Defend the Sacred

By Cheryn Vigil, Aesthetic Activist

A new mural was to go up on the Environmental Center windows, but what would be the new theme? The Aesthetic Activists are a group of talented artists who use their art for activism. Our main goal for this project was to receive community feedback. We drafted up seven powerful topics and decided to let the people vote on the winner. The topics included public lands, renewable energy, water crisis, social divisions, the erosion of democracy, food, justice and security, and climate change. For a week, we set up a white board in the Student Union with the options and asked people to pick their top two favorites. We kept track on the back of the white board by using tally marks. After a week of asking people to take a second to vote, the results came in…and the winner was…public lands!

Alright, so public lands, where do we go from here? That was the question we had to ask ourselves. Well, we could go with Bears Ears because most people are familiar with the issue due to the location of the National Monument being a few hours away from Durango. Here in the Southwest, there are different tribes who have similar connections to specific parts of land. With the Trump administration shrinking the monument by over 85%, many people were devastated. Five tribes including the Dine, Hopi, Zuni, and Ute have a scared bond with the area. Not a single tribe was consulted about the actions of wanting to shrink the monument President Obama set in order.

The main goal of the mural was to let people understand what the mining was doing to the land, but also with the people who live in the Southwest. Even though the actions are heart breaking, we wanted to let the people know that there’s still hope. However, achieving that message was the most challenging part. How does one incorporate tribes, hope, mining, and unity? After numerous drafts, the team came to an agreement on a design.

Achieving our main message requires the artist to think good thoughts, to remember their “why,” to remember they too are resilient, but most importantly to remember we are one. Art is more than a painting, it’s a feeling. By doing what we love as artists, we find our true selves in the process. What we do with our talent is a way to give back to the community by saying thank you for letting us express our true selves, good things are coming.


Superb Herbalists

By Grace Ann Robinson, Local Food Security

On Thursday, March 22nd, the lives of many were born–a Great Awakening of sorts. It was the birth of herb seedlings! Fellow students came together for a union of growing their own food and becoming activists in a small, but effective way, at the first Superb Herb workshop, put on by myself and two other Local Food Security team members, Zack Bauer and Tristan Kraatz. The idea of the workshop was to show students how to grow herbs successfully and relay the importance of local food security.

Besides buying food from local co-ops or farmers markets, a key way to increase local food security is by growing your very own. Growing your own food or any plant in general can seem to be a daunting task, but if you start your first grow operation with something small and easy; the experience will become enjoyable as opposed to scary. This is what we were shooting for and boy, did we get it! To see the bright eyes and excitement rush through the door just to have their very own plant was exhilarating. For the pot that the herbs were planted in, we used old coffee cups–2 cups per 1 pot. For the main cup, we poked holes in the bottom and cut the second cup in half, placing the first cup inside to act as a drainage system. Doing the pot system this way showed the students that growing doesn’t have to be done with expensive supplies to thrive, and that recycling can be innovative and fun! Having a plant to take care of teaches responsibility and is aesthetically pleasing once it sprouts. Growing food cuts down on carbon emissions and is especially delicious! Whether it be juicing for wheatgrass shots, having chives as a garnish for a cream cheese spread, or even creating a little salad with sunflower sprouts- growing your own food means knowing your own food. You can be without a doubt that your food is free of toxins and naturally healthy to put into your body. Let’s start treating ourselves to the food that our body and mind deserve!

What To Do With Waste?

Ali Scheig – Real Food Challenge Team

I am currently working in conjunction with the Environmental Center and Sodexo to complete my senior research. I am writing my senior thesis on solutions to the waste produced at post-secondary educational institution dining halls, and what we can do with it to increase campus food security. I wanted to research these issues and their connection because of my passion and interest in these two topics within the food system. To me, food is the most important aspect of our lives. Not only does it sustain us, but the connection it brings is so strongly tied to our communities and lives. There is connection between you and the person who grows your food, if you grow your own food you have a special connection with that soil and those plants that you helped cultivate, you connect with people by cooking with them, sharing food for tradition, and the people that you share the food with are often so dear to us. Over the years, as I got more involved and passionate about the food system through my studies and hugely with the RFC, I realized that I am fortunate to have such a positive reflection of food in my life. I also realized the stark reality that many people in our country, state, community, and school, don’t have these same feelings. For many, food is a source of stress and systematic oppression. 14.5% of households in the United States experience food insecurity, living in food deserts, utilizing government programs and food banks, and worrying about how and what they will feed themselves and their families next are daily realities for most. Food security is important for our communities because healthy people support healthy communities. Without food security, our communities and societies are driven further apart from each other. Donating food, supporting government programs and officials that are proponents for food insecure citizens, supporting fair wages through what we spend our money on and what companies we buy from, and supporting local efforts that promote food sovereignty are a few ways that we can advocate for those that experience food insecurity around us. Connecting this back to my paper and the EC, I hope that I can show connection between food waste and insecurity, and hope to create a positive food system at FLC for the future.

Focusing On One Thing

By Jeanett Jansen, Zero Waste Team

If you live in Durango, you probably understand the intense love for the earth that I am filled with every single day. For a long time, I thought that to really walk the walk of being an environmentalist, it meant that I had to do everything with that in mind… until I realized that this was only making me do a below average job at a lot of things, instead of a phenomenal job at a few things I was really passionate about!

When I came to the Environmental Center, I was given the opportunity to explore the topics that I really cared about and found ways to channel my energy and passion through multiple outlets. I wanted to pick something that was really relevant to me and my journey, and something that could get a response from fellow students. I wanted to choose something that could open people’s eyes and create opportunity for engagement and education. So here I am – the Free Store Manager – trying as best I can to close the loop in the life cycle of a t-shirt. The Free Store makes it easy to take one man’s trash and give it a home with someone who sees it as a treasure.

So, make a list of all the things you are passionate about, narrow it down to a few very important, tangible goals, and give it your all! At the EC, we have several teams of students working passionately towards the common goal of saving the earth. Within the “Zero Waste” team alone there are many projects to find motivation for: the Free Store, composting, recycling (everything from single stream, to glass, to ink jets, to light bulbs, et cetera), and so on. You can even come up with a new project. The possibilities are endless – all we need is people who care . . . and that, we definitely have, but we can always use more.

You Don’t Have To Eat Strictly Vegetarian To Be Food Conscious

By Aolani Peiper, Real Food Challenge Team Coordinator

The average meat eater holds a stigma about the lifestyle of a vegetarian or a vegan. We should look past the stereotype of animal rights activists and vegetarians/vegans as one in the same. A plant forward diet has been proven to be not only better for your health but for the environment as well. I am not saying you have to put down the bacon or chicken forever, but maybe it’s worth it to eat less and, instead, eat more plant based. I am not a vegetarian or a vegan, but I do eat less meat throughout the week for my health, to reduce my carbon footprint, and save money. I am the coordinator of the Real Food Challenge team and as an initiative the team wants to educate people about a plant based diet and empower students and even the wider Durango community about how to do this!

“I am not a vegetarian or a vegan, but I do eat less meat throughout the week for my health, to reduce my carbon footprint, and save money.”

There is research to support that a plant based diet is good for your health; eating more vegetables, fruit, and whole grains can reduce heart disease and stroke. Limiting meat in the diet can limit your risk to cancer as well as to fight diabetes and curb obesity. Most meat in the US is processed, poorly raised, and loaded with cholesterol and fat. Eating a plant centered diet will leave your body thanking you.
I have noticed that people think there may not be as many options or that eating this way is expensive. When you reduce the amount of meat you’re consuming, you’re saving your wallet. It’s easy to save money with more meatless meals and if you do want to consume meat it’s easier to spend money that you saved on better quality meat like humane and organic options; which is also better for your health and the environment.
An added benefit of plant forward diet is the love you show towards the environment. Recycling isn’t the only way you can help the environment in a large way. Did you know that the water required to farm livestock is much greater than that of vegetables and grains? 1,850 gallons alone are needed for one pound of beef where 39 gallons are needed to produce one pound of vegetables. By eating less meat you can reduce water usage. Eating less meat can also reduce your carbon footprint; “Studies show that meat production produces significantly more greenhouse gases than vegetables, including carbon dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide – the three main contributing sources of greenhouse gas” (meatless monday).
Now go out there and eat more real food! You don’t have to be vegetarian to be food conscious. has many resources and recipes to help you and guide you towards a plant based diet. There are also documentaries such as “Forks Over Knives” and “What The Health” that prove anyone can can eat a plant based diet and what it really does for you and the environment. Keep an eye out for events during the rest of the semester that speak to this theme of plant forward diets and humanely raised animals hosted by the Real Food Challenge Team. We will also be showing the documentary “What The Health” and look forward to seeing everyone there. Look for more details to come on our Facebook page.
If you want to know how you can eat a plant forward diet but don’t know where to start contact me: Aolani Peiper


Announcing: Your 2018 Sustainability Superheroes

By Rachel Landis, EC Coordinator

The Environmental Center is proud to announce our inaugural Sustainability Superhero Award Winners!

This community is unique in so very many ways, one of which is the way in which people are engaged and actively working to promote the environment and social justice. We see and hear about our everyday sustainability superheroes on the daily here at the Environmental Center and by jove, we thought it was about time, we recognize them. Please help me in congratulating this year’s Sustainability Superheroes:

  • Faculty Superhero – Dr. Gary Gianniny who “in his personal life has committed to a behavior that reduces his impact on the environment….Having him as a professor, I’ve witnessed his effort to inform geology students about the different possible career paths that support environmental stewardship”
  • Student Superhero – Molly McPherson who “goes above and beyond to eliminate plastic waste in her life and in the lives of those around her. She started a project called “Saving the World One Bottle at a Time” which she has used to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of using bottled water in the US… she has used her relationship with Polar Bottle (she is a brand ambassador) to distribute reusable water bottles to students all over campus (look outside any biology lab and you’ll see one of Molly’s water bottles)! She’s taking what she believes in (zero waste lifestyle) and not only practicing it to the fullest but encouraging and enabling those around her to do so as well”
  • Staff Superhero – Janis Kolscizniek who “goes above and beyond in our office to make sure that we are sustainable….She gets veggies from the farm stand all the time and goes to campus presentations on the environment and tries to have very little footprint. She is an inspiration”
  • Staff Superhero (it was a tie!) —Steve Schwartz who “has been a visionary for sustainability at FLC and was the driver behind the performance contracting process and the solar RFP. Steve’s ability to mesh vision, impact, and cost are key to the successes FLC has seen with the Climate Commitment and Green Schools accolades.”
  • Community Superhero – Susan Atkinson who “is a force of civic engagement and advocacy for clean energy and a stable climate. Susan organizes films on the daily, shows up at LPEA meetings religiously to advocate for clean energy, plans climate marches and is consistently featured in the Durango Herald’s Letters to the Editors. Beyond her actions, Susan is a wonder of character — she is upbeat, she treats everyone–regardless of view point–with respect, and she is persistent. Durango is so, so very lucky to have her”

Superheroes were selected based on their demonstration of personal commitment, engagement in championing sustainability in the community and impact. Of course, these are only a few of the many superheroes that we are graced with in our community. Other nominees include Louise Von Vonno, Emily Bowie, Emily Biggins, Zach Bauer, Shane Christopher, Allison Riggs, and Mark Gutt, Howard White and Mike Larson.

Please join me in congratulating (and thanking) all of our Sustainability Superheroes!


2018 Sustainability Superheroes  (From left to right: Dr. Gary Gianniny, Molly McPherson, Janis Kolscizniek, Steve Schwartz and Susan Atkinson.


Dr. Gary Gianniny and Rachel


Molly McPherson

And the Winner of This Year’s Vote Real is…..

By the Real Food Challenge Team Staff

Winner! Winner! Pork for Dinner!

Over the past couple of weeks, we asked you to use your vote and to tell us what you care about in the food system– whether it’s humanely treated animals or organically grown and made products. 484 folks responded and filled out ballots – that is over 10% of our student body!

In the end, Humane Niman Ranch Pork stole the show from Organic Wallaby yogurt by 36 votes. We will be sure to let you know when the pork arrives in March and keep an eye out for its appearance in San Juan dining hall. Thanks for helping us move the Real Food Challenge forward and for bringing higher welfare meat to campus!

” This was an interesting Vote Real for our staff as we experienced more hesitation that usual from our voters. People had a difficult time choosing between pork and yogurt. And even still they were faced with the choice to choose a humane or organic option.

This vote was an exciting experiment because people had the option to choose their vote based on taste preference or the impact of humane versus organic production methods. This was also the first year our vote contained a meat option. We are hoping to continue this conversation on how eating affects the planet and health with thrilling new events and partnerships between the Real Food Challenge and other campus entities. ”  says RFC team member Kaidee Akullo


Real Food Challenge team member presenting Vote Real winner on stage


Rachel Landis and EC Staff member with RFC Winner

Thumbs up for organic pork!

Here is a little more information about what that means:

Niman Ranch Pork: What does that mean for you, the earth, and the animals?

Eating Humane-certified products ensures that the animal it came from had a higher quality life. Niman Ranch Pork had access to food suitable for the age and size of the animal and enough space for them to eat without risk of competition or injury. These happy piggies’ homes guarantee enough space to be able to lie down, have clean and dry bedding, and protection from the elements. Furthermore, humane animals are never treated with growth hormones, and the animals are only treated with antibiotics in situations where the animal is injured or suffering from disease. As both of these things carry over to the consumer, this means that you don’t have to ingest excessive antibiotics or hormones, both of which have real health implications for humans. Humane-certified meats ensure that meat animals are guaranteed these basic rights to live a more comfortable, healthy existence…and you can feel better about the food you are eating.

By Voting Real, you help us decide how we as a college and community will meet our 20% ‘real’ food goals and advance a more socially-just, ethical and environmentally-responsible food system. Whether you all vote organic yogurt or humane pork, we will shift 1% of our current purchasing dollars away from is conventional form and into its healthier, more responsible version. The difference for you is healthier, tastier food on your plate!

For more information visit or contact Aolani at

About Vote Real: Vote Real is an initiative launched by the Environmental Center’s Real Food Challenge team to provide FLC students, faculty and staff with the opportunity to move the Real Food Challenge forward in a way that meets their interests and desires.  When you Vote Real, you choose between 2-3 different food products they would like to see shifted from current conventional standards to a ‘real’ product (fair, humane, ecologically-sound, and/or local). The product that receives the most votes will be permanently shifted on Sodexo’s purchasing roster…students will help create the change that they wish to see…and we will be that much closer to meeting our Real Food Challenge goal (20% Real by 2020) and creating a fair, healthy, and environmentally-sustainable food system.

Education’s Role in the Good Life, and the Environmental Center

By Tristan Kraatz, Local Food Security Team and Philosophy Major

Every other Monday night, the FLC philosophy club hosts talks/discussions from different speakers on a wide range of topics which have included “is democracy actually a good way to run a nation?”, and in the most recent meeting “should a goal of education be to guide us toward the good life?”. Quite an interesting way to spend a Monday night in my opinion. And also a good way to frustrate yourself when you don’t find an answer to the question, which happens more often than not in philosophy. You may now be asking “Tristan, that is all well and good, but what does it have to do with the Environmental Center?” Good question reader! And fear not, I will get there! But I must first do what philosophy majors do best, and clarify the issue.

This question is riddled with philosophical baggage, which we phil majors love to unpack. This includes questions like; what actually is “the good life?”, if education should guide us toward the good life, why and how?, and if not, why not? During the discussion/debate, it seemed to me that everyone in the room agreed on this basic point; education’s main goal is to help people increase their understanding of the world and how it works. Where the people in the discussion differed widely, however, was their answer to the questions above. I will not go into all the nitty gritty details of everyone’s view, but instead just tell you what I think (After some more unpacking).

First of all, there are three ways in which education can go about guiding one towards the good life which were pointed out by a friend during the discussion. First, Education can have the good life be a core principle and design curriculum and have teachers be catalysts for guiding the student towards it, or simply say what the good life is and let the student get there themselves. And lastly it can discard the idea that the good life should be a focus at all and simply provide information on different topics. Wow Tristan, this is all very fascinating and worthy of further thought and discussion, but come on man just tell us what you think! Settle down there reader, I’ll give you what you came here for.

I think the good life is having deep, profound relationships with the people in your life, having tools to critically think about issues, and actually getting out there and doing something about those issues. I think education should absolutely play a role in guiding you toward the good life. And I think it should do that by having the teacher design curriculum which gives you tools and motivation to live the good life. Now, this is not exactly how our current system is set up at FLC, however I would claim and be prepared to defend that this is how the Environmental Center is set up. We have a curriculum which identifies issues, gives us the tools to deal with those issues, and healthy ways to develop relationships with our fellow activists along the way. Just one example of this is campus food security, which is an issue I am tackling this semester. The issue is this; there is not a large sustainable local food source on campus, only a small garden (which is sweet anyways) and imported food. The EC is giving me the tools to deal with this problem by educating me about permaculture food forests (which are awesome), and providing a space to actually design and build one on campus! Now if this isn’t living the good life I don’t know what is!

Art as Activism!

By Cheryn Vigil, Aesthetic Activist

 Receiving an opportunity to use art as activism on MLK day, was the perfect time to demonstrate who the Aesthetic Activists are at the Environmental Center. After hearing word about an opening to talk about how art is used to bring change, I felt the sudden urge to sign up. To honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Fort Lewis College holds many activities throughout the day to educate the people on making a difference. It is a time to come together to support the need for change.

Where do I start? Well, it could start with gaining a little background knowledge on artists who used their art as activism during the Civil Rights Movement. Artists such as Barbara Jones Hogu, left me inspired. Will was my co-worker, who was more than happy to help with running a workshop. As we threw down some ideas, the main challenge was, “what kind of art project could we do to engage the people?” Sitting in the office, I looked around for some ideas and there it was. The Environmental Center has a mural on the windows that say, “What Do You Stand For?” That was the question we had been searching for. The activity would be to use one word on what it is that you stand for, write it down, and then draw it. Participants were given, markers, colored pencils, and paper.  For some, the word came easily, but for others, they struggled in finding the perfect word.

We spent the next two hours, walking around, asking questions, laughing, and enjoying what people created. Some pieces included words such as, love, integrity, depth, stories, experience, and oneness. The most interesting part was hearing why they chose that word. Some people told a personal story and others gave a little lesson about the importance of their word. Everybody struggles from time to time, but too often we forget that there still is so much hope and love on this planet.


“Quick! Bears! Do Something!”

By Zack Bauer, Local Food Security

It all started with a frantic email. “Someone do something! Bear’s are stalking the campus apartments!” In the wake of fear and paranoia, Rachel Landis and I knew what we had to do. We had to harvest all the apples. You may be asking, “How is collecting some fruit going to solve anything in that situation, except for maybe providing a sweet autumn snack?” The answer…be the bear before the bear can be the bear. Meaning, harvest all the apples near the campus apartments (Mears and Centennial) so that the bears don’t come back looking for more apples. This may seem selfish, taking all the apples for our own human selves and not saving any for our hungry furry neighbors. In reality we are actually saving these bears’ lives. By taking away these bears’ food supply in areas that have heavy human traffic, we are keeping these bears away from close human interactions. This keeps humans safe. It also keeps bears safe because a bear thats too comfortable with humans may become a target for euthanasia from the Colorado Department of Wildlife.

When I mentioned being the bear before the bear can be the bear, I wasn’t kidding. We, being the Local Food Security Initiative at the Environmental Center, take fruit gleaning very seriously. We try to collect the apples as quickly as possible, which includes acting like a bear. This includes climbing into the apple tree, shaking it to produce a hail storm of ripe fruit, collecting the crisp goodies, and leaving.

Our apple dream didn’t end with collecting apples. Being the EC, a non-for-profit who’s ambitions are high and dreams are grand, we needed money. Every year, at the annual Apple Days Festival in early October, the EC teams up with Cream Bean Berry to produce and sell delicious apple pie ice cream and vegan cinnamon apple ice cream as a fundraiser. The Apple Days Festival sadly was canceled this year, for no good reason, other than the fact that there were no apples in Durango (except for next to the Fort Lewis College apartments woot woot!). Even though the festival didn’t happen, the EC still wanted to sell fabulous apple ice cream made in conjunction with the finest artesian ice cream maker, Cream Bean Berry. But where to sell the ice cream?

After lots of brainstorming, including strongly considering selling the ice cream by peddling our EC bike late at night downtown while wearing an apple costume, we decided to sell the ice cream at the FLC Theatre production of “Urinetown”. Being an environmental play, this was the perfect place to have an EC fundraiser. People could eat ice cream and then watch the beautiful collision of the worlds of theatre and environmental activism. Plus, the actor who played Officer Barrel appreciated the after show treats. Very much.

I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to witness, and lead, the production of a food commodity from start to finish. Its so easy to go to the store to buy ice cream, which is why it is mind blowing to see how many steps it takes to get it there. It all started with harvesting apples to protect bears and people. Then after cutting the apples, making the ice cream, and individually scooping the ice cream into hundreds of cups, you finally have sellable ice cream. Then you have to pull a giant freezer out of your basement, organize a team of ice cream sellers, get all the ice cream up to the theatre, come up with ice cream selling tactics, deal with confusing credit card machines, and so on and so on. Although it was a lot of work, I loved every second of it and learned so much.

With this story, I encourage everyone to think deeply about where their food came from. The production of this food could have had a positive impact on the environment, or a negative one. It is very important to make this comparison because we can make a big difference in our world just through what we choose to eat. I encourage all of you to eat wisely, and to view the world from mother nature’s perspective. And be the bear before the bear is the bear.