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!

“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.

Not Just Your Mother’s Garden

By Ian Meier, Local Food Security

In July, I received a notification that there was an opening at the Environmental Center for the position of Assistant Garden Manager in the campus garden plot. At the time, surrounded by an arid desert landscape, it was hard to imagine returning to the irrigated greenery of Fort Lewis. However, weeks later, after the interview and hiring process was complete, I got my first look at where I would be working. Upon stepping foot in the garden, I was immediately struck by the diversity and abundance of plants grown. I was welcomed by beds of kale, chard, tomatoes, peas, garlic, onions, leeks, potatoes, arugula, borage, corn, carrots and squash, just to list a few. It was such a wonderful surprise to see how much could be produced from one quarter-acre plot.

As a student focusing in the field of environmental policy one might assume that I would be well acquainted with one of the Environmental Center’s most impactful ventures. However, like many Fort Lewis students, before accepting this position, I knew very little about the Campus Garden. I had never actually been to the far northeastern corner of campus where the garden and greenhouse are located. This is an issue that comes up quite regularly during our weekly garden meetings and within the Environmental Center. The garden is an incredible resource for Fort Lewis serving as a production site, educational tool, and model for the potential that lies in local sustainable agriculture. In addition, food produced from the garden is sold to Sodexo and incorporated into dining hall meals.

But for me, the campus garden has become so much more than that. At the risk of sounding exceedingly cliche, I must admit that the garden has become a sanctuary and place of comfort to me. The time I spend working in the garden is grounding, it allows me to clear my head and detach from the stresses of school and life. I look forward to my Tuesdays and Thursdays when I get to spend several hours working there. Completing a task that does not involve straining my eyes in the glow of artificial light is a welcome relief. I find myself learning in a different way, noticing aspects of the local landscape I would otherwise be oblivious to. I see mint growing in front of Reed, currants and mulberries on the quads, apples growing near the rim trail and juniper berries in front of Jones hall. My hope is that over time, more students will visit the garden and share in some of the education and comfort I have found there.

Every Thursday from 1-2:30 during college hour, we invite students and community members to join us for our a garden work day. In helping the EC staff you will not only be aiding in the production of healthy, organic and local food but also taking time for yourself to detach and recharge. Whether you send the time planting winter rye, watering garlic or harvesting the season’s best purple kale, I promise you will go into the rest of your day with a clear head space and deeper connection to your local environment.

Welcome to Fort Lewis: One Student’s Testimonial

By Mahdi Adittya, Zero Waste Team

My freshman year at Fort Lewis was incredibly unnerving, but the Environmental Center helped me get used to campus life right away. Going to a Local Garden workshop hosted by the EC the first week of school was one of the best decisions I ever made. Working with the campus garden project gave me a sense of belonging. I enjoyed being outdoors, and getting to work with my hands felt amazing. This experience solidified FLC’s uniqueness in my mind.

I immediately jumped at the chance to work with the EC as soon as possible, and I got the awesome opportunity to work with the Zero Waste Team. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge at the EC that will help me in all aspects of life. From office work to getting your hands dirty with ink or compost, you will learn to do everything here. In my opinion, there is a great balance between doing office work and working in the field. Each team contributes to the greater picture of environmental justice, and we all work well together.

I’ve improved on an immensely personal level while working here, and I’ve learned to confidently express my ideas more than ever before. I feel comfortable bringing up my ideas for new initiatives, and I believe I can help improve the campus as a whole with the help of my teammates. That’s one of the best things about the EC. Anyone can present a great idea, and the EC will try to make it happen.

From the start it’s been a very welcoming and fun place to work! Everyone involved is extremely friendly, and we are a very close knit community. I love spending my time at the EC, and it almost feels like a second home. Anyone can feel welcome here and make positive changes around campus. I hope to continue contributing to the EC in the upcoming years, and I want to continue making an impact for my school and my community.

Reaching Out: The Joy of Serving Your Community

By Paula Pletnikoff, Local Food Fellow

“When your dreams include service to others – accomplishing something that contributes to others – it also accelerates the accomplishment of that goal.” – Jack Canfield

The words above, so intentionally structured by Jack Canfield, speak to me all that much more after my experience at the Environmental Center. I knew that I wanted to spend my time in college undertaking as much as I could, challenging myself to learn and grow, creating positive change, and connecting with others. However, I never would have thought that when I read about the EC on the Fort Lewis College website, it would have made such an impact on me and raise me up to accomplish more than I ever imagined was possible. Not only have the EC’s initiatives challenged me to rise up to the occasion, but the support of the EC community has nurtured and encouraged me to take on great tasks to advance the lives of not only myself and my co-workers, but the public at large. I am confident that after I graduate I’ll have the skills and experience I need to go on and make positive changes wherever I go.

Recently, the rest of the incredible Local Food Security Team and I have launched a program on campus that provides participants with the skills, tools, and resources they need to take weekly action to increase their own local food security. The Local Food Hunger Force, as the program is so called, has been so positively received by community members that it has again opened my eyes to what an enriching community we live in, and how important the opportunities to support each other are. There’s truth behind the idea that working for the greater good and wanting to help the people around you is a wonderful part of being human. I believe that as social creatures it’s what we’ve evolved to do and that it’s crucial to our survival and happiness. When I started as a freshman it was a little intimidating putting myself out there. I felt vulnerable to objection and dismissal, but seeing our community’s support for our local food system and their excitement to advance the lives of themselves and their neighbors has motivated me to keep going and find more opportunities to assist those around me.

My advice to anyone that desires to better themselves, help others and make a positive change in the world: Go for it! Take those opportunities, and don’t let fear or anxiety hold you back. People are more responsive than you might think, and you never have to do any of it alone. Reach out, get involved in what you care about and stand strong in the face of challenge. Amazing things happen when we work for a purpose greater than ourselves.

Be Conscious: Support Communities by Eating Local

By Samantha Walters, Local Food Security Team

I remember growing up with a love for food; specifically, homegrown food. I recall at a young age helping my mother in the garden, digging my hands deep in the soil while pulling up carrots and beets. I had no idea that this would pave my passion for locally grown produce.

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest I continuously had access to local produce with the top rated farmer’s market in my backyard. There are many sources of joy in my life, but one of the richest is making a meal that was grown in my garden or by farmers in my community.

I lost sight of my love for local food when I moved away from my Washington roots. As we all know, being a college student can be rather prohibiting when it comes to food security. It was easy to neglect my overall health while having to balance funds, school and work. I started to feel like I was losing a fundamental part of myself and my identity.

Settling down in Durango has been one of the most transformational decisions of my life. With the abundance of fresh, local food and likeminded people, I found my way back to my roots. Being a member of the FLC Environmental Center’s Local Food Security Team has given me the tools and resources I need to help bring my love of food to fruition and to the community on campus.

By taking part in our local food system we can create resiliency and strengthen our personal health and the overall health of the community. Let’s empower ourselves to take action in our food security! All it takes is a shift in consciousness; we can make a difference. Choosing local is empowering and creates a deep connection to the Earth and brings us back to the innate link we have with the biological community.

The Local Food Team is working on several new projects that aim to aid in our food security here on campus. We are launching our spring campaign that can help you create change in your local food security by offering tips, tricks and access avenues to help support you in your paradigm shift towards a healthier, more empowered you.

Keep a lookout for our Local Food Hunger Force campaign that is coming to a campus near you!

Sunnyside Meats: The Sunnier Side of Meat Processing

By Zack Bukovich, Environmental Center Local Food Fellow

Sunnyside meat

Working as a Local Food Fellow for the Environmental Center at Fort Lewis College, I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity of getting up close and personal with many of La Plata County’s diverse and successful producers.  This summer alone I have had the pleasure of walking the long rows of Mike Nolan’s Mountain Roots Farm, touring the various garden plots beneath the dueling buttes at Twin Buttes Farm; and I have even been towed around in an old wagon by none other than Dave James himself as I received a detailed, behind the scenes look at the practices that make James Ranch successful and sustainable.

This week however, marked a shift in my escapades into the country.  This time I exchanged the sunshine and cool breeze for fluorescent lights and air conditioning, my ragged work clothes for a long white smock and a hairnet, for this week I visited Sunnyside Meats.  Though it may sound like an unappealing change, my visit to Sunnyside Meats had been long anticipated.  For good reason of course; Sunnyside is an essential piece to the local food puzzle here in La Plata County.  Having a USDA certified meat processing facility has made small-scale meat production affordable and reasonable for ranchers in the area.  Without it, most ranchers and farmers would have to drive the 200 miles to Monticello, Utah to get their livestock processed.  For some farmers who harvest their livestock weekly during the high season, this would severely cut into their profit margin, making it nearly impossible to sustain their farming practices.

This lack of locality was, as owner Holly Zinc relayed to us, severely harming the farmers in the area, and many began to consider dropping the occupation altogether. As a longtime supporter of local agriculture, Holly’s father recognized this problem and began working towards a solution.  Being the engineer and innovator that he was, Holly’s father made the decision to invest his time and effort locally, where he worked to design Sunnyside Meats.  And coincidently enough, as time went on, Holly began to take an interest in the business.  After attending CU Boulder, working in the meat department of a local Boulder grocery store and auditing the meat sciences program at Colorado State, Holly herself had developed an interest, as well as the skills and knowledge to take over and develop Sunnyside.  Eventually, in a mutual agreement between father and daughter, Holly took over the business where she still stands today.

This was the introduction Paula, my fellow Local Food Fellow, and myself were given when we sat down at Holly’s desk to learn the preliminaries before setting out on the tour.  After this debriefing, we were taken out to where it all begins, the ‘drop off’.  Here the livestock are dropped off and shuttled into the corrals that eventually lead to the killing floor.  These corrals, however, are not your average corrals, for they have been specifically engineered and designed by Holly’s father to operate cleanly and efficiently, while also providing comfort and ease of access for the livestock.  The corrals are lined with water that flows out of thick pipes as drinking water for the livestock, and the doors of the corrals are designed to mimic that of a revolving door so that one can control the direction of the livestock by revolving the door instead of using harmful methods of shocking and prodding.  Along with this, there is plenty of room for the livestock to move around, for Sunnyside makes a point of not crowding the corrals.

After moving through the drop off, we were brought to the heart of the action, the ‘killing floor’.  Now, I will say that this room is the most difficult to enter if one is squeamish…There are carcasses being skinned, organ meats being examined and of course this is where the livestock are slaughtered.  However, despite this, the room is exceptionally clean and surprisingly free of unpleasant odors. There are three to four workers in this room, three of whom rotate between slaughtering, skinning and processing the meat, while another, the USDA certified inspector, inspects the meats to ensure that they are free from any abnormalities or diseases.  Coincidently enough, while we watching these workers hurrying this way and that, clad in their long white frock coats, a cow was lead into the room to be slaughtered.

Now, I will admit that upon entering the facility, I was a little wary about seeing a slaughtering.  However, once I was on the killing floor, learning the stages and processes behind harvesting livestock I thought; why should I turn my head from such a crucial step in the process?  If I am going to eat meat and gain a full understanding of our local food system, I might as well face the reality of the process, no matter how gory.  So I did, and to be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I had made it out to be.  The actual slaughtering is very quick, and for the most part, painless for the animal.  It all begins with bringing the animal in to a closed coral so the butcher can get close enough to stun the animal accurately and precisely-to ensure that the animal feels no pain.  The stun gun when placed correctly, quickly inserts a rod into the brain of the animal, rendering it in insensible.  When this happens, the animal immediately loses all sense of feeling and cognitive ability, and therefore loses control of its limbs.  It drops down to the ground and the butcher quickly ties up its ankles up to a big chain that hoists the animal off the ground to be weighed and transported.  The animal is then placed over a trash bin where it is quickly cut and bled out.  At this point, the slaughtering of the animal is complete, and it is moved down the line to be further processed.  Like I said, it is a rather quick process, the entirety of it lasting between five and ten minutes.

Following the slaughter, we were led into the ‘aging cooler’.  Which is exactly that, it is a giant refrigerated room, where the processed carcasses are hung to properly age.  This enhances the quality and taste of the meat, and makes for a pretty scary place to play hide and seek!  When in the room, one has to almost shoulder between the rows of carcasses, needless to say, I was very glad that I was wearing my hairnet and long white frock coat.  After the aging cooler, we were taken to the final stages of processing, where the body of the animal is fabricated or cut into primal (major) or subprimal (minor) cuts for variability[1] (think short ribs, rib eye, flank steak, etc.) and then packaged.  In these varying rooms, they have multiple butchers working on the various cuts, distributing them into different bins that eventually work their way into the ‘packaging section’.

We looked only briefly into the packaging section, however we were able to take a good look at Sunnyside’s state of the art packaging machine.  This packaging machine efficiently packages a good portion of Sunnyside’s cuts into air sealed plastic packaging that allows the customer to actually see the product they are buying, instead of it being hidden behind layers of paper wrap.   This viewing of the packaging machine concluded our tour and our in depth view into the processes behind meat processing.

Thinking it over, processing meat is a dirty profession.  But like all professions, someone has to do it.  And as a citizen who values responsible practices that promote the welfare of the environment, the community and sentient beings, I could not choose a better organization than Sunnyside Meats to do the dirty work of feeding our local community.

[1] “meat processing”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 15 Aug. 2016

Crickets for Lunch

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cricketThis is my first semester working for the Environmental Center. I always enjoyed volunteering for the EC, so I knew I would like getting more involved. On the Local Food Team our initiative is to enhance La Plata County’s local food system to ensure that everyone has access to local, healthy foods, and one of our missions was to create ways to get other students involved as well. My teammates came up with some really great ideas, and although I had some thoughts, I wasn’t sure if I should go with them. Eventually I presented my ideas. With open arms, my team encouraged me and Crickets for Lunch was born.

I did a ton of research to make sure that feeding my peers crickets was a good thing to do. That’s when I was introduced to the world of entomophagy. I learned the many benefits of eating bugs, and the many wild ways you can enjoy them. Although I became comfortable with including bugs in my diet, I wasn’t sure if everyone else would be as ready to crunch on crickets. All I could do was present my research and hope that my peers were able to see the benefits and look past the stigma.

With butterflies in my stomach, I displayed what I had worked diligently on. In the middle of the Student Union, it didn’t take much time to gather a crowd. People were shocked to see the treats I was offering- chocolate covered crickets and fried garlic chili crickets. In the most normal way I could attempt, I proposed they try one. My fears of rejection and abundance of leftover crickets were squashed! Shock turned into excitement as people were thrilled to try their first cricket. Since the idea of eating a bug when they didn’t have to see its details was easier to swallow, the chocolate covered crickets were a big hit.

I felt revitalized. The encouragement and support from the Environmental Center gave me the spirit to accomplish what I set out to do. It was awesome seeing my ideas flourish in reality. Working at the EC has been amazing, and I love seeing the incredible things that get generated there by determined students and staff. I also loved getting a first-hand look at how accepting and willing to try new things the scholars at Fort Lewis are. A fire has kindled within me, and I’m excited for all of the future opportunities I have to collaborate, create, and get people involved.

The Environmental Center has given me the tools and training to make changes in the community. I’m always excited to learn more and work on projects that better La Plata county and further. It’s because of programs exactly like the Environmental Center that I chose to attend Fort Lewis. The community at the EC reassures me that I’ve made a great decision. I’ve never felt so involved at school and I can’t wait to see what more we can accomplish.

Paula Pletnikoff
Local Food Team

Inside Local Food Security in the Four Corners

Do you know how many days of food we have available in our grocery stores in the event that the trucks stop coming over the hill? Did you ever wonder about what a Food Procurement contract is and how it dictates which foods show up on your plate on a daily basis? To learn more about these topics and the inner workings of our Real Food Challenge and regional local food security, check out today’s radio interview with EC Coordinator Rachel Landis on our local public station, KSUT. Rachel will be available for book signings and autographs all day in the EC 😉

http://ksut.org/post/inside-food-security-four-corners

Duke Jackson, 2014 Local Food Fellow, waters tire-stacked potatoes in an effort to utilize space most efficiently for maximum food production in the Environmental Center's on-campus, organic garden.

Duke Jackson, 2014 Local Food Fellow, waters tire-stacked potatoes in an effort to utilize space most efficiently for maximum food production in the Environmental Center’s on-campus, organic garden.

Growth from Fertile Souls

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Within the past year of working with the Environmental Center, I feel that I have grown more as a person than in my whole college experience. For my first two years of school here, I was fairly disengaged from everything this school has to offer. I would go to my classes… and then go home. There wasn’t much more to it than that and I felt a void in my experience, in my soul.

Fulfillment arrived when I became involved with the E.C. A good friend of mine invited to me to one the Local Food Team’s “Crop Mobs.” We went to Adobe House Farm, and spent an hour harvesting tomatoes from fertile soil amidst a field full of radiant plant life. I knew I’d stumbled onto the edge of something special, of something important, and I was hooked.

I began working with Local Food Team as an aspiring (and slightly naïve) volunteer. The Local Food Team works to fill the gaps of local food security in our area, and to educate the public about how they can help fill the gaps as well. We’ve hosted multiple workshops on artisan skillsets such as canning and composting. We’ve taught community members how to prune fruit trees, how to prepare garden beds, how to brew their own beer, and much more! We believe that connecting to soil and the food it can provide us, and connecting to the ones who grow what eat, creates a profound sense of community and positivity for all.

For me, my passion manifested from my experience in the campus orchard and garden. I awakened a love for plants in myself, and without the E.C, I may have never discovered this passion. Today, I am the caretaker for the campus garden and orchard. The official position name is called the “Local Food Fellow.” As a Local Food Fellow, I have learned so much about sustainable farming practices, leadership, and education. Currently, I am working on building a small, mobile hoop house for the garden, so that next years local food fellow can extend their growing season!

Some pictures that show some of my favorite times from the Local Food Team:

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