Michigan Tech recognized as a leading University working to “drive sustainability forward”

Michigan Tech is highlighted in a recent article on studyinternational.com news on universities that drive sustainability forward. Specifically, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is highlighted as a sustainable choice for students “ready to become a responsible engineer.”

It is wonderful to see Michigan Tech highlighted for its strong programs in Civil & Environmental Engineering that teach sustainability and engage students as future leaders in sustainability in engineering. Michigan Tech also offers an undergraduate degree in Sustainability Science & Society and has multiple opportunities for research and campus engagement associated with sustainability.

The future needs Michigan Tech because the future requires we find ways to enhance sustainability and resilience, locally and around the world. If you’re looking for ways to contribute to a better future through your education and career, Michigan Tech provides opportunities for learning, leadership, and making a difference in everyday lives through your studies and your future profession.


Alternative Spring Break: Long Way Home in San Juan Comalapa

This is a guest blog post from Zofia Freiberg, who can be reached at zjfreibe@mtu.edu.

Photo of mural panel taken by Bryan Watts and used with permission

 Over 200,000 people were killed and 83% of them were Mayan. Some called it a civil war, and some called it genocide. A United Nations backed report concluded that of all the human rights violations, 93% were carried out by state forces and military groups. With the war having only ended in 1996 and the continual political turmoil, three-fourths of the rural population lives in conditions of abject poverty.

 In San Juan Comalapa, a mural spanning 182 meters depicts the town’s history. Teachers, artists, students, and other residents of Comalapa painted the history of their culture, not to reinvent a sense of belonging in their nation, but to reclaim their past. Much of the mural features the violence of war, cultural suppression, and building collapse from earthquakes. Contrastingly, the final panels illustrate children attending school, carrying books, and embracing their Mayan culture. 

Matt Paneitz was stationed in Comalapa during his Peace Corps service. He decided that he wanted to be part of the positive force making the final few panels of the mural a reality. He founded a non-profit organization called Long Way Home. 

Long Way Home both physically and conceptually built a school system called Centro Educativo Técnico Chixot. The curriculum focuses on student-driven, community-based projects that address genuine needs. What is called “Hero School” is a place of democratic education built upon the idea that self-determination and democracy are fundamentally linked. Ultimately, the goal of the school is to empower students to build their own democratic systems and arm students with critical thinking skills to better handle symptoms of poverty. Education facilitated by cultures of privilege and power often become an indirect form of colonization. LWH actively works to avoid this; the curriculum is developed and facilitated by community members and taught in the native Mayan language Kaqchikel.

Photo taken by Kelsey Farrell and used with permission

Prior to establishing the school, Matt was struck by the amount of trash floating through Comalapa. Though people depend on the land to grow food as their primary source of income and subsistence, trash is routinely dumped in a ravine that floods and pollutes the surrounding watershed. This motivated Matt to use alternative building techniques that combine naturalistic building with waste mitigation efforts.

Photo of tire retaining wall taken by Kelsey Farrell and used with permission

Over spring break, a group of Michigan Tech students, myself included, travelled to Guatemala to volunteer with LWH and learn about their community impact and the Green Building Techniques used to build their campus. Equipped with sledge hammers and shovels, we learned how tires that were previously headed to the dump can be packed with sand and trash to create retaining walls or a structure for a home. Plastic sacks are placed on the bottom of the tires to hold in the sand that is packed down. Miscellaneous pieces of trash are also placed inside the tire. 

Photo of cob being mixed taken by Rochelle Spencer and used with permission

As we unlaced our shoes and grabbed buckets of material, we learned how to make cob: 3 buckets of clay earth, 2 buckets of sand,  2 buckets of water, straw, and a funny foot feeling later we made our first batch of cob. There were many more to come, since cob is a staple material on-site due to the similar properties it shares with traditional concrete. It is used on-site to fill in space around tires for interior and exterior finishes as well as to build walls between concrete structures.The volunteers on the campus tuck their single-use packaging into plastic bottles to create eco-bricks. These-eco bricks are used as fillers in cob walls. Liter sized plastic bottles are cut into shingles for roofs to protect structures from both rain and sun. Using trash as building materials is especially effective because it minimizes what has to be brought to the site and elongates the useful lifecycle of items already on site. 

Picture of building cob wall with eco bricks taken by author

In addition to the school for the local community, Long Way Home runs a Green Building Academy where participants come to learn about sustainable building methods while simultaneously contributing to current projects on the campus. The profits from the academy go towards funding the school. LWH demonstrates a model of service where contributions towards community development goals are not a zero-sum game where what is given up by one actor is gained by another. Instead, the transfer of value from one to another is a reciprocal exchange.

This was certainly true for the experience of the MTU students. Sitting in the airport waiting to depart, we discussed our expectations for the week. The consensus was that we had no clue what to expect. Yet  in true Husky style, we were eager to put in hard work and help another community. Sitting in the airport waiting to return, the conversation had flipped from what we thought we would be giving to all the value we had received. 

Top Row:  Students Nathan Summers, Thomas Basala, Levi Walters, Zofia Freiberg, Lily Frank, and Kelsey Farrell
Bottom Row: Advisor Rochelle Spencer, LWH Volunteer Coordinator Abby, and Student Sara Schrader

What I found to be most valuable from the trip was a newfound understanding of what makes for effective volunteerism and foreign aid. Ultimately, I don’t think we directly helped another community so much as we became a part of the LWH community and their collective efforts towards positive change. Offering up what you have to give as an empathetic outsider may be generous, but it is more efficacious in the long term to first become a member of the community you intend to help. Then, you no longer have to guess at what a community’s needs are because your needs and that of the community become one in the same. 

On the final panels of the mural in town, once just a vision, there is an illustration of the existing LWH school. Though LWH has a Hero School, they do not try to be the heroes of Comalapa. Instead of attempting to uproot and recreate existing social and economic systems, they build upon what already exists and give locals an avenue to become the heroes of their own community. 

Attempts to decipher the best mechanism to make humanity better can be dizzying to the extent of paralysis. To make matters worse, incremental progression is easily diminished with a glance to the news. When the news becomes an omnipresent noise, it can be comforting to just accept that people around the world live differently. However, cultural acceptance shouldn’t be used as a justification for global inequalities. It is a heroic act in itself to acknowledge what incremental good you can do in the face of all the bad. Let a focus on what it is you do have to contribute strengthen your will to act. 



Tips and Suggestions for Living Sustainably at Michigan Tech and Beyond

This is a guest blog post from Nathan Hatcher, who is a Sustainability Science & Society Major at Michigan Tech. He can be reached at nrhatche@mtu.edu

Sustainability includes social, economic, and environmental aspects. Over this past spring semester, I became more aware of the sustainability activities that were going on behind the scenes at Michigan Tech. I learned about and attended events, like an Open House of the Sustainable Demonstration House  and the planned (but put on hold because of the current pandemic) Waste Reduction Drive. Others dealt with more logistics, like universal recycling containers across campus. 

The question of ‘How can we improve?’ became an interesting challenge. Improvements are essentially never ending, and can be implemented at various levels in the system, from individual student behavior, to the university leading the local community. 

Below are some suggestions that Michigan Tech may be interested in looking into, followed by tips designed for the individual. Whether you’re a fellow student at Michigan Tech, part of the Houghton/Hancock community, or stumbled upon this online, these tips may help you think about how you can live more sustainably or how your workplace or school can become more oriented to sustainability in its practices.

Suggestions for Michigan Tech: In your search for how to become a better representative of sustainability, please consider some of the following ideas or their concepts.

  • Website adjustments
    • The university website platform could provide a place for students to be easily aware of recycling locations both on and off campus, which can help with reducing recyclable or reusable material in the landfill.
    • The tips mentioned for individuals may also be of help. The list is meant to be expandable.
  • Campus accessible gardens over winter (Indoor gardens).
    • This may provide a way to enhance the social aspect of sustainability. Community, working together, building trust and relationships with others, helps improve sustainable practices. 
    • It can provide an active exercise for consideration of how others. A valuable tool, when determining the impact of an action/project on other people.
    • It can also help address the Food Insecurity concern on campus.
  • Course(s) regarding cooking and gardening.
    • This provides a hands on way to understanding sustainability. From how crops are grown, to how food is prepared, and what can be done with leftovers. Composting, and organic growing methods can help with better understanding of the land and soil, and what might help improve it for continual use (taking fertilizers and related chemicals like pesticides out of the equation).
    • Trading practice could help with the face-to-face interaction, knowing where food comes from or how it is handled. It also helps support the local economy in cases such as farmer markets. Farmers may be inclined to produce what gets more support, including how the food is grown (fertilizer or none, labor, permaculture, etc.) Students understanding the value of supporting others and how to support actions of interest may improve the quality of decision making.

Tips for the individual:

It does not matter who you are or where you are from, these tips are meant for everyone. Feel free to copy this list and expand on it if you would like. These tips may vary in value depending on your own situation, or lack-there-of. The goal is to become more aware, or mindful, of daily actions and what might improve them.

Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

  • Rethink: Asking yourself some of these following questions may help you become more aware of what you are spending, and if it is really necessary at the time.
    • Do I need it? (Is it a necessity or a want?)
      • How much do I already have?
      • Will it spoil before I use it? (Applies to anything with a date)
    • What do I need it for? 
      • Do I need it for daily tasks? (Cooking, Cleaning, Hygiene, Work, Relaxation)
      • What will I do with it later this week?
    • How much do I need
      • Will I run out before my next shopping trip?
  • Reduce
    • Only get what is needed
    • What kind of waste will I generate by purchasing this? (plastic that cannot be recycled, non-reusable or non-recyclable packaging)
    • Buy in bulk when it makes sense and is possible. (Does not expire for a long time, or, a lot is used in a short period of time.)
  • Reuse
    • What did I purchase or have that I can repurpose? (Large glass jars, tin containers, boxes, etc.)
    • Glass jars can usually be washed in a dishwasher and be used in various ways. Like a coin bank, a detergent container, juice, salsa, screws, nails, magnets, etc.
    • Boxes are helpful for moving, packing, and organizing. They can fold flat too without compromising the structure of the box. Do you know someone who needs some boxes? By offering boxes to them, you reduce what would have been waste, and they get a few boxes they may need.
    • Some packaging material may be worth holding on to, if it is intact, and you know someone who could use some packing material, ask if they would like it.
  • Recycle
    • Check what all can be recycled in your local area and how to prepare the material, if applicable.
    • Cardboard (there are a couple different types of cardboard)
    • Various plastics
    • Glass (usually jars or bottles)
    • Paper (usually printer paper and magazines. Shredding it before recycling may be an option)
    • Bags (paper ones are usually ok, plastic ones usually need to be dropped of at a retail store)

The overall goal is to provide ways of reducing how quickly your trash bin fills up, and therefore, reduce what goes to the landfill. This is not a set list of instructions; rather, they are tips meant to spark awareness or maybe some ideas as to how each one of us can play a part in living more sustainably. It may even save you some money!


The Ramifications of Your Rationalizations: Compensatory Green Beliefs and the Rebound Effect


Zofia Freiberg contributed this guest blog post. She is a systems engineering major at MTU. 
She can be reached at zjfreibe@mtu.edu 


Photo Taken by Kayley Roche kmroche@mtu.edu. Used with permission. 

After installing better insulation, do you think  you would turn up your thermostat? If you purchased an electric car, do you think you would drive more? These behaviors illustrate the rebound effect – behavioral change that offsets efficiency efforts to reduce emissions. This phenomenon is observed with pro-environmental interventions on the scale of an individual’s behavior. In these scenarios, the rebound effect is often attributed to compensatory green beliefs. 

A compensatory belief is based on the idea that the effects of a positive act can counteract the effects of a negative act. Take, for example, the use of a morning run to later justify grabbing a donut for breakfast. Once applied to environmental actions, it becomes a compensatory green belief, or CGB for short.

When asked whether they agree or disagree with behaviors like “I do not often use a dishwasher, so it is okay to have longer showers,” the majority of people tend not to openly endorse CGBs. While someone may not consciously endorse CGBs, their behavior can still be influenced by them. One study on CGBs added open-ended questions regarding CBGs in addition to simple agree/disagree scenario questions. This research confirmed that most people disagree with CGbs when asked about them point blank. Contrastingly, in the interview section, participants often described behaviors that suggested compensation regarding environmental acts. Participants stated things like,  “Well I’m allowed a bath once every couple of months if I have a shower all the rest of the time” and “I’ll often catch the school bus or I’ll walk in the morning to school and then I often think well I’ve cut down on that so if I’m going out in the evening I ask my dad to give me a lift.”

Additionally, both studies found a strong negative correlation (R = -.54)  between endorsing CGBs and reporting behavior and identity traits that are pro-environmental. In fact, the absence of CGB endorsement was a better predictor of pro-environmental behaviors than environmental values or identity. These differences in the qualitative and quantitative findings are concerning. The people who presumably care most about the environment are not objectively acknowledging the CGBs we know they hold. Compensatory beliefs may offer an appealing solution to rationalize behaviors that are unaligned with long term goals or values. Though the rebound effect can be discouraging, it’s vital to note that there is controversy around the magnitude of industry-scale rebound effects. As for the ability of CBGs to counteract eco-friendly acts, that’s up to you.


Listening Session on Sustainability at Tech

In January 2020, the Tech Forward Initiative on Sustainability and Resilience held a Listening Session to learn more about the concerns, priorities, and visions shared by campus and community members for the future of sustainability at Michigan Tech. The summary of that session is available here. Additional comments can still be submitted here.


Tech Forward Sustainability Listening Session

The Tech Forward Initiative on Sustainability and Resilience recently held a campus-wide listening session to hear from more voices across campus. The event was focused on small-group discussions about what Michigan Tech does well, and what can be done differently when it comes to research, education, and campus life issues related to sustainability. Roughly 70 people showed up for a two-hour event on a weeknight, which is a really great indication of just how many people feel strongly about this topic! The folks working within the Tech Forward group are still accepting feedback, so if you did not get a chance to attend the event, please go to this Google Form and share your thoughts about how research, education, or campus life could be improved in regards to sustainability issues – or, feel free to tell us what we are doing that is already going well!

The whole group sharing ideas near the end of the event

Cultivating Community Food Resilience: Revisited

In Fall 2018, undergraduate and graduate students of Dr. Angie Carter’s Communities and Research class at Michigan Tech University (MTU) researched and wrote a report on the food system in the Western UP and food systems councils. The report, entitled “Cultivating Community Food Resilience” was the product  of a partnership between MTU and the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region, and was intended to inform the development of the Western Upper Peninsula Food Systems Council (WUPFSC) through research and community engagement. It is hard to believe that more than a year has passed since we finished drafting the report, and that more than a year’s worth of WUPFSC meetings in all 6 counties of the Western Upper Peninsula region have since taken place.

We were both students in the class and came back together to reflect on the past year, the research and writing process, and sharing the report.

Question: Describe your process of preparing the report. What was the most impactful for you personally, for the class, for the community?

Kyla: I found the process of researching for this report immensely impactful, specifically connecting with community partners. The amount of support and enthusiasm we found when we started speaking to people about this project was really contagious and I think many of us found the sense of community very affecting. Especially after having graduated and left Houghton, this aspect of the project still impresses me.

I recall experiencing a lot of growth as a member of the class, too. The gains were far more than just intellectual — I think I have become a better community member through the process of pulling together to make this report happen. Coming into conversation with the community was the easy part of this project. The difficult part, the part that required all of us to stretch beyond our comfort zones, was the collaborative, messy work of birthing the report. I’m sure there will be many more experiences like this for folks continuing this work!

For the campus — I’m sure I’ll touch on this more when I talk about presenting to the Food Systems and Sustainability (FS&S) class. All of the MTU students I’ve met and talked to about this project and other community food systems topics have had such thoughtful, hopeful responses. I think that this report can serve as a little bit of a touchstone, a synthesis of much of the work that the first round of FS&S and Communities and Research students have done. Every time I look at the report, I am struck by all the elements that made their way in — from the literature we were exposed to during the first round of FS&S, to the problems, ideas, solutions and values that our partners and community brought to the table. So future students will find a lot of information and ideas, and they’ll have a snapshot of food resilience/security at MTU at a time before any of this work, or their work, was carried out. And they’ll hopefully see themselves in the vision of the students who came before them.

Courtney: The research for this project was interesting and impactful to me in a variety of ways. Not only educationally, but as a community member as well. It was really nice to interact with the students on campus and community members as a whole.  I know that personally, all the people I came in contact with during this project were enthusiastic about the project and interested in what we were doing. It was in a sense, a feel-good process.

As a student, I grew immensely during this project; both as an individual and as a team member. We learned how each other worked, what our strengths and weaknesses were and where to improve. Presenting at the Social Science Brown Bag Lunch and the Western UP Food Systems Council Meeting at Zeba Hall in L’Anse, MI in December 2018 helped with my presentation skills which is huge both educationally and professionally. Attending the Western UP Food Systems Council meetings has given me the opportunity to connect with community members through the area, and learn about who they are through networking, sharing and brainstorming.

I believe this project helped our campus and community in a very unique way. Everyone loves food. Having conversations about food, how it is grown, the problems we encounter and how we can solve those problems. For the people who participated, they were able to express how food affects their life, whether positive or not. When starting this project, I was amazed at the number of people who are food insecure in our local area. No one should be without good food. It is my hope that doing the research and helping start the Western UP Food Systems Council, that we might be able to conquer some of the problems in our area.

Question: You’ve shared the report in a couple different forums, including WUPFSC meetings, classes and an academic conference. How can this report be used differently by different audiences?

Text Box: Photo 1 Kyla Valenti presenting at the International Symposium of Society & Natural Resources conference


Photo 1 Kyla Valenti presenting at the International Symposium of Society & Natural Resources conference


Photo 2 (L to R) Class team Jack Wilson, Kyla Valenti, Adewale Adesanya, Courtney Archambeau, Kyle Parker-McGlynn, Angie Carter (not pictured Rob Skalitsky) after presenting at the WUPFSC meeting December 2018

Kyla: Yes, come to think of it, those presentations all differed quite a lot. During the final week of the semester in the Fall of 2018, we shared our newly minted findings and research process at the second Western Upper Peninsula Food Systems Council meeting. During the spring, a couple of us came to Dr. Carter’s Food Systems and Sustainability class to talk about the project, findings and methods and to exchange thoughts and inspiration with other students concerned and passionate about community food systems. More recently, this work was presented at the International Symposium of Society and Natural Resources (ISSNR) in June, 2019.

After having either seen or participated in all of these presentations, I can confidently say that there are many different ways this report can be used and shared. It seems like each presentation, meeting and conversation has led in different directions and evolved the project further. For academic audiences, the conversation may have more to do with research methodology or may focus more on the theory informing this work — more generalizable information that could be applied to a wide array of projects in any number of communities and places. But with members of our own community, the conversation tends to be very different — it easily verges more toward concrete ideas and steps, acknowledges real people, local cultures, and tangible resources and connections. When we presented to other students, I recall experiencing a moment where I realized I’d need to shift from one gear into the other — from the academic gear, into one that was much more specific and personal. The Michigan Tech students I’ve spoken to and worked with have a strong connection to place and deep concern for their community, their school, and their impact.

Courtney: Sharing our research has probably been the best part of the project, next to all of the interactions of course. Sharing what we have learned on different levels was thought provoking and inspiring. The research and methodologies have been shared with students, faculty, and community members; each having their own sets of questions. When sharing with Dr. Carter’s Food Systems and Sustainability Class, their main focus was how we conducted our research and what we thought of our findings.

I think that “Cultivating Community Food Resilience” can be used in a variety of ways and be helpful to different types of groups. As I stated earlier, we have presented our work in a multitude of ways to a multitude of groups, and Kyla stated that each presentation, conversation and read-through has lead to different conversations and impacts.

Question: What are some of the next steps for the WUPFSC?

Courtney: One of the main things that needs to keep happening is the WUPFSC meetings in each of the six counties across the Western UP region. Food summits and community programs would also be beneficial so that community members know what is happening and or how to process foods in a variety of ways.

Kyla: What were once “recommendations” are now actualities. Ideas that once belonged to the future are now accomplishments. An example of this is that when we met with community partners last year, one of the key things that folks kept bringing up was that creating partnerships within the community was critical to supporting a strong local food system. “Building partnerships” ended up becoming one of our key themes, so several recommendations for the WUPFSC were built around that. And I have to say, checking back in with the WUPFSC, I am so impressed by just how far they’ve taken those initial recommendations. When I looked at the website after several months, I was amazed by all the resources compiled for that particular purpose: building partnerships. A “networking” page. Lists of community gardens. Funding opportunities. A calendar of local events. This is one area where even from a distance I can tell that the WUPFSC has done a tremendous job. And like many of those who participated in our project, I am optimistic that many of the “next steps” will grow from those partnerships!

—-

Kyla Valenti is a 2019 graduate of the B.S. in Social Sciences (Law and Society) program at Michigan Technological University. Though deeply attached to the UP, she currently resides in Silicon Valley, where she is working to advance her career as a social scientist and mental health practitioner.

Courtney Archambeau is a 2006 graduate of the B.S in Social Sciences (History concentration) program at Michigan Technological University. She is currently a full time employee of Residence Education and Housing Services at Michigan Technological University while pursuing her masters degree in Environmental and Energy Policy.

The students’ report, and other resources about food in our communities, can be found at the Western Upper Peninsula Food Systems Council website.


MTU students at COP25

A group of MTU students traveled to Madrid to participate in COP25, the UN’s meeting on climate change. Their experiences are being shared via the MTU Unscripted blog:

 

  • https://www.mtu.edu/news/stories/2019/december/michigan-tech-students-participate-in-cop25.html
  • https://www.mtu.edu/unscripted/stories/2019/december/the-road-to-cop25.html
  • https://www.mtu.edu/unscripted/stories/2019/december/cop25-we-are-the-solution.html?fbclid=IwAR3WMJRidp79vfyrq87sIdiGNjXTWy-g2cPjPTa2iGkzvcv89hEvCqVzhAI

 

Their posts expand on the process and planning involved in getting them there as well as their experiences at and reflections on the event. They provide a great example of the determination and tenacity of MTU students and their efforts and contributions to improving communities across the world.

Climate change is a global and sometimes seemingly insurmountable problem, but the efforts of students traveling all the way from this small community in the UP are contributing to the changes that are necessary to ensure a planet that is habitable for future generations. We are lucky to have faculty at MTU committed to getting students involved in this globally impactful event (thanks to Dr. Sarah Green, Chemistry).

Students, we are proud of you and your work!


Giving farmers a new crop: Solar Farms and expanding BTM methods for farmers

 

This is a guest post from Lena Stenvig, an undergraduate student at Michigan Tech. Lena is studying Computer Science and minoring in Environmental Studies. Lena took the photos included in this blog post. She can be reached at lsstenvi@mtu.edu

 

The cherry orchard at Garthe Farms LLC

America is all about its family-owned farms. From its popular food chains serving America-grown burgers to its corn-mazes in the fall attracting people from all around, none of it would be possible without the original small-town humble farmers that do their job equally for supporting their families and for the love of what they do every day; but now our farmers need help. When people moved away from their family farms over to less body-intensive jobs for work, fewer farms began producing more product on more land. Even so, many farmers struggle to produce enough crop to sustain themselves and their family. Around 91 percent of farming families have at least one family member working at a job that is not the farm. This is where Behind the Meter, or BTM comes in.

Behind the meter is a means of producing your own energy so that you are not pulling all of the energy you use from the grid, and as a result pay less for your electricity bill. A popular technique to behind-the-meter is installing solar-panels in one’s yard on upon the roof. In this way a household can produce green energy to lower its carbon footprint and can save on the electricity bill. A typical household has room for a few solar panels. Enough to sustain itself for most of the summer months, but usually not enough when the winter heating bill kicks in. A modern American farm has much more land than your typical resident. Even if most of it is used for farming, there are certainly space that could easily be allocated for a small solar farm. Having worked for Garthe Farms LLC this summer, a cherry farm deep in cherry country near Traverse City, MI, I have seen first-hand where and how this can work. My uncle, Gene Garthe, runs this farm and in recent years invested in four large solar panels that sit in empty space near the driveway nearing the farm house. These four solar panels produce enough energy to run what electricity is needed for the farm, and that is all they desire and need.

Despite producing plenty of energy via solar, Garthe Farms is not a emissions-free facility. Large machinery is used to harvest the cherries from their trees. There are three machines that are necessary in cherry harvesting: the Shaker, which shakes the cherries from the trees, the Catch Frame, which catches the cherries shaken by the Shaker and conveyors them into a tub, and the tractor that takes the tubs when full to the loading dock and brings the Catch Frame a new tub in which to fill more cherries. All three of these machines require diesel fuel to run, and as much work as one can complete towards electric vehicles, it is not economically feasible at the moment to make a machine that chugs through an entire tank of fuel in eight hours of work to operate on an electrically-rechargeable battery. To make up for their fuel usage, perhaps it is better that farms simply produce a form of green energy that can make up for the amount of fossil fuels they consume.

 

Cherry harvest in motion: The Shaker (far) moves to the next tree while the Catch Frame (near) is receiving a new tub in which to place the harvested cherries.

 

In this way farmers can reverse the BTM method. If they can produce their usual crop while also producing energy in either the form of solar or wind, they can sustain their household while also receiving return on what they put out to the grid. This can work if they can have some of their own personal solar panels to run what they need to on the farm, and then working with solar or wind companies to lease certain areas of their land to be utilized for said energy production. For wind, this is easy by simply taking up a small portion of land for each windmill. The minimally invasive turbines do not take up much room on the farm and do not hinder the crops from receiving enough sunlight. Solar panels can prove to be trickier. Because of their method of energy production, solar panels would not work well in a field full of crops that also require sunlight in order to grow. For farms that grow plants that take up less room per unit such as potatoes or corn, placing solar panels in spare spaces around the field while mostly utilizing wind power might be the best option. For farms like my uncle’s, it is a different story entirely.

Much of a cherry orchard’s area is taken up by plants and grasses that grow below the trees, and the trees stand spaced approximately ten feet apart within each row. Each row stands about another twenty five feet apart. Where some farms may be only able to place solar panels near roads or at the end of rows, orchards may place the panels in these locations are more. If one row of trees were to be replaced with solar panels, the loss of trees would be fairly minimal while also adding enormous potential for solar production. Even without removing trees, placing solar panels at the end of rows would not affect the production of fruit while also receiving gain on solar production.

If we are to look closer at our American farms and examine the issues they face today, and if we can only look at the potential they hold for energy production, we may not only be able to solve the growing problem of farms going bankrupt, but also for finding a place to produce greener energy without disrupting land that is not being used and additionally would ecologically be better off as it is. In this way farmers can continue to do what they love, and not have to work more than they have to in order to pay bills and keep their farm from dying. With this I might say the path onto greener pastures might just be creating greener pastures.

 

 


Tiny House Living at MTU

The latest Humans of Michigan Tech story features Sydney, an undergrad who lives in an ambulance turned tiny home. The story barely touches the surface of the environmental, economic, and personal benefits that can come from tiny home living. Tiny homes are a great example of how environmentally responsible living is also economically beneficial – Sydney doesn’t have to pay rent or utility bills and can take advantage of the shared systems like showers and internet provided by the college campus. Sydney is not the first MTU student to live in a tiny home while completing a degree here – a student who built a tiny home on a trailer used to live in my yard, before she graduated and moved away from Houghton. There have even been discussions of developing a community of tiny houses on campus! Sydney and other students who have lived in tiny homes demonstrate that it’s possible, even in the cold snowy climate of the UP. Her story makes me wonder – How many students would live like this, if provided the opportunity to try? How can we teach more students about this possibility? What are the barriers in our way of making more environmentally and economically sound investments for qualify living through tiny homes and access to shared systems? We’re proud of you, Sydney!