Friday, May 30, 2014

This IS the most amazing time to be alive, ever

It's been another incredible week for me, making new friends and solidifying relationships and collaborations. Sometimes I feel bad about how happy I am, my Year of Living Joyously, as I call it. You all are working so hard on all your endeavors. Most of you don't get this privilege that I enjoy: working for Mother Earth, full-time.

I never lose touch with my gratitude about that.

Nor does my concern for our children's future ever wane.

But I do have fun. I mean, this IS fun. This IS the most amazing time to be alive, ever. Okay, so it was probably cool to be a neanderthal, back in the day. And, I bet chilling with Copernicus was a good time. And to have been in Paris at the turn of last century....

Sorry, got distracted there. This IS the most amazing time to be alive, because it is the most challenging, ever. The global restoration movement is not only beginning, it's absolutely necessary. And we will do it with kindness, respect and love, because that is the only way.

And what we sacrifice in the process, won't have been important anyway.

So here is just a grab-bag of the fun I had this week:

Great meeting with the new executive director of Earth Day Indiana, Summer Keown. Summer is taking the position from Stephen Sellers, who did such a great job growing Earth Day Indiana into a massive annual festival of eco-awareness. Summer is poised to build on that legacy. Read more about her.

Later that same day, I met Rachael and Martha Hoover, of Patachou fame. It was a delightful experience: I've known Martha since very earliest days of Patachou, and if you know Patachou, then you know what a success it has turned out to be, from the numerous Patachou restaurants to the spawn of Napolese. "Spawn of Napolese" -- sounds almost like a horror film!

But it's not, Napolese is just one more amazing endeavor by the Hoovers that sources local food and does everything right to reduce carbon footprint and waste. Rachael, Martha's daughter, is helping steer the Napolese restaurants, that are poised to expand, nationally. Read about that here.

Rachael and Martha met with me, not to discuss their restaurants but to discuss their effort to feed nutritious food to some of Indy's most underserved, food insecure kids, via the Patachou Foundation.

I hope to help them in any way I can. I am working more and more in the food arena. My blog is filled with stories of kids wanting locally sourced foods, of kids trying to dispose of food waste responsibly, so maybe I can be of assistance to these amazing women and their efforts to feed kids good, nutritious food.

The next day, I was at the launch of the Harmony-Meier Institute for Democracy and Equity in Education, a collaboration between the Harmony Education Center, IU's School of Education and Lilly Library, in partnership with Debbie Meier herself, a MacArthur Fellow who is an advocate for incorporating democracy, social justice and equity into American education.

Steve "Roc" Bonchek, executive director and found of Harmony School in Bloomington.

This collaboration will be housed at the new Inspire Living-Learning Center on the campus of IU Bloomington, where education students will explore the work of Debbie Meier and Harmony School, and champion their own efforts, philosophies and teaching styles. Much more on this later, my friends!

It was a fun week for The Ain't Too Late Show, too, as I got the whole crew together to do a gig at the Indiana United Methodist annual conference. The Methodists enjoy a fine tradition of social justice activism, so I knew I was singing to the choir, so to speak.

One of the Ain't Too Late Show's powerhouse talents, Travis DiNicola.

And here's Karen Irwin and Sean Baker, performing a Janis Joplin tune for the assembled.

And here's me, sporting my Beyond Coal shirt.
It was a wonderful experience, and we met so many powerful people of faith who are committed to stewardship of the planet.

There's more to this week (hey, it's only Friday morning as I write this!), but I will close with just one additional adventure.

This first year of my work at Earth Charter Indiana, I visited three dozen schools or more. A handful of those schools — say around 10 or so — brought me back for multiple visits, and also showed up when I asked them to, such as at the Eco Science Fair at the Going Green Fest.

That's the case with Promise Road Elementary in Noblesville. Last night, I attended their end-of-year PBL (Project Based Learning) celebration, that featured numerous projects, such as two Wounded Warrior Project displays and one featuring the work I helped them with: reducing their school's carbon footprint.

This is an amazing school, replete with technology. This kids make videos about everything they do, create QR codes, then use twitter to spread the word and communicate with contacts — such as the twitter exchange they had with the Wounded Warrior Project.

But they are getting their hands dirty, too. First grade teacher Nicole Powers showed me the composter they built that now sits next to the school.

Nicole Powers, showing off the inside of the unit.
It's huge -- and hugely wondrous!

The story of this composter and of the adjacent garden the kids helped build can be accessed here.

I guarantee it will make you smile, and you'll know why I am smiling almost all the time now.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Food rescue at St. Bartholomew in Columbus

While many of you were participating in Bike to Work Day, I was driving my car. As much as I love to ride my bike, I couldn't possibly have met my commitment to visit St. Bartholomew in Columbus, Indiana, on a bike. 

There are those who can. I had the great fortune a couple of years ago of meeting Dave Blase, an Arlington High School teacher, who was the inspiration for the main character in the film, Breaking Away. Blase told me when I met him that back in the early days of the Little 500, he'd ride from Indianapolis to Bloomington, watch the Little 5, then ride on back home.

That's some serious bicycle prowess. Me, I'm a wimp in comparison. This this is how the road looked to me:

Headed north on 65, there was rain, hail and other weather frivolities.
I was excited to meet this group of 8th graders, because I had witnessed a presentation of theirs at Orchard School, at an event that drew more than a half dozen Indiana schools together to show off their efforts at rescuing food waste.

It's a complicated thing, as you know — especially if you are following my Climate Chronicles adventures. Kids don't want to throw food away, but often the rules at their schools don't give them any other option.

I think of food waste as a climate disruption issue: food thrown away and deposited in landfills creates methane which is 25 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. 

But throwing food away is terrible idea for many reasons.

For these principled, social justice-minded kids, it's an atrocity to waste food when so many are hungry. In fact, the name of their presentation at Orchard that evening was "Operation End Hunger" and this brilliant bunch is well on the way to solving an enormous, complicated puzzle when it comes to reducing food waste and depositing food waste responsibly. 

They will need our help to do so. More on that in a sec.

Of all the excellent presentations that night, St. B stood out, and here's why:

These St. Bartholomew 8th graders look proud, and they should be!

Their display in the cafeteria is so large I had to photograph the right side of the display separately.
As you can see, the students created a massive graph that stretches across the wall in their cafeteria so their fellow students can see exactly how they're doing when it comes to food waste capture. That's the key, of course, to getting participation in a community. Create a system where everyone has a buy-in to the project, and display the successes and failures to meet the metrics proposed.

This is a very STEM-like endeavor, for those of you who are wondering about that. Methinks these students, led by their wonderful, committed teacher, Bridget Steele, are exploring multiple school subjects in this endeavor, from math to science to social studies and more. In a project-based earning modality, to boot!

St. B students holding their Energy book I delivered, courtesy of the Post Carbon Institute.
These students will soon have their full report of Operation End Hunger on our Youth Power Indiana site, but the truth is, they are in the data-collection stage of their "operation." The next phase of their effort will have to be how to responsibly dispose of what food they are collecting. Since they are moving on to high school, they'll have to hand this ambitious project on to the next generation (the current 7th graders).

I have no doubt they will solve this in a systematic way, but they will need your help. Columbus friends, are there any ambitious composters among you? Can anyone help the students figure out where to take their food waste — for example, are there any local farmers receiving food waste? 

These days, it takes a village not so much to raise a child, but to support our youth in solving the mess we've made with our consume-and-waste habits. With students like these and teachers like Bridget, our village just got a whole lot stronger.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Good Shepherd Montessori School Presents a Sustainability Conference

I've been fortunate in this first year of my Climate Chronicles/Earth Charter Indiana adventure of going deep with a couple of schools. "Going deep" means I visit more than once, and stay in touch via email and or phone, touching base, sharing grant opportunities I find, making connections between folks.

Good Shepherd Montessori School in South Bend is a great example. First off, I've now visited the school twice, and they participated in the Eco Science Fair as part of the Going Green Fest last March. In fact, at the Eco Science Fair, two of the Junior High students at Good Shepherd asked me to come to their Sustainability Conference, held at their school.

Photo by Tami Barbour
Of course I said 'yes,' that's what going deep is all about! So I agreed to attend the conference, run a panel on energy, and then present my Ain't Too Late game show at the end, so that everyone could gather and have a good time.

The Sustainability Conference was held May 2, and in this all day gathering nearly two dozen presentations were showcased by the 7th and 8th graders. Good Shepherd invited another Montessori school to participate, and a home school squad of presenters were there as well.

The presentations ranged from nuclear energy to genetic modification to the benefits of eating locally. Most kids had a power point of some kind; some kids used a bunch of props — such as the presentation on fermentation.

Here are a few images from the conference:

 8th grader Edward, presenting on Placemaking. Photo by Tami Barbour

8th grader Corrinne, presenting on Upcycling. Photo by Tami Barbour

Students and professionals gather for the keynote speech by Theri Niemier. Photo by Tami Barbour
Keynote speaker Theri Niemier, of Bertrand Farm. Photo by Tami Barbour

8th grader Noah, presenting on Clean Water. Photo by Tami Barbour

An official from the City of South Bend was present, along with representatives from Notre Dame and IUSB. There were some local farmer-educators such as Charlotte Wolfe (Prairie Winds Nature Farm) and keynote speaker, Theri Niemier from Bertrand Farm.

It was an enlightening day. I didn't always agree with the conclusions of the students, but their presentations were vigorously researched and usually dynamically presented.

Good Shepherd students who organized the conference; on the left is a representative from the John J. Reilly Center that sponsored the event.  Photo by Tami Barbour

 8th graders, Matthew and Edward, celebrate their presentations. Photo by Tami Barbour

One of the students has agreed to work up a comprehensive description of what the students did to pull this conference off with such professionalism. I'll share that report as soon as I receive it, as I believe other Indiana schools will want to hold their own conferences.

For me, an added delight about going deep with Good Shepherd is that I was born and raised in South Bend. It fills me with happiness to see such a progressive, eco-conscious and stewardship-minded bunch of school officials, generally known as "guides" (instead of teachers), and top-notch students willing to take on some of the challenging issues of our time.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Aquaponics explained, simply

This Oaklandon Elementary School student explains their new aquaponics system.

Video: Eco Science Fair at Indiana State Museum

Check out our sweet video from this year's — first ever — Eco Science Fair at the Going Green Fest at the Indiana State Museum.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Book review: 'Divine Animal' by Scott Russell Sanders

Most of us know Scott Russell Sanders as an essayist. In fact, he's achieved a master status over the years with the publication of such books as A Conservationist Manifesto, A Private History of Awe and Hunting for Hope: A Father's Journey. His essays are finely sculpted works, as polished and shaped as any you'll read.

He has received a boggling number of awards, from the Lannan Literary Award, the Great Lakes Book Award and the Kenyon Review Literary Award, to The Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature's Mark Twain Award.

Sanders, as he ages, grows more urgent about our environmental predicament. The writing is more impassioned, and there's more anger beneath the crafted prose, so the release of a novel — instead of another collection of ever more fervent non-fiction — is a bit of a surprise. That Sanders offers this book in electronic form, for free, just adds to the surprise.

Sanders, now retired from his teaching position at Indiana University, is still wicked busy with teaching, traveling and speaking. I know, because I often reach out to him for advice or support in matters regarding the subject of this Climate Chronicles blog. He is always kind and helpful, but he is often writing me from the road, whether on a short teaching stint somewhere, or as a keynote speaker at some large gathering.

Still, he finds time to write, and his Divine Animal is an ambitious work, captivating and pleasurable. It certainly held me in its grip. The mark a good novel to me is whether I think about it when I'm not reading. Divine Animal passed that test beautifully, as I found myself musing on the protagonist, Harlan, and whether he'd ever end up meeting his mom, Aurora, in person.

There's much to admire in this book. It may very well be Sanders' most complex work, as it weaves numerous separate narratives across a couple of decades. It is a delight to discover how all these disparate protagonists end up connecting to each other. The landscape is a pleasure, too, especially for midwestern readers who will recognize a number of locations in Michigan and Indiana.

What I believe is Sanders' biggest accomplishment is how he deftly weaves the subject of his non-fiction — climate change and human impact on the environment — into his tale of a spurned son trying to makes sense of his abandonment. Katarina, a young Swedish woman with whom Harlan falls in love, is a passionate spokesperson for Sanders' outrage regarding human destruction of the planet. Her simple and straightforward speaking style works well; she is both believable and sympathetic.
Photo by Ruth Sanders

Her matter-of-fact observations draw Harlan into a deeper understanding of his own predicament. As he has been abandoned by his mother, so have we abandoned our connection to nature. The consequences of both are heart-wrenching.

I noted earlier that Sanders' endeavors to give this book away in ebook form. He explains why, saying he didn't intend to produce a commodity while crafting Divine Animal. He adds, "A deeper reason for giving away the e-book version is to make a small return to the cultural commons, that indispensable source for all creative work, including my own—the commons of language, literature, libraries, schools and colleges, the arts and sciences and all forms of knowledge, as well as countless conversations with fellow seekers and makers."

One can buy a hard copy of this book as well, by visiting his web site.