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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Creating a Local Food System…and learning how to create social and environmental change along the way

The Fort Lewis College (FLC) Environmental Center’s Campus Garden in Durango, Colorado is home not only to organic veggies and herbs, but also to two Local Food Fellows. These dedicated students learn how food systems create environmental and social change….by ultimately building their own. Throughout their time in our garden and greenhouse, our Local Food Fellows discover the in’s and out’s of sustainable food production. They also distribute what they’ve produced to the people who need it the most and ultimately share their newly acquired knowledge through free workshops.

In the meantime, our Fellows’ view of the world deepens, they become stronger individuals and engage as committed citizens. Current Fellow, Kelly Ann Maes, believes her work matters because, “securing Local Food in this area is vital to the health and wellness of all community members and youth in particular as they are the future”.

This year, our Sow It Forward grant enabled the Local Food Fellows to expand what Fellow, Duke Jackson, loves the most: “creating positive change in our community”. As a result of our revitalized greenhouse and hoop structures, we have extended our growing season and can provide more food and education to individuals in need. Thank you, Kitchen Gardeners International!

 

Greenhouse and Hoop House Remodel Hoop Houses_S15 Squash Starts_S15 Kelly Ann & Duke Greenhouse interior

Environmental Center 2015 Spring Staff Retreat at Heartwood Cohousing

Environmental Center 2015 Spring Staff Retreat at Heartwood Cohousing

By: Lexis Loeb, FLC Art Major and EC Real Food Challenge Team Member

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This past weekend the passionate students and staffers here at the Environmental Center gathered for their Bi-annual staff retreat at Heartwood Co-housing located in the beautiful town of Bayfield. Heartwood is an intentional, off-grid, co-housing community that strives to live in harmony not only with their environment but with their fellow neighbors and community members. The community centers around the organic farm known as Grace Gardens. The diversified vegetable, chicken, and llama farm is located on Heartwood’s communally owned 250 acre property.

The four student teams at the EC (Local Food Security, Zero-Waste, Campus Sustainability and Real Food Challenge) strategized, collaborated and celebrated their current projects and events for the year ahead. Ideas were shared, delicious local food was consumed and boots were stuck as we helped Rachel, the Grace Gardens’ manager, prep for the upcoming spring season.

As a third-year, returning EC staff member, it was my observation that this spring’s staff retreat was extremely pro-active and focused.  There was a spirit of collaboration amongst the teams this year that is going to make for some awesome campus events and pro-active action toward sustainability and social-justice at FLC. With the help and guidance of EC Coordinator, Rachel Landis, and Assistant Coordinator, Erin Murphy we were charged to take up the Spring Semester’s Program Goals:

  • Do less, and do it well
  • Increase/diversify student engagement “beyond the choir”
  • Collaborate and Integrate all EC projetcs

Overall, the Retreat was a nice escape from the chaos of college life and an excellent team-building opportunity to inspire the hard-working, dedicated students at the Environmental Center who are constantly working toward a more environmentally-conscious and socially-just FLC community.

Keep your eyes peeled for some awesome EC events and volunteer opportunities this spring and if you would like to learn more about Heartwood Cohousing visit the link below. A special thanks to Dick Grossman and the Heartwood community for hosting us and showing us around their home!!

https://www.heartwoodcohousing.com/

Real Food Challenge update

It has been an active semester for the Real Food Challenge Team (RFCT) at Fort Lewis College (FLC). Attempting to move the Real Food Challenge (RFC) forward at FLC has been the team’s top priority since last fall when they began working on the initiative. Specifically, the RFC is a nation-wide campaign that aims to provide students with particular resources to gain the interest of their respective college toward purchasing 20 percent of their annual food budget of “real food”. Real food refers to food that meets particular sets of criteria found in four categories: fair, local, humane and ecologically-sound.

Real Food Challenge Team members promote Real Food Day, a meal which provided local foods to students made possible by the partnership of the school's food vendor, Sodexo, and the EC.

Real Food Challenge Team members promote Real Food Day, a meal which provided local foods to students made possible by the partnership of the school’s food vendor, Sodexo, and the EC.

Thus far, the team has set their agenda to achieve this goal by continuously meeting to form projects, goals and education around the challenge, in conjunction with staff from the Environmental Center (EC), FLC and Sodexo (the college’s dining hall food service. Preceding the current semester, the team was fortunate enough to have FLC Environmental Studies intern Laura Owens evaluate a semester’s worth of Sodexo’s food purchases for FLC using what is known as the real food calculator. With the systematic methodology and rigorous research of the calculator, she revealed that, currently, Sodexo purchases about 4.6 percent of real food per semester.

With a bit over 15 percent more real food needed to be bought annually to reach the overall goal of the challenge, the team is continuing to seek innovation and progress. This is a two-fold process: they’ll look to expand on educational type events for students, faculty, community and other college staff members, while doing additional research and analysis aimed at better efficiency in general and enhancing the processes by which they measure their results. The former of these has been somewhat more practically-driven as of recently. For example, on October 24, 2013, the RFCT, EC and Sodexo, put together a real food meal event at FLC. Essentially, the lunch showcased mostly a small variety of local meats and vegetables, as well as some foods which met the other four criterion of the RFC. From the staff of Sodexo to the students of FLC, the day made important connections, and illuminated the progress the RFC is making at the FLC campus. The latter of these tasks has involved reaching out to leaders within the RFC and student leaders from other campuses across the country, which the RFCT can utilize in terms of their successes and failures, etc.

Currently, the RFCT is work on planning more real meal days, including one more this

Sodexo sourced ingredients for the Food Day meal from local Durango farmers, meeting at least one of the four criterion of the Real Food Challenge.

Sodexo sourced ingredients for the Food Day meal from local Durango farmers, meeting at least one of the four criterion of the Real Food Challenge.

semester in December. They are also working on creating a press kit and a webpage. In doing so, they will open a new wave of media outreach which should help spread the word about the RFC here at FLC. Furthermore, a few team members have shifted their focus upon contacting other schools committed to the RFC to learn from their experiences. So far, what they have found is that is that the RFCT and EC may want to consider working on further analyzing the calculator results to highlight the campaign and raise its awareness. Similarly, it has been found that more education and learning opportunities need to be provided to the Sodexo staff in order to foster a stronger relationship with the FLC food vendor. Needless to say, the following weeks and semester ought to be full of busy and important work for this team.

By C.J. Clayton, RFCT member