Changing the conversation

The most memorable moment from this year’s Young Farmer Conference at Stone Barns came from Nadine Nelson questioning Mark Bittman. This question and the fumble that occurred directly after, shifted the entire conversation from land reform to equity. People need to hold themselves and the organizations they represent accountable to people of color. The modern food movement can use this as a profound teaching moment in examining who has a seat at the table.

“Meet Percival the peacock: Defender of chickens, protector of the farm”

Image result for peacock chicken

Mark Bergunder, farmer, has proved that there is a holistic and gentle approach to protecting a flock of chickens: enlist the help of a peacock. This infographic is to illustrate what it might look like to have a peacock protecting a flock of chickens roaming around Manor’s grounds.

As reported by Elise Cooper:

Percy not only protects the chickens, he’s pretty fond of their company too, though the egg-laying birds aren’t that impressed by his colourful plume. “It didn’t take long for the chickens to realise that he was no danger at all. Now they mostly ignore him, in spite of Percival showing them his wheel of feathers quite a lot,” Burgunder told Mashable.

According to Bergunder, who discovered the benefits of keeping a peacock near his chickens largely by accident, Percy protects his chickens from birds of prey, such as goshawks, a bird similar to the raptors that fly around Bard’s campus. It is important to note that peacocks are not capable of protecting chickens from predators such as foxes and feral cats. My assertion would be that, if chickens were kept safe at night, it would be unlikely that a fox would threaten itself in the presence of humans, during daylight, though this is up for debate. Perhaps we need Percy and a dog on campus to protect the chickens?

Percy displaying his beautiful plumage:

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Lovely plumage

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Check out the article on Percy here:

Beautiful Chickens

This little chart of some great breeds of chickens shows just how cool breeds of chickens can be. Some people that I talked to in my interviews said that some people may not like the idea of chickens because they’re “ugly” or “dirty”. This one chart shows just how beautiful chickens can be, and how varied a single group of chickens could be. I think that having a varied group of chickens would be really helpful for the educational side of chicken-keeping on campus because students could observe how each breed may behave differently or have different habits.

The Cemani breed got me curious because it looks so crazy in the illustration, so I looked it up and it looks very similar in photos!

Photo of Chinese Active-Solar Greenhouse

Above is a picture of a greenhouse model used widely in areas of China. In a 2015 article by LowTech Magazine, it was reported that there were at least 1,977  of these greenhouses in China. This model is low-cost and does not involve fossil fuels for heating. The transparent part can be made of plastic-foil, which is much cheaper and insular than glass. There are typically three walls surrounding the greenhouse, one of which is seen in the picture above. These walls are made of particularly insular material such as brick or certain types of rock.The three walls and accompanying material retain heat very well and release it at night when the sun is not heating the greenhouse.

There are other forms of natural insulation that this model uses. Typically, these greenhouses have what can be called a massive “blind” to cover the transparent exterior. This serves as an extra layer of insulation during the night time.

The above graph that will accompany the picture illustrates the temperature inside and outside a Chinese passive solar greenhouse in Shenyang, China in February 2005. The lowest temperature that the  interior reaches is 0 degrees Celsius (which translates to 32 degrees Fahrenheit). This particular area of China gets slightly colder than the Bard area; it would be classified as a Zone 5a based on the USDA Hardiness Zone Map. Annandale on Hudson is classified as a zone b area. In other words, the information collected on the interior temperature of the greenhouse in Shenyang might be applicable to a greenhouse of a similar nature in our region. Hardier plants such as leafy greens (which would be the primary produce grown in my proposed greenhouse) can grow in temperatures 30 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. Some backup heating system in case of freezing temperatures would be necessary in the colder winter months. Otherwise, the natural heating of this design should suffice to grow hardy vegetables for Kline.

This style of greenhouse is dubbed “active solar” because it requires labor for the “blind” I previously mentioned. This will not be an issue however since I am proposing that the greenhouse be managed by work study students.


Environmental Implications of Plastic: an infographic

In my final project, I explore the merit in Bard dining services divesting from non-compostable disposables and investing in compostable alternatives. The current disposable products available in all campus dining areas are non-recyclable, landfill-bound plastics. On a small scale, switching to compostable disposables has the potential decrease what Bard spends on trash removal; however, in a much larger context (and in the context of this infographic), Bard would stop contributing to a myriad of problems. This infographic details global statistics on plastic waste generation (e.g., “Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth four times”) and its environmental impacts (e.g., “Plastic takes up to 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill”). These are leverage points, and a call to action for institutions that perpetuate this issue at a substantial level. In juxtaposing the cons of plastic with the pros of compostable products, I have created an incentive for change and given reason for Bard not to be a participant in wreaking havoc on the world.

Localtunity Website


This is a photo of a successful website organization for an initiative at Dickinson College. LOCALTUNITY is a Dickinson College initiative for all students, faculty & staff aimed to build community, support the local economy, and buy and eat healthy local food together. Launched in May 2014, This community opportunity allows Dickinson employees and/or students to shop at the Farmers on the Square (FOTS) market together for fresh foods grown by local farmers and receive one $5 token per person to use at the market. Groups of Dickinsonians can double the fun of LOCALTUNITY by additionally agreeing to cook a meal together with their Farmers on the Square purchases. When I went to Dickinson’s website, I was guided there by of one of my academic sources (as an example of a college that spends 50% of their budget on local and organic products). Their sustainability website is clean cut, well-produced and easily navigable. Localtunity and some of the other programs will be very helpful to my analysis on information flows. Scale is an important factor in change-making and communication. If you are making local change, it is relatively small scale and international change is much larger scale. By providing evidence for participating locally and at many scales beyond that, Localtunity does a good job of promoting their program.

Salt and Pepper Shakers: Gas emissions

I want to incorporate this infographic to show how the use of disposables adds to the carbon footprint Bard has.  This is from the EPA Inventory of Greenhouse Gases in 2015 so it is a little dated but it provides relevant information on gases that are being emitted into the environment, of which plastics have a large role to play.  My hope is that it will add to my environmental argument against disposable salt and pepper containers by showing the amount of CO2 that is released and that plastics have a large role to play in this emission.  It will be part of an argument about production of plastics and the use of fossil fuels in the process of manufacturing.

Hydroponics Increasingly Used In Organic Farming, Creates Tension

Hydroponics, the practice of growing vegetables without soil, is increasingly being used in organic farming.  A swath of “longtime organic farmers” flooded a meeting of the National Board of Organic Farming in Jacksonville, Florida in the hopes that hydroponics be excluded by the organic label. Their argument is that hydroponics  do not embrace soil health and land stewardship as a primary component of “organic”. I noticed that the language of the anti-hydroponics movement draws from the historical roots of the organic movement. They are concerned with the “founding principles” rather than perhaps the most appropriate principles. After all, as one hydroponic grower notes, “we can grow our tomatoes organically with 3 to 5 gallons of water, per pound of production, as opposed to growing tomatoes in open fields, which can use anywhere from 26 to 37 gallons of water.” On top of that, the article notes that hydroponic growing in “high-tech” greenhouses uses less land and “destroys less natural habitat”.

The vote occurring in Jacksonville, Fla. was in favor of hydroponics. I think what the nay-sayers failed to do was present a topical argument. The organic movement as well as the environmental movement in general is less about traditionalism as it is about innovation. The protesters should have emphasized the excessive use of carbon for heating, cooling and constructing the hydroponic greenhouses. This would have been the more salient argument.

Is soil regeneration an essential component to the organic label? Does organic food necessarily need to come from traditional farming techniques? What will the attachment to tradition do to the sustainable food movement? Will it undermine forward movement?

This topic is covered in the attached NPR article from early November.

Cornell Is Tackling Waste Head-On

A response to:

Recently The Cornell Daily Sun published a feature titled “Let’s Talk Trash: How WasteNot! Is Tackling Waste on Campus,” which details the successful new sustainability measures on campus.

Since 2015, WasteNot! has been conducting food audits, analyzing patterns in students’ disposable habits. The club recently concluded that clear, visual signage could combat the thoughtlessness that leads to recycling and compost bin contamination. In addition to offering students clear images of which waste products go in which bins, the signs render instructions in the five most-spoken languages on campus.

While the ‘waste-way’ in Kline had similar signage for students (that is, when they were trusted to sort their own waste), there was certainly still a campus-wide ignorance of what products are recyclable, compostable, and landfill-bound. As part of my final project, I will propose that Bard dining services invest in compostable food packaging for Down the Road Cafe and Manor House. In this case, compost bins will need to be out in the campus center and in Manor House. Comprehensible signage, such as WasteNot!’s, will be essential to ensuring students are disposing of waste most efficiently.

WasteNot! has also created smaller labels to put on individual dispensers and products, such as reminders that “Napkins are compostable!” and “This container is recyclable!” on á la carte sandwich boxes. These so-called “touch points” further combat the issue of unawareness. I believe marking disposable products in Bard dining halls would make students more mindful, as well.  

Additionally, WasteNot! is creating an incentive for the use of reusable mugs on campus. All students who opt to use their own mug or one from the “Community Mug Program,” receive a 25-cent discount in á la carte cafes.

Cornell’s WasteNot! initiatives have proven to be impactful (the contamination in bins outside of their cafeteria alone has dropped by 10% for landfill, 17% for recycling and 19% for compost). Cornell is a much larger institution than Bard, giving me hope that simply educating students can increase cognizance, especially as one of my arguments for managing disposable waste is bettering students’ waste literacy.

Do you think Bard students will be receptive to adopting initiatives similar to those of Cornell’s WasteNot! club?

Footing the Bill for Finer Dining

A response to:

Four Boston elementary schools are making Janet Poppendeick proud – testing the practicality of cooking with fresher ingredients and engaging students. Since May, the students of Bradley Elementary, Patrick J. Kennedy, the East Boston Early Education Center, and East Boston High School have been offered healthy options in a compelling way. Quality and intrigue is a recipe that yields healthy children and nourished minds.

Journalist Steve Holt describes the cafeteria lines at Manassah Elementary’s cafeteria as being impressively filled with salad greens, black beans, seasoned chicken, and vibrant broccoli (steamed by an actual chef). The offerings and do-it-yourself design resemble those of a Chipotle – an interactive experience, not merely a passive one.

Students are also able to interact with the chefs while filling their plates. In a 2015 Harvard study, researchers found that “students were 20-30 percent more likely to choose and consume a fruit or vegetable when a chef was present than students in schools with no chef.”

As wonderful as this all sounds, however, it is not easy to support financially, especially as the Trump administration aims to cut the USDA budget by 20%. The director of food services at the Boulder Valley School District, Chef Ann Cooper, says that to support cafeteria practices such as these, Boston public schools will “need to look to these public-private partnerships to make change, because there’s just not the federal role to work on school meals and anti-hunger systems.”

Resetting the expectations of students and redefining what it means to eat healthily is a revolutionary initiative, but limited due to a lack of funding. Poppendieck would argue that there should be no need for private involvement, and that there should be an increase in federal nutrition subsidy.

But, is this a realistic expectation? Should parents and guardians be asked to pay – in addition to taxes to ensure their kids are eating well-sourced and prepared foods? I’m not suggesting that school food is a privilege, but I do wonder when standards become a luxury.