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Archive for March, 2009

Student GardenSpring has sprung, and the world is mudlucious… a perfect condition in which to begin seasonal planting. Sustainable vegetation is a key component of organic living and college should be no exception. Not only do most institutions have the land to accommodate an on-campus garden, but they have the hands to make it work.

When the students themselves are responsible for maintaining their own garden, they will experience several benefits. Not only will they literally be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but they will feel accomplished in their agricultural successes and their ability to create and sustain positive ecological behaviors.

As Thoreau said of gardening near his notorious wooded cabin, “When my hoe tinkled against the stones, that music echoed to the woods and the sky, and was an accompaniment to my labor which yielded an instant and immeasurable crop. It was no longer beans that I hoed, nor I that hoed beans…” His point, if I may interpret it, is that the process, as with many things, has greater rewards than the reward itself.

At the start of the planting process, it’s important to consider four factors: Product, Placement, Need, and Treatment.

·         Product– Choose vegetables and herbs that are native to the area. Not only will they grow better, but it is healthier for the soil.

·         Placement– Be cautious of where you are planting your crops. Try not to clear out excess vegetation or destroy land in the process; that would negate what organic gardening is trying to accomplish. Gardeners should also keep an eye out for wetlands. These are largely protected and not particularly conducive to growing produce.

·         Need– Waste not. The size of your harvest should be relatively consistent with the number of students you are trying to feed. In some cases, a crop might supply food for the entire college community, but this is something that should be determined before the planting process, taking into consideration the rate of growth and loss.

·        Treatment– For gardening to be truly organic, it has to abide by a few basic rules. The produce must be grown using only animal or vegetable fertilizers, such as manure, bone meal, or compost. The garden must be maintained with little to know chemicals; a certain amount of pesticide is necessary to deal with species that threaten the life of your plants, but killing off ALL insects is not the answer. Insects contribute to the biodiversity of the garden’s ecosystem and to remove them would upset its balance… however, there are a few insects and other species that are accidentally introduced to areas by unnatural forces. These problems can be treated, but with products that cause the least environmental damage. GardensAlive.com  has a line of “environmentally responsible” products, and its not the only company on the market that specializes in green gardening.  Web surf for some safe alternatives.

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College dorms are notoriously dirty. After a particularly active weekend, even the strongest stomachs will cringe at the pungent beer odor crawling out of hallway carpets. Eau de Budweiser.

A lot of institutions support the myth that it takes the harshest cleaners to get out the harshest smells. The Housekeeping staff will use industrial strength cleaners that contain toxic Methylene Chloride and Sodium Hypochlorite, among other caustic ingredients. 

Not only are these chemicals potentially harmful to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system but they also take an unnecessary toll on the environment.

natural-cleanerThe market now offers a line of organic and natural cleaning products that are just as effective as conventional cleaners without the scary side-effects. These alternatives often use plant-based ingredients like soy and citrus extract, and forgo the typical ammonia component. Many of these products can be bought in bulk or in industrial sizes to accommodate large institutions.

Nature’s Source and Biokleen are two great options, each with a wide line of products to suit various cleaning needs. 

Students should encourage their administration to make the green clean switch, and should commit to natural cleaning products themselves. If a tight college budget doesn’t allow for these extra purchases, students can use solutions like baking soda and lemon juice to tidy up their immediate living area.

 

 

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My college is a small private institution in rural New England. We love our trees here. We love conserving land, we love nature, we love emitting the earthy-hippie vibe. 

And yet, ironically, we love love love our paper. In some ways, it’s the nature of the beast: college students must have a medium for reading and writing, and paper is the age-old option. paper-earth

But it’s getting a little ridiculous. As small as my college is (under 1000 students), we commission the killing of 288 trees a year just to serve our paper purposes.  That’s 1,152 trees in my college career. That’s an entire forest. And that equates to 12 TONS of paper waste once we’re through using it.

This is after integrating digital forums into our curriculum that would allow students and faculty to communicate through online copy. And after making an effort to encourage double-sided printing.  

If changing our consumption habits isn’t resolving the problem, we must at least change the nature of our use. By switching to 100% Recycled Paper, we could significantly reduce our environmental impact. Switching to soy-based and/or non-toxic ink products would have a positive effect as well.

[Information compiled by GreenRoutes, a community-based environmental research project based out of my institution]

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Health Food Wars!

When shopping for produce, not all fruits and veggies are created equal. Steer clear of the Dark Side by sticking to Organic Certified goods. This will weed out products that have been treated with hormones and pesticides and other toxic evils. There’s battle going on in your grocery aisle…which side are you on? 

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college_food_guide_pyramid

College students are notorious for their bad eating habits. Buffet-style dining leads us to consume large portions of less-than-healthy food. Most of us opt for the grab-and-go meals like pizza and burgers; more often than not because that’s what is provided for us. Academic institutions tend to buy in bulk because that is the most economical option, but these products are typically highly processed and have lost nutrients to the freezing process.  

beer1We are also late-night munchers: midnight pb&j’s, Chinese takeout, bags of Doritos that taste so much better in the wee hours of the morning.

And, for the majority of us, booze is a big factor in our eating habits and weight fluctuation. In one weekend evening, an individual can consume anywhere near 1200 calories in alcohol. At 110 calories a pop, even light beers can pack pounds onto your midsection. And to add insult to injury, a person has less dietary discretion when they’re intoxicated,  so they would be more likely to succumb to the infamous “drunk munchies.”  

The best defense against these nutrition no-nos is conscious eating: making deliberate decisions that contribute to natural health. This isn’t always the easiest option, but it will benefit you in the longrun. There are a few ways of taking the organic route:

  • foodVisit your local Farmer’s Markets- Locavorism benefits you, your economy, and your earth. Stay tuned for some more info on the many benefits of buying and eating in town.
  • Check out the Natural Food section at your grocery store- Some are bigger than others, but most have a decent selection of fresh produce and organic goods. Stock up on organic snacks so that you will be less likely to scarf down junk food. Some snacks might even be locally-grown or produced, so you can hit two birds with one stone (although Naturalists typically don’t condone animal cruelty!)
  • Grow your own vegetation- Talk to your college administration or Environmental programs about starting a community garden.  
  • Make special requests- Some resident dining services might support the idea of going organic, or at least featuring some natural selections. You’ll never know until you ask! Which leads to…
  • Ask questions- You can have a better idea of what your eating if you ask about ingredients and nutrition facts. If you stick to natural foods, you will typically consume less calories and better calories, which will keep you fuller longer and healthier over-all!

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