project-based learning is extraordinarily powerful — and STEM-friendly as well.

Imagine this generation of kids learning math, science, history, social studies, engineering, technology and art through growing food that they themselves consume.

That's more "wins" than I can even count.

Distelrath Farms: Imagine the possibilities...
It was just another day in the life of this lucky man. Me.

What better thing to do, than to hang out at a school with great kids and supportive teachers, then make an unplanned visit to a neighbor and see something like this:

I call this My Year of Living Joyously.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A visit with Reagan Elementary in Brownsburg

I already knew how cool the high school kids are in Brownsburg, so I wasn't exactly surprised by the acumen and sophistication of the fourth and fifth graders. Still, I was — once again — buoyed by the experience of being with young minds, sharing concerns and solutions regarding our climate predicament.

Here they are, the Go Green Club, posing nicely. We've just completely an hour-plus meeting. And yes, it was a meeting. I did not present to them. I sat down and we discussed their pet peeves about consumption and waste in their schools, and what they feel are the good eco-practices they enjoy at home.

It was very productive. I kept encouraging the kids to think upstream. Instead of upcycling their waste, they should consider not acquiring the product that produces this waste in the first place.

These are the minds that will solve the problems we have heaped upon them for a couple generations.

Now here's the same kids, posing more naturally!

That's right, their shirts read "HOPE."

Here comes Climate Camp!

It's long been a dream for me, to hold a day camp for kids that's about our climate predicament. What a delight, then, to find someone with a similar dream, Kristina Hulvershorn, Youth Programs Director at Peace Learning Center. She brings a different discipline, that of humane education, a philosophy that teaches the whole child about their entire impact upon each other and the ecosystem. An instruction that encourages compassion and respect for all living things.

That's Kristina on the right. On the far left is my friend Mat Davis, who recently attained a position at the PLC. A match made on earth! Mat is not only an expert at sustainability, eco-conscious farming, composting and other earth-friendly behaviors, he's also one of Indy's best spoken word artists. He'll be wonderful at the Camp, encouraging creative expression in our campers.

In the middle, you see Tyler Gough, who runs Indy Urban Acres, an urban farm on the east side of Indianapolis. Food grown there goes to local food banks to help feed folks in the Indy area. You can bet the food is responsibly grown, and very tasty!

Given the central importance of food to our climate camp, you might call the above the Sod Squad.

Sorry, couldn't resist!

We'll have help from many great folks, from Matt Shull, whom you've read about in this blog in the past, to a partnership with the Ivy Tech Community College of Central Indiana Hospitality Administration Department. That's a mouthful! And it will be a delicious one, as campers learn how to prepare this locally grown food.

Who are the campers? Incoming 4th-to-12th graders who "get it," who understand in their hearts that our consume-and-waste culture is creating trauma for all living systems. The solutions are everywhere! And our camp will not dwell on the negative, but emphasize solutions. We'll take a field trip and ride bikes, visiting some of these solutions. We'll bring folks in who are working on sustainability projects.

The cost? $30, including lunch. The dates? July 21-25. The time? 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., though on the final day, the 25th, we'll go into the evening with dinner and a dance party. The location? Peace Learning Center at Eagle Creek Park. Want to apply? Email me at jimpoyser@earthcharterindiana.org and I'll send you the application materials, along with answering any questions you might have.