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Farm Life

After our visit to the College Farm today I was left feeling both encouraged and discouraged. I was encouraged to know that our school is doing what it can (more so each year) to contribute to sustainable and organic farming. I think the farm provides a great model for other schools to follow which prompted me to look up more information about our farm as well as what other schools might be doing similarly to Dickinson. Some of you may be familiar with the following article that was recently published on New York Times: “Selling the Campus Farm”, but I encourage you to read the article if you haven’t already done so as Dickinson gets special mention. It not only speaks to how far and how much progress the Dickinson College Farm has made but it also shows what other schools are farming. Schools are using the profits from their farms for a variety of things, for example at California State Polytechnic University the farm “profits are being funneled back into a cash-strained agricultural school [while] other campuses, the money goes to repair tractors or update solar-powered greenhouses.” The article helps one to feel optimistic about the future and growth of sustainable farming looking at the variety of schools taking similar initiatives. However, on the ride back to campus upon further reflection I felt a little disheartened thinking about the question of whether or not it really is possible or to what extent a capitalistic nation can sustainably or organically mass produce? The phrase in itself (at least to me, I don’t know if everyone will agree with me), sounds like an oxymoron…”organically mass produce”?

When Jenn mentioned that all of this should start when we’re young I think that was a really important distinction and point. Professor Bell and Olivia’s anecdotes about food awareness and children really play to this point. I think it’s interesting to compare food awareness in the United States to that of other countries. For example, I lived and babysat with a family in Geneva, Switzerland whose children were raised there and as a result have a very different perspective and awareness of food and nutrition. The family moved back to the United States three years ago and I distinctly remember when they moved back the change I saw when I went to babysit for them. The two kids, who were three and five at the time, were disgusted by much of the food their mom brought home from the grocery store. Now this may sound extreme but I want to make the point that their mom was not buying junk food or processed food for them that they were unfamiliar with, she was buying cheese, yogurt, fruit etc. I think this exemplifies that the children were put off by the lack of freshness in the food because they had been used to food that came from farmers markets on a weekly basis all year round. Fresh, unprocessed food. Obviously we can’t have farmers markets all year round given different weather conditions and limitations but I think it shows how much influence we can have on children by raising awareness and not “voting” (as Jenn phrased it) for the processed snacks and foods with our money at the grocery store.






On April 26, 2012 an Earth Sciences Seminar was held in Kaufman 179 to highlight three senior independent research projects. The three presenters, Angelo Lan, Anna Farb, and Katie Tomsho presented very different research projects, each containing more collaboration than just within the Environmental Science department, catering to each of the students interests. At the completion of each presentation, there were a handful of questions posed by both student and faculty representatives.

            The first presenter, Angelo Lan, gave a comprehensive presentation on his mathematical evaluation of land use change impact on stream flow in Monocacy Creek, Northampton, PA. For this presenter, the study allowed him to utilize his math major and his environmental studies major in order to complete an elaborate analysis of stream flow that could be used in the future for better analysis of the impact of changes in land use over time. The speaker gave enough detail about the calculations for the audience as a whole to follow, even though the subject was highly advanced for a general audience.

            The second speaker, Katie Tomsho, researched the highly debated and hot-topic of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling. In order to get the perspectives of the community members impacted by the drilling, she interviewed and video recorded key citizens from two counties. She found that the opinions and support for drilling differed in each county. In order to broadcast these opinions and represent sides equally she developed a documentary that will be shown later this semester.

            The last presenter, Anna Farb, conducted research on the effects of vermicompost in potting soils and extract foliar sprays on plant health and productivity. She utilized the Dickinson College farm for her experiment in order to supply the farm with alternative fertilizer options. Although the study had multiple experiments including a pre-trial experiment, the results do not pose enough information for the farm to conclude on, further studies will continue to be produced until a vial solution can be implemented at large.

            Overall, the presentations opened up good conversation and thoughts on future research projects for underclassman. The event was successful in extrapolating various departments and students on campus and should continue to be in collaboration for future senior independent projects. I highly recommend students to come the event especially if they are considering doing an independent research project for their major requirement.

Here’s a link to the article mentioned by Jenn Halpin today at the farm, “Meet Dickinson’s Meat,” about unsustainable food consumption practices at Dickinson College. (And, keep in mind, Dickinson is probably better than a lot of schools, considering that so much of the summer and fall produce comes from its own organic farm.)

Oh, and by the way, the shows about farming in 17th C England (1620, to be more specific) and during the Victorian Era are called, “Tales from the Green Valley” and “The Victorian Farm”. You can find the first clip of the first episode of “Tales from the Green Valley,” below, if you are interested, and both are available in segments on YouTube.

This evening I attended a debate hosted by Union Philosophical Society (of which I am a member) considering the issue of whether economic growth is ecologically sustainable.  As is the nature of UPS debates, there were members of the Society arguing for either side (that economic growth is and is not sustainable).  The affirmative side argued that Economic growth is essential to environmental protection and that Malthusian theory has been disproven over and over, especially by the Green Revolution, which boosted food supply and made further exponential population growth possible.  They also argued that we are always discovering new fossil fuel sources, which puts into question the idea of “Peak Oil.”  However the point was also made that getting off of fossil fuels might have more economic benefits than staying with them, through job creation and the like.  In an especially interesting argument relating to our course, the pro-growth side stated that the lower class is affected most by environmental destruction, and since economic growth theoretically creates jobs and decreases inequality, it could raise people out of the lower class so that they aren’t affected as much by environmental destruction.

In response to these arguments, the negative side offered some of their own.  They argued that while we have overcome “limits” before, there will be a time when we run out of resources.  Energy supply is rapidly shrinking while demand is always growing, and when we run out, there will likely be conflicts worldwide for resources.  As an alternative strategy, they suggested that we find a way to equitably redistribute resources so that everyone has enough to survive comfortably, while also slowly reaching a point where our resource use is sustainable.  As a less than optimistic prediction of future events, they foresaw society collapsing in the relatively near future when resources run out.  Assuming that some humans survive, they hoped that the survivors may see the error of their ways and rebuild what remains of society to be more environmentally sound.

After some debate from the other attendees, the matter was put to a vote, which was unanimous in favor of the negative side, that economic growth is not ecologically sustainable.  I’m sorry that I don’t have any pictures, but the Society tries to minimize the use of technology in its meetings, so I was unable to take any.

I attended the debate on whether or not economic growth is ecologically sustainable in Denny 317 on Tuesday April 24. The debate was held by the Union Philosophical Society. There were two arguments presented: economic growth is environmentally sustainable and economic growth is not environmentally sustainable.

The speaker against the existence of economic sustainability introduced the first point that all of today’s economic development falls into the neoclassical economics category which is outdated and cannot allow for sustainable development in an economy. He went on to say that there are limits of resources in the natural world. We thought we reached these limits in the past and through innovation with new technologies overcame them. However we have yet to reach the depletion of all resources. We live on finite planet; the entropy law says all matter is of low entropy, or useful energy, but once it is used it then becomes high entropy, or less useful energy. No matter how many alternative energies and resources we find, we only have a finite amount of matter.

Evidence suggests that we have already reached peak oil, which means we reserves left, but the supply is decreasing as we take extract it. Therefore supply is decreasing, demand is increasing, and eventually we will be faced with a huge dilemma. He argued that this flawed economic model will lead to a global collapse of economic systems. Ultimately, the way we have grown cannot be sustained anymore.

He additionally presented the example of aquaculture. We have basically depleted the edible fish populations in oceans, so we have replaced fishing with aquaculture (fish farms) that rely on petroleum. Agriculture, since it has became industrialized due to degraded useless soil, now depends on fossil fuels and chemicals as well. All modern food society relies on nonrenewable resources. We have moved away from living nature, to support material consumption is impossible.

Ending economic growth will be beneficial to ending material consumption. He stated that it will not effect the lower class because the wealthy societies of the world have the lifestyles of overconsumption. Developing countries are suffering most from climate change and environment degradation now. If we address equity by figuring out level of consumption that is in our ecological limits, we can live sustainably. If we do not start trying now the entire system will collapse. He ended his side by saying we should not base economic growth by quantity (GDP), but by the quality of life and nature. If we can find a steady state that falls within natural provisions we can reach ecological sustainability or else future generations will have to suffer the consequences of our economic growth with the limitations and depletion of resources.

The speaker on behalf of the existence of ecologically sustainable economic growth discussed how people and humans have always been involved in a struggle against nature to survive. The success of working with the environment to grow sustainable must include an intricate balance with economic growth.

He argued that the agricultural revolution is actually an example of environmentally sustainable economic growth. Humans had reached a point where the population was too high to feed everyone an feared for survival humanity. However, with an increase in technology, the problem was solved and those advances resulted in economic growth. He also stated that new technologies are helping the environment and causing economic growth.

Moreover, he thought that we have found a way to grow economically and not harm the environment so we should not have to halt growth as long as we keep making technological advances to sustain the environment, like in the nonrenewable industry.

In response to the comment of how economics today are flawed due to their neoclassical roots, he thought that economic ideology does not matter in the sustainable development economic model. While he agreed that we are running out of fossil fuels, but we are always finding more resources, for example the new, untouched oil reserve in Israel that was recently discovered. There are also an abundance of power industries like hydropower, wind power, solar power, etc that result in economic growth.

In his conclusion, he stated that we need to ween ourselves off of fossil fuels and find a way to integrate future systems. He argued that stopping growth will cause major conflicts that will effect the lower class first and eventually lead to class warfare. Economic and sustainable growth and technology has helped lower class throughout history an actually leads to equality.

After the closing arguments, the audience unanimously voted that economic growth is not ecologically sustainable. What do you guys think after reading this in addition to some of our in class discussions?

Annualized Geo-Solar

Last week (4/19) I attended one of the Science Lecture’s called Rush Hour. They have several Rush Hours throughout the month of March and April where Professors are given the opportunity to present their research discussing different topics relating mostly to the environment. On Thursday, Professor Jackson, a Physics professor, presented on eco-friendly housing. He lives in Carlisle, and a few years back he built his house nearby and informed everyone of how he went about making his house more sustainable. I found it interesting  how much physics goes into building a house like his. One thing he talked a lot about was the Annualized Geo- Solar which is the process of having the air temperature within the house stay about 70 degrees throughout the entire year without the use of an AC unit. The diagram below depicts how this works. But basically through sol the use of solar panels, energy is collected and stored. This mostly happens during the summer when the sun is out. During the winter when the sun is not as powerful, the energy stored from the summer is able to warm the entire house when necessary.


Questions for discussion (please address at least one of these questions in the comments section, and feel free also to raise questions of your own, too):

  1. Vandana Shiva, in Soil Not Oil, argues that market-based solutions to the climate and food crises cannot work. Why is this the case, according to Shiva? What does she propose as a solution? Do you agree with her?
  2. Thinking about “eco-socialism” from our discussion in class last week, can we consider Shiva an “eco-socialist”?
  3. Why does Shiva think India can, if it wants, become a model for surviving the climate crisis? Could her solutions work in the U.S.?
  4. Pollan describes the Polyface Farm in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. This farm is not necessarily “organic,” but it is, according to Pollan, an example of sustainable agriculture. Why is Polyface more sustainable and environmentally friendly, according to Pollan, than many organic farms?
  5. Is the Polyface Farm in any way similar to Navdanya, as described by Shiva?
  6. What does Pollan mean by “Supermarket Pastoral”?

I found Michael Pollan’s chapter, “Big Organic” to be particularly interesting given the increased presence of the term over the past decade. I’m not sure if everyone will agree with me on this but from my point of view, which may be influenced because of where I live in CT, the term organic has become like a trendy fad that shoppers jumped on when eating healthy foods became a craze. I think Pollan makes reference to this when he points out in the reading:

the word ‘organic’ has proved to be one of the most powerful words in the supermarket: Without any help from government, farmers and consumers working together in this way have built $11 billion industry that is now the fastest growing sector of the food economy” (136).

I think that the growth and size of the organic industry reflects how much people and businesses have come to realize that by attaching this label to their food they 1. Feel better about eating what they are buying because it feels and sounds healthier to them and 2. Companies found their profits can increase by labeling their foods organic. Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma was published in 2006 so I did some research to see what kind of feedback his book stirred up.

Not surprisingly, because Chapter 9 of Pollan’s book references Whole Foods to such a great extent, the CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey, wrote a lengthy letter in response to Pollan the year his book was published. I read his letter, which was very interesting because Mackey offers reasoning to a number of the criticisms that Pollan makes in his chapter. One example that I thought was particularly amusing and well argued from the Whole Foods perspective (bearing in mind that it’s a company trying to make profits and satisfy customers) was Mackey’s response to Pollan’s description of the asparagus served at his dinner party. From Mackey’s letter he explains why Whole Foods carries certain products although they may not be in season stating,

Our customers, however, regularly desire products that may not be in season in many parts of the United States. Accordingly, due to such market demand, we offer the freshest, most sustainably grown products we can find on a year-round basis while also continuing to develop our relationships with local and regional producers in season. That may mean that a Whole Foods Market customer desiring fresh organic asparagus in January will find only spears with an Argentinean or Chilean origin in our produce department. Many of our customers want fresh asparagus and this is where we can reliably source organically grown produce at that time of year. In your book you report the following: “My jet-setting Argentine asparagus tasted like damp cardboard. After the first spear or two no one touched it.” I want to apologize to you for your unpleasant experience with our Argentine asparagus and I’ve enclosed a $25 gift certificate to help compensate you for your negative experience.

This was just one segment of Pollan’s letter however if you’re interested in reading the full letter you can find it on the Whole Foods website blog: John Mackey’s Letter. Additionally, you can find Michael Pollan’s response to Mackey’s letter here: Michael Pollan’s Response. If you don’t have time to read everything one amusing tidbit to leave you all with from Pollan’s response to Mackey’s letter regarding the asparagus affair:

Thank you, too, for the $25 gift certificate, which more than makes up for the $6 I spent on the disappointing Argentine organic asparagus.





Tsagovsky Forest

Check out this fascinating blog post on current protests in Russia related to saving the Tsagovsky Forest. This issue has not received much media attention.

By the end of this article, one note that struck my eyes was that on page 179, “rapid climate change and revolutionary social change are analogous because they both exemplify the sudden transformation of quantity into quality.” One prime example can be seen from a website I found about the non-threatening effects of climate change. In the article it states “Perhaps most importantly, the authors find that, over any plausible range, the impacts of climate change are largely invariant to the size of the climate change. That is, if temperatures rise by more than 50F or precipitation increases by more than eight inches, productivity will rise even more—but not much more. Similarly, even if precipitation or temperatures fall over the next century, agricultural productivity will barely drop. In one sense, this is the powerful new finding to come out of this study: over a huge range of possible climate scenarios, agricultural productivity is largely unaffected. Given the widespread contention over the degree of likely future climate change and the extent to which it is human-caused, this is very good news. It suggests that agricultural productivity will be largely immune to the effects of climate change over the next century.” You may read further into this article but I find it great to see things important enough as agriculture will go noticeably unchanged is a great thing to see for our society if climate change continues.


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