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Build A DWC Hydroponic Garden in Less than an Hour — August 9, 2019

Build A DWC Hydroponic Garden in Less than an Hour

Ever have the urge to grow something green? Since most of us live in cities, access to space to grow plants is practically non-existent, and soils are often contaminated with heavy metals and other industrial pollutants. Despite these conditions, people are using creative hydroponic growing techniques that do not rely on traditional methods of growing food.

Hydroponic systems are unique in that they do not use soil to grow plants, but rather delivers nutrients to plants using nutrient-rich water, also called nutrient solution.

Recently, I created a container deep water culture hydroponic system by re-purposing an old plastic storage tote. In deep water culture (DWC) systems, plants sit directly in nutrient-rich water, and an air pump & air stone keeps the water from getting stagnant by blowing bubbles into the water.

It was super easy, and I’ve outlined the steps here so you can construct your own DWC hydroponic herb garden for your home today!

Step 1: Gather your materials (see links at end of post):

-Storage tote,
-Drill,
-2″-3″ hole saw drill attachment,
-Net pots (2″, 3″),
-Coco coir plugs,
-Dry nutrients part A and B for lettuce (also good for herbs),
-Digital EC meter & pH meter,
-Measuring spoons,
-Air pump,
-Air stone,
-Herb & lettuce seeds

Step 2: Drill holes into the lid of your storage tote.

You can drill as many holes as you think will fit the size of your tote’s lid. I went with 13 holes after spacing out each plant site about 3″ apart from one another. When complete, remove all plastic scraps and debris by rinsing the tote out.

last1.jpg @Hydroponics.NYC

Step 3: Fill the container nearly to the top with tap water & add dry nutrients.

A simple method for making nutrient solution is to to take a quart-sized container (like an old Chinese food container) and fill it nearly to the top with tap water (you can use the water that is already in your tote.) Then, add a teaspoon of part A and a teaspoon of part B of the dry nutrients. Add nutrient solution to your reservoir where your plants live, and measure the electrical conductivity (EC). You want the EC to measure 900-1300 ppm to grow most herbs and lettuce, and you can add another teaspoon of each part A & B as necessary to reach the desired EC level. After each harvest, check your EC and add nutrients & water when necessary to maintain 900-1300 ppm range.

Step 4: Installing the air pump and air stone

The air pump attaches to the air stone via a small plastic tube (usually provided). Place the air stone in the nutrient solution and the air pump at a higher elevation than the level of the water in your deep water culture system (to prevent a siphoning of water out of your system).

DWC3 @Hydroponics.NYC

Step 5: Insert the net pots into the holes you cut for each plant site.

You want the bottom of the net pots to be submerged in nutrient solution, so push the net pots in and then add a coco coir plug to each plant site.

Step 6: Plant your herb and lettuce seeds & place under light source.
Now you are ready to plant your seeds in each plug (1-2 herb/lettuce seeds per plant site).

*Be sure to place your system under sunlight or an artificial light source to ensure your plants can photosynthesize!

Recommendations:
-If it’s summer, consider placing your DWC hydroponic garden outside under the direct sunlight, or if one of your windows gets a ton of sun, place it there.

-If you have space under a coffee table, consider installing these lights on the bottom of the table and placing your DWC hydroponic garden under there: https://www.amazon.com/Integrated-Fixture-Extendable-Greenhouse-Installation/dp/B07FZTKYXV

-If none of your windows get enough sunlight, you can purchase an LED lamp to provide your plants with the lights it needs.

DWC.JPG @Hydroponics.NYC

Links to Materials I used:

-Storage tote: https://www.amazon.com/Rubbermaid-FG2214TPDIM-Roughneck-Storage-Metallic/dp/B075WXMPBF/ref=sr_1_4?crid=1CPO0ONHQAR5J&keywords=10+gallon+rubbermaid+tote&qid=1565441533&s=gateway&sprefix=10+gallon+rubber%2Caps%2C132&sr=8-4

-Drill: https://www.amazon.com/BLACK-DECKER-LDX120C-Lithium-Driver/dp/B005NNF0YU/ref=sxin_5_osp48-6ac4fb34_cov?ascsubtag=6ac4fb34-e401-481a-a17e-9630f5769850&creativeASIN=B005NNF0YU&cv_ct_id=amzn1.osp.6ac4fb34-e401-481a-a17e-9630f5769850&cv_ct_pg=search&cv_ct_wn=osp-search&keywords=drill&linkCode=oas&pd_rd_i=B005NNF0YU&pd_rd_r=0939e467-0503-4191-b33d-b9d55ccdc15e&pd_rd_w=9gylW&pd_rd_wg=oV85b&pf_rd_p=c501273b-119a-4fc9-ad78-eda5006b0be9&pf_rd_r=CTRQQHPXZNJH81RGY6PT&qid=1565440579&s=gateway&tag=spyonsite-20

-2″-3″ hole saw drill attachment: https://www.amazon.com/10-Piece-Hole-Saw-Kit-Wood/dp/B07DNT1D4V/ref=sr_1_9?crid=HK4MQH3R07Y2&keywords=hole+saw+attachment&qid=1565440732&s=gateway&sprefix=hole+saw+atta%2Caps%2C128&sr=8-9

-Net pots (3″): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B073WJ78MM/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Net pots (2″)
https://www.amazon.com/Zicome-Garden-Plastic-Cups-Pots/dp/B06XJ2G6FS/ref=sr_1_2_sspa?keywords=net+pots&qid=1553617516&s=gateway&sr=8-2-spons&psc=1

-Coco coir plugs: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002IU8K2/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

-Dry nutrients part A and B for lettuce (works for herbs too): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MSW5LQQ/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

-Digital EC meter & pH meter:
https://www.amazon.com/VIVOSUN-0-05ph-Accuracy-Readout-Temperature/dp/B06XKMH86J/ref=sr_1_6?keywords=ec+meter&qid=1565442108&s=industrial&sr=1-6

-Measuring spoons:
https://www.amazon.com/1Easylife-Stainless-Measuring-Spoons-Ingredients/dp/B00IE2J0SO/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?keywords=measuring+spoons&qid=1565441240&s=industrial&sr=1-1-spons&psc=1&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUFKQUc3OEI2SDdKV1omZW5jcnlwdGVkSWQ9QTEwNDM2MjcxUkZTV0tRRk1NTUZXJmVuY3J5cHRlZEFkSWQ9QTA0NjIyOTM1U0NRQzBHVVNNOVcmd2lkZ2V0TmFtZT1zcF9hdGYmYWN0aW9uPWNsaWNrUmVkaXJlY3QmZG9Ob3RMb2dDbGljaz10cnVl

-Air pump:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0009YJ4N6/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

-Air stone: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07FZY71K6/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

-Herb & lettuce seeds: https://edenworks.com/

IG accounts:
@Hydroponics.NYC
@Matthew_Gerard_

Empowering Youth to Grow Food: Teens for Food Justice — April 15, 2018

Empowering Youth to Grow Food: Teens for Food Justice

I’m humbled to be volunteering as a mentor to teens at Clinton DeWitt High School in the Bronx with a non-profit organization called Teens for Food Justice (TFFJ). The mission of TFFJ is to create a realistic solution to food insecurity, or lack of access to healthy and nutritious food, by empowering youth to build and maintain sustainable food systems in their community.

IMG_0680 Lettuce growing at Dewitt Clinton High School in Bronx, NYC. @matt_horgan

TFFJ leads a team to train students in Title I schools in the unique craft of urban farming through the “building and maintaining of indoor farms that yield more than 22, 000 lbs. of fresh produce annually at each location” in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx (http://www.teensforfoodjustice.org/).

IMG_0681 Cucumbers and a variety of leafy greens and herbs growing hydroponically by students at Dewitt Clinton High School in Bronx, NYC. @matt_horgan

Additionally, these youth-run urban farms are feeding students nutritious and fresh meals in their cafeteria, as well as increasing the food security of the area by distributing fresh produce people in the surrounding local community. There is also a focus on teaching students about advocating for policy on the local, state, and federal levels of government to ensure that funding and other resources are given to increase people’s access to healthy food options.

IMG_0685 @matt_horgan

Moreover, the mentorship program I am participating in has been really rewarding. I help facilitate a wide range of activities aimed at teaching the students about creating and sustaining hydroponic systems, advocating for food justice in the policy setting, cooking healthy and nutritious meals.

IMG_0683 Students participate in a cooking challenge to create a veggie burger, chocolate avocado pudding, and pasta salad. (Secret ingredient: parsley grown in the schools hydroponic farm) @matt_horgan

Finally, the students put on a Leadership Conference at Agritecture Consulting where students presented data they collected from surveys they designed and conducted in the community around their school to see what fresh, healthy food was available to stores and restaurants.

See more about becoming a mentor here: http://www.teensforfoodjustice.org/be-a-mentor-2/

If you would like to support Teens for Food Justice, see the links below!

http://www.teensforfoodjustice.org/donate

Instagram: @TeensforFoodJustice

Written by:

Matthew Horgan
MHorgan279@gmail.com
@matt_horgan @sustaineveryone
@hydroponics_nyc
SustainEveryone.com

Future Plans for a Conservation and Environmental Education Project in Costa Rica — November 17, 2015

Future Plans for a Conservation and Environmental Education Project in Costa Rica

Often it is hard to focus on the present moment, and it is in our nature to think in terms of the past and the future. After studying tropical ecology for my Bachelor’s degree in Costa Rica for the months of July 2012 and July 2013, I have since been drawn to return to the country.  Likewise, as I mentioned in a previous post, the Professional Science Master’s program in Environmental Management and Sustainability that I am currently pursuing requires for its last semester that each student complete a research internship project, related to sustainability, anywhere in the world. The requirements are broad, but this allows us to actually explore something we wish to pursue as a career. Despite having the opportunity to explore somewhere new to complete my last semester of , my classmate, Tessa, and I are choosing to return to the same small village where I learned and grew a tremendous amount during my undergraduate experience with SUNY Binghamton University in Tres Piedras, Costa Rica.

As I am finishing up my semester in Angers, France, I cannot help but think of the upcoming research opportunity that I am so fortunate to have available to me. In July 2012, I enrolled in a tropical ecology class through my university, SUNY Binghamton University, which was taught a class in tropical ecology in Tres Piedras de Baru, Costa Rica every July and Spring. The property in the village was referred to as the Tropical Forestry Initiative (TFI) at the time, which was owned by a small group of professors and environmentalists. The property was used by professors to teach students, conduct research projects, and carry out reforestation efforts in the region. Unfortunately, SUNY Binghamton no longer brings students to the area anymore, but the TFI property is now in the hands of a local resident who would like to continue using the property for conservation and educational projects. Although Tessa and I will be expected to design, complete, and present our own independent research projects for our degree, we intend to help the new owner of the property with outreach initiatives that could bring student groups back to the area to partake in similar sustainable development projects and in research opportunities to the activities that used to be done with TFI.

The plans for outreach are still in their preliminary stage, as we work with the owner of the property to develop a program. My hope is to provide a site that offers students the ability to conduct their own independent research projects on site, as well as have the opportunities to volunteer on sustainable development projects and provide support for outreach efforts relating to conservation of the property and surrounding ecosystems. Ideally, we could aim to attract graduate students who could perform their research studies on a topic related to the tropical forest on the property. These students would also be willing to learn about and participate in sustainable development projects on and off site relating to reforestation, sustainable food systems, and community outreach.

Although my plans are incomplete and lacking much detail, I have high hopes for what can be accomplished in Tres Piedras, CR. Tropical ecosystems are threatened around the globe, and we need people to start environmental conservation and educational initiatives like this one to mitigate the damage we are doing to our planet. Often there is so much that is presented to us in our lives that we do not make the most of for many reasons. Yet, there might still be great potential for having a profoundly positive impact in taking advantage of what life offers you.

Documentary Film Review- Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret — October 11, 2015

Documentary Film Review- Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

Few documentaries have the ability to make you question your fundamental morals and convictions. For me, Food Inc. was one of my favorite documentaries for this reason. There is, however, a new documentary on Netflix that does an equal or better job at doing this in my opinion. In Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, directors Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn are on a mission to expose the leading cause of environmental destruction, and in the process they reveal information about our food system that will have you asking yourself: “Can I really call myself an environmentalist and still eat meat?” The purpose of the film is to illustrate how there is one industry that out ranks any other in causing deforestation, climate change, species extinction, ocean dead zones, and water depletion, and how the top environmental organizations have focused their attention elsewhere when talking about how to mitigate these problems.

Throughout the documentary, Kip Anderson is on a quest to find out how to be more sustainable. He takes all the typical approaches of environmentalists, like recycling and taking shorter showers, but he is shocked when he finds out how many resources go into eating just one hamburger. He wonders why he was never aware of how intensive animal agriculture is in today’s world. It becomes clear that the top environmental organizations are not focusing on this issue when Kip does his research, so he becomes determined to find out why.

If you ask the average person what they think the single biggest contributor to environmental degradation is, they will probably tell you the fossil fuel industry. Shockingly, the leading environmental organizations like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, and Oceana (just to name a few) do not focus on animal agriculture as the number one cause of the destruction of the planet. The inability and unwillingness for these organizations to talk about the problems with animal agriculture was the most eye opening part of the documentary for me. You would expect for these organizations, who claim to be advocates for protecting our lands and oceans, to be speaking about the root cause of our most serious environmental harms.

What can you do if you truly want to make a positive difference for the planet? Recycling and taking shorter showers is not going to cut it, as you will see after you watch this documentary. The statistics given throughout this film are almost unbelievable. It is hard to comprehend why more people are not talking more about animal agriculture, but Kip explores the many possibilities for why this is the case. It is actually extremely difficult to justify eating meat at the rate we do today after watching Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. If you want to be a well-informed person on the most important environmental issues of our time, then you must see this documentary. It will have you questioning something that is so fundamental to life culture, and being human: food.

Here is a link to the official trailer: https://vimeo.com/95436726

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Should we be concerned? — August 19, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Should we be concerned?

The simplest answer to this question, for me, is a clear and unequivocal yes (This is also my second post about GMOs, so I clearly believe we should be, at the very least, aware of the issues surrounding the topic). Recent reports from news media have questioned whether or not food products containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms) should be labeled as such, so that consumers can choose if they will, or will not, buy the product. This has sparked a serious debate concerning the safety GMOs in our food system. Although some people argue against the labeling of GMOs for causing unnecessary fear surrounding the safety of these products, there is legitimate reason to approach GMO products with caution for political, social, and environmental reasons.

The most important reason to oppose the use of GMO crops is the environmental consequences from the form of agriculture that is necessary to grow these crops: monoculture systems. In short, monoculture farmers plant only one crop in a given area to maximize the yield of this crop. When a farmer choses (or is economically forced) to grow GMO crops (like corn, cotton, or soy), they adopt a monoculture style of growth to maximize the yield of the crop. One reason for planting all of the same variety of plant in the same area is that it makes it easier for the farmer to spray pesticides without killing the other crops (Since most GMO crops are designed to withstand the poisonous nature of pesticides, they will not perish in the presence of excessive pesticide use). Moreover, planting monocultures makes your farm less resilient because if the crop fails, there is no other crop variety to fall back on for food. If farmers cannot produce and sell enough of their one crop, then they cannot feed themselves. Still, it is more efficient to grow GMO crops in monocultures under the current economic system. Large seed companies are then able to sell farmers seeds and pesticides, often with the promise of increased yields.

The argument of increased crop yield is used all the time in favor of the use of GMOs, but it is simply not true that GMOs yield more food. For example, in India, GMO cotton was sold to small farmers with the promise that their yields would be higher than organic, traditional farming methods (Small farmers account for about 80 percent of food production in India). Today, about 95 percent of the cotton grown in India is a Monsanto GMO product.  It is true that cotton yields increased with the introduction of GMO crops in India because people started to just grow cotton instead of maintaining their traditional polyculture system of planting cotton alongside other nutritious food crops. Overall food output has not increased because of the monoculture systems implemented by GMO cotton crops in India. The result was an influx in cotton production and a decrease in the production of nutritious crops that feed people. Now, this would be a good thing if farmers were selling their cotton and receiving enough money to purchase what they need to eat, but this is not the case. Agriculture output decreased and yield of the specific cotton crop increased. People do not eat cotton and increased supply means a decrease in the price of cotton. This caused enormous economic pressure on India’s small farmers because they were now indebted to buying seed and pesticides from these companies, like Monsanto.

One crucial social aspect of this issue to understand is that farmers in the past had no need to buy seed from anyone. Nature provided seed to the farmers (specifically women in India assumed the role of traditional seed saving techniques). Seeds are the source of life, but large companies have now patented life and made it illegal for farmers to save their seeds for the next growing season. This created a cycle of planting and buying expensive GMO seeds for many small farmers in India. When their crops did not produce enough to sustain the farmers, there was a stark increase in suicides among farmers in India since 1997 and 1998. Granted, there were suicides among farmers before this date (as there are unfortunately in every society), but there was a clear increase in the number of suicides among farmers when this economic pressure of debt became greater with the use of GMOs and the accompanying pesticides. (Vandana Shiva is an inspirational advocate against the use of GMOs, specifically in India but also around the world, and she writes/speaks extensively on the topic). Putting all your eggs in one basket is never a good idea, especially when you are an economically vulnerable small farmer.

Similarly, in the United States, farmers receive subsidies from the government to grow corn (which is dominantly GMO corn), and most of this crop is turned into ethanol for fuel. Less food is being produced on these large monoculture farms because food is now a commodity to be sold efficiently in the global market. If the government is going to pay you to grow fuel instead of food, you will grow GMO corn for fuel because of the economic gain. There is still a huge social and environmental cost. As Vandana Shiva (environmental activist and physicist) puts it, if we were growing food for nourishment, then we would maximize nutrition by planting biodiverse polyculture agricultural systems. Instead, we are growing food to maximize profits, which supports a monoculture model of agricultural production.

Furthermore, there are political and legal consequences to the debate around GMO use in agriculture. As I mentioned earlier, the contracts small farmers enter into with large seed companies, like Monsanto, legally restrict farmers from saving their seeds. They are forbidden from planting these seeds again, and they cannot share seeds with anyone. In the United States, there are many cases of farmers who were sued by Monsanto for illegally growing their patented seeds, and often these farmers do not even know that they are growing GMO crops because of the nature of pollination. If your neighbor decides to grow GMO corn, your crop of organic corn is at risk of being contaminated by patented GMO pollen from the neighboring crop because corn is pollinated by the wind. You then are vulnerable to being sued by Monsanto for stealing their patented seed. The concept of having ownership over life is a new one, and it has allowed Monsanto, and other companies, to put small, organic farmers out of business. Once the small, organic farmer can no longer afford their land after litigation, the neighboring GMO farm is eager and ready to take over the farmland to plant more GMO crops.

Moreover, the enormous backlash against labeling GMO products in the United States is serious political problem. With the upcoming presidential reelection campaigns in full swing in the United States, we can see the corrupting influence money has on the political process. (Recent polls have Donald Trump leading the race for the Republican nomination, even after his racist and insensitive comments about Mexicans. Do I need to explain the power of money in politics any further?)  If we allow seed production and dispersal to be controlled by large corporations, politicians will undoubtedly be influenced by these companies when implementing food policy. There is no way your average citizen in the United States can compete with Monsanto lobbyists. The result is that these companies will have the access to politicians that they need to create the laws necessary to perpetuate the cycle of control over seed dispersal and secrecy surrounding products that contain GMOs. Currently, citizens of the United States do not even have the right to know if they are consuming GMO products because GMOs are not labeled on packaging. There is even a push by some politicians to make it illegal to label GMO products for what they are: GMOs. If there is nothing wrong with GMOs, why not label them?

Although many people believe the future of GMOs provides us with great hope for innovation and higher efficiency in food production, we must consider the environmental, social, and political implications of GMOs. The high cost of non-renewable seeds for small farmers, the increased pesticide use on GMO crops, and the huge political influence companies have on politics are a few great reasons to be concerned about the production and consumption of GMOs. Moreover, traditional selective breeding methods can be extremely effective at adapting a certain plant species to a specific region, and this has tremendous potential for helping farmers deal with the changing climate. Small farmers still feed most of the world. Rather than looking to large corporations to solve the problem of food insecurity, we should place higher value on the traditional knowledge of ecological-minded small farmers around the world.

To see Vandana Shiva answer some hard questions surrounding GMOs in a BBC interview watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbIQF72IDuw

The Value in One’s Sense of Place on Earth — July 5, 2015

The Value in One’s Sense of Place on Earth

More than ever before in my life, I see the tremendous value in having a sense of place or a connection to where I live my life. I view this feeling of community and interconnectedness as essential for a person’s wellbeing, yet it seems people today have given up on this idea to an extent. We travel to exotic places for vacations to escape the daily life we created for ourselves, move away for a school or job position, and dream of picking up everything and moving to a new location for any reason. Not everyone has lost their sense of place, but the majority of us now living in cities know very little about the places where they live and have very little attachment to their current places. This has detrimental consequences for the sustainability of any culture or community.

When I moved to Austin, Texas last August for graduate school, I barely gave it a second thought. I was able to move to a state far from home for my first year to study at St. Edward’s University and discover what I wanted from life. It was an obvious choice to go for me. After completing my first year, the program requires a semester abroad in Angers, France, so I will be moving to Angers at the end of the month. Before my studies began here in Austin, I was again away from where I grew up to earn my undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies in Binghamton, New York. Although it was only a three and a half hour drive from home, it was far enough to feel as though I was in a new place. I was truly in a new place. All of the moving around has taken its toll on me though. Don’t get me wrong, I have had some experiences that I would not trade for the world, and I do not regret my decisions. There is, however, something missing, and I believe it has to do with the sense of community (which starts with our connection to place).

Now, why is our sense of place and connection to the land so important? There are many environmental reasons to value the answers to this question, but I like to boil it down to one thing: sustainability. Not just the sustainability of the environment, but also of society as a whole. The natural environment is what we all depend upon on some level, but we also depend on our location to make sense of the social interactions we have among one another. More specifically, our knowledge of where we live, to a large extent, dictates how we think, act, and respond to life’s various and complex situations.

Since the majority of humans live in cities today, we have lost almost all connections to the natural environment. What we accept as “nature” in the city is disappointing and embarrassing. We value development over conservation. Essentially, we value more and not better (as Bill McKibben writes in Deep Economy). The natural world is in trouble, and very few of us are ready to accept that as fact. We eat foods that travel thousands of miles before it reaches our refrigerators and know nothing of the flora and fauna of the places we call home. We do not know how to grow our own food, nor do we know much about the food we buy from the supermarket. We have outsourced many of these things to a few specialists, and this will one day be a major problem. Change is the law of life. If we rely on others for something as basic as food (and water), then we are at the mercy of those in that position of power for our most basic human needs. Ignorance is not bliss.

Beyond the sustainability of the food system and the natural world, we are at risk of losing all connection to one another. The anonymity and individualism that is provided to us by cities can be beneficial in many ways, but taken to an extreme (as we have done today) we can easily destroy our sense of community. This may seem to some as not such a huge deal, but it is for stability of our communities. Humans need to feel like they belong, but we allow ourselves to become so disconnected from one another, as we connect to our WiFi. Technology has made it way easier to facilitate this shift. Many people today do not even know their neighbors and this disconnection from humanity causes unnecessary violent crimes to take place every day. To give you an idea of how big our social problems are, consider this statistic: one in five woman are victims of sexual assault on college campuses today. Violence is pervasive in our culture today; This is how we treat the members of our community. We stay out of other peoples’ business, and sometimes we even ignore the turmoil of those in our own family. This does not come as a shock to me because we live in a world where it is so easy to escape from the reality of our circumstances.

It is not just crime that rises when we lose our sense of community, but also our health more broadly. Obesity is at an all-time high in the United States because we have lost our connection to our place and time. This is a preventable disease of modern society, yet we continue to allow soda companies to fund our sporting activities. The advertising is all over the place for these products, and the main ingredient (sugar) is the leading cause for obesity. If we truly were committed to ending the obesity epidemic, we would rid our communities of these drinks and of the fast food establishments on every other street corner. Similarly, our “War on Drugs” has taken a huge toll on the mentally ill all around the world, which criminalizes and locks up those who would instead benefit greatly from medical treatment. Viewing things like obesity and addiction as personal choices or struggles is only half of the picture. What we choose to value and how we act towards these things defines who we are as a people. I for one do not want to be defined by absentee legislators who have the power to decide what is best for your community. Every place is different, and each place requires a unique stewardship that should be defined by local residents.

With all of this in mind, I am ready to move somewhere and stay there. After I finish Master’s degree in Environmental Management and Sustainability, I am committed to living in a place. I want to build a sense of community and be a steward of the land I live upon. I want to live in a place where I do not feel the need to run away on an expensive vacation to feel peace and serenity. I want to live in a community where we look after one another, as opposed to a place where neighbors compare themselves to one another and fight with each other. We could all afford to turn off our electronic devices and go out into the local community where we live to see what and who needs our help. Everyone has something unique to offer, but we have to find the courage to recognize and believe in our strengths to make a difference in this world.

Why Community Gardening? — May 11, 2015

Why Community Gardening?

Today, as I look back on my first year in the MSEM program at St. Edward’s University, there is one question my research partner and I kept receiving the most: “Why are you researching community gardens?” For us, the answer seemed obvious from an environmental perspective, but we soon realized this shared understanding we had for food’s role in environmental degradation was the product of taking many classes in our undergraduate education that related specifically to these types of issues. Given that our current degree program required us to design, conduct, and present our own research project, my partner and I sought out to reveal how much these community gardens are capable of producing on the amount of land they have.

Moreover, the issue of food insecurity, which exists when low income households does not have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life year round, is not a topic you will frequently hear being discussed on the daily local or even the national news programs on television in the United States. The severity of this problem, however, cannot be underestimated by those in power today. At the conference on Trade and Development in December of 2013, the United Nations produced a report calling for a 70 percent increase of food production by 2050, as counted by calories, if we are to sufficiently feed the projected human population of about 9 billion people. The advisors to this report urged that we achieve food security by changing the way we produce and consume our food (Trade and Environmental Review, 2013).

With this information about the state our current food system, the project my research partner and I came up with aimed at quantifying the potential yield of community gardens throughout the city of Austin, Texas. Community gardens were a starting point we thought we could use to get a glimpse into what urban agriculture was producing in Austin. The potential yield of a garden is simply the theoretical amount of food the garden is able to produce in a given period of time. We used actual yield data from one of these gardens to make our estimations for the potential yield of the 18 public certified community gardens we studied in Austin.

Furthermore, to accomplish the task of estimating the potential yield for our research project, we had to visit each site to collect the dimensions of each individual plot at the 18 study sites. Having this information, and the total area of the gardens, we were able to calculate a percent utilization measure for each garden. This value allowed us to see how much (in a percentage) of the total land they were actually using to produce food and was used to compare with the actual yield data we obtained from one of our study sites. This actual yield data, though only for one crop type, spanned over four years. We took the percent utilized by each garden to get a more precise measure of their potential agricultural yield. We also used ArcGIS software to create maps overlaying food insecurity with existing sites of urban agriculture in our final research paper. Then we added a layer of “prime farmland” to the map, as well as points that were identified by the city as “eligible” for urban agriculture, which gave us the ability to make recommendations as to where the ideal sites for future development of community gardens are located. Based off of our maps, we identified two primary areas of focus for the city of Austin, Texas. (Feel free to contact me if you are interested more in our methods!)

Ultimately, we presented our findings at St. Edward’s University’s 3rd annual Graduate Research Symposium for the MSEM program, and they were well received by our professor and a few people from the city of Austin who we worked closely with throughout the project. There were some truly amazing people we met along the way, including city officials interested in our data for funding and support, gardeners willing to answer any question we could think of, and volunteers working with the soil. We worked closely with three people from Austin: one individual works at a non-profit organization called the Sustainable Food Center, the second individual works for the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department, and the third works for the City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability. As we were thankful for their ample assistance throughout the course of our project, they were all very grateful to get some field data about the 18 public community gardens we visited and for the maps identifying ideal site locations for future development of community gardens.

Although I am extremely happy with the way our project turned out, I am admittedly not done exploring and discussing the possibilities food will bring us in the future in terms of sustainable development of the environment and of society at large. We have the opportunity to increase local food production, which could have various side effects for the good of humanity. One aspect of community gardening easily overlooked is the amount they contribute to social capital of a community. There were certain gardens we visited where there was clearly designated space for community gatherings and celebrations. These places seemed to be more than just places of food production. Some of the gardens had educational programs, spaces for social gatherings, opportunities for community service, and more. If we had more time, Tessa and I would have loved to study the social impact, as well as the environmental impact of these gardens on a community.