Good Life

Sustainability projects abound on, off campus

An early summer update on sustainability happenings in the Centre Region:

The Penn State Sustainability Institute is about 6 months old, since the Campus Sustainability Office merged with the Center for Sustainability in January. The leadership team’s functions include coordinating work on the sustainability minor, food sourcing for campus dining halls, Green Teams/Green Paws/Eco-Rep programs, grant-writing and supervising student interns. Their mission is mostly related to “learning and dialogue” with minimal involvement in campus energy sourcing and use.

So far, the most exciting project has been an April 24 Local Foods Dinner in Redifer Commons, led by interns Alyssa Kalter and Rachel Hoh. Organizers worked on menu planning and logistics with area farmers and Jim Richards at Penn State Residential Dining Services, and reported 101 students chose to purchase the locally-sourced meal. The students distributed surveys to assess interest in local food dining options on campus, and are now compiling that information to carry the momentum forward into the fall. Working with SI’s Jeremy Bean, Hoh is also developing her honors thesis — an excellent history of Penn State student-run farms — to mobilize resources from multiple departments and create a new college farm.

Penn State students are working with State College officials to address greenhouse gas reduction through building retrofits of rental units, since 81 percent of emissions result from electricity use and space heating. The “Greening our Leases” seminar course began this spring and will continue in the fall as students investigate a key energy dilemma: disincentives for renters to spend money to improve property they don’t own, and disincentives for landlords to invest in energy improvements since renters pay energy costs.

In other local energy system planning developments, organizers are planning a June 14 and 15 Democracy School as they prepare to draft new local legislation defining the community responsibilities that go along with the “right to a sustainable energy future” in our community bill of rights. Likely features of a new ordinance or charter amendment include an energy commission to measure current fossil-fuel energy use and set reduction targets, plus funding mechanisms to support residential and business conservation measures and transitions to sustainable, locally-produced energy.

Friends & Farmers Cooperative elected its first board of directors this spring, held a great co-op potluck April 16 along with an online fundraising auction, and has now collected almost 600 responses to a community survey, which will feed into the group’s plans for a fundraising and membership drive.

As we continue increasing the amount of food grown, prepared and consumed locally, one key bottleneck keeps cropping up: farmers interested in growing and selling crops to local schools, hospitals, co-ops, restaurants and prisons, are unable to invest time and money in creating a food hub because they lack reliable access to trained, competent farm labor and because their profit margins are too small to cover the up-front insurance, storage and delivery costs.

This summer, two Penn State students are pursuing these issues through the Tennessen Trek volunteer program and Spring Creek Homesteading. Justin Huegel is compiling information about Mark Ott’s K-12 farm-to-table program in the Bald Eagle Area School District, and Tess Bloom is interviewing area farmers to pinpoint their specific labor needs and training capacity, as a prelude to a pilot student farm labor project.

In other Spring Creek Homesteading news, the first Homesteaders’ Handbook is finished. A directory of farms, farmers markets, homesteading suppliers, educational programs and more, it’s available at Webster’s Bookstore Café. Our next quarterly family-friendly potluck is a Summer Potluck Picnic at Spring Creek Park (Pavilion #2) on June 22.

Upcoming reskilling workshops include “Common Weeds of Central PA and Non-Herbicide Strategies for Management” (June 22); “Building Rain Barrels” (July 6); “Building a Backyard Chicken Coop” (July 13, host family needed); and a series at the Aug. 3 PCO FarmFest, including “Cover Cropping in the Backyard Garden,” “Gardening for Pollinators and Native Bee Conservation,” “Backyard Chickens” and “Canning Summer Fruits.”

The Keller Street Community Garden at the State College Friends Meeting House opened in mid-April, under a joint land use-garden management arrangement. All 12 public plots are now reserved and under cultivation. The public is welcome on June 15 to help plant a satellite pollinator garden affiliated with the Snetsinger Pollinator Garden at Tudek Park. This spring, we also gave a $500 mini grant to Wilson Home Farms to build and plant a raised-bed garden at the Burrowes Street Youth Haven, which opened May 15.

Our community efforts to “use it up, wear it out, make it do and do without” will continue.