Category: Uncategorized

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!

On Industrial Ecology

This post is a guest post from a student in SS3815 Energy and Society who wishes to remain anonymous.

 

Most of us are somewhat aware of industrial practices along with a high school level understanding of ecology, but what about their interconnection? Can two completely different topics combine for a new concept or understanding? And how does it relate to sustainability?

“Industrial ecology is the study of industrial systems aimed at identifying and implementing strategies that reduce their environmental impact. Industries, such as manufacturing and energy plants, extract raw materials and natural resources from the earth and transform them into products and services that meet the demands of the population” (study.com). Industrial ecology works in a way similar to that of a workplace or school sustainability initiative for recycling or net zero waste, but to a deeper and grander scale. A forest’s ecosystem may give tree saplings to mammals and insects, but the surviving saplings grow big and strong. These trees provide cover from the elements, as well as shelter for other species. They also act as carbon sinks, providing clean oxygen. This cycle of environmental sustainability is what industrial ecologists are looking to achieve.

When Eagle Mine was first proposed to the Marquette area, there was severe backlash from the community regarding its environmental impact on the nearby Salmon River. Their skepticism was understandable, a simple Google Map satellite search will show you the nearby retention ponds of Empire Mine, among others, with a remarkable color of orange. In case you didn’t already know this: water is not orange in its natural state. Local fishermen opposed the mine on the grounds of mining’s notorious mark on nearby bodies of water and land, so proper measures were put in place.

 

Eagle Mine Fly Over (Links to an external site.)

 

Firstly, the mine is not open-face, it is an underground operation. This limits the dust exposure compared to open-face or mountaintop mining, whose presence lasts long after operations cease. Second, truck loading takes place indoors, further reducing the potential dust travel. Trucks and boots have designated pathways for travel to prevent exposure off the site. There is even a water treatment center inputting from the site and outputting into the river. One of the most interesting aspects of exposure prevention is their handling of snow and rainfall. The entire site is concave in so all liquids pool to the central holding ponds. This site is a prime example of industrial ecology because of every aspect to protect the local ecosystem and reduce its overall impact. On top of all this, Eagle Mine plans on returning the site to its former natural state when all is said and done.

 

Modern Mining – How Eagle Mine produces nickel and copper (Links to an external site.)

 

When looking at the product of Eagle Mine, said minerals are made into a wide array of products and parts, which in turn can return to the site via phone or truck.

In my Population & Environment course with Dr. Winkler, we ran a website test determining how many earths would be required to live if everyone lived like the test taker. I ended up receiving a score of about 1.5 earths, but I wanted to test some options. The life habit that created the biggest jump was the amount of trash one produces. By adding a few pounds to my weekly trash output, my earths jumped up to almost 3 whole earths. Industrial ecology is an important term to understand because it is a relatively new concept with future consequences. Industrial waste is a topic that needs to be addressed because the reduction of overall waste and waste streams is one of the most significant ways to reduce its environmental impact. Ever seen a loaded truck carrying brand new vehicles down the highway? Each vehicle is wrapped in single-use plastic that is battered by the wind, and some even falls off. When the vehicles reach their final destination, this plastic is stripped off and the car is stored elsewhere. How do I put this lightly…do we really need to continue to manufacture single use plastics? Obviously, there are exceptions to this, particularly medical equipment, but even then, we can invest in alternate materials. Ford Motor Company’s most recent sustainability report details its net zero waste initiative, most notably its near zero landfill output in the United States at most sites. An increasing number of companies are moving towards zero landfill waste, which is incredibly impressive considering the amount of office waste that can accrue.

It can be said that industrial ecology is similar to life cycle analysis, which is an assessment of environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacturing, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling. Life Cycle Assessments look into everything that occurs cradle-to-grave when it comes to products. In other words, from pre-manufacturing to disposal. This can be inversely related to industrial ecology because the industry is the cause while the product carries the effect. Think of how a Red Solo Cup takes over 400 years to fully decompose, how can a company change the material of the famous Red Solo Cup so it can decompose in 10 years? How does the Red Solo Cup manufacturer justify making products that will last centuries into the future when none of the current generation will be alive to experience it? I would certainly hope there are environmental policies in place to counter overdue decomposition in the future, but what can a company do right now to counter? Gone are the days of simply throwing trash away- out of sight, out of mind– and here are the days of sustainability. I’d find peace in working for a company with such strong devotion to internal standards, and the standards of the surrounding environment.

This term deserves to be normalized in order to become a pillar in sustainability efforts and studies. I think that industrial ecology can be a catalyst for severe societal change. It’s known that work environment and cultures influence our own environment and culture at home, so sweeping ecological successes could have trickle-down effects.

 

By the Community, for the Community: Co-creating pathways to local food system sustainability

This is a guest post from Jack Wilson, Sustainability Science & Society major

 

Jack Wilson interning at Marble Mountain farm during Summer 2018, an organic vegetable and herb farm in Happy Camp, California

 

 

 

Sustainability is about more than the development of systems designed to sustain themselves. It’s also about practicing radical forms of democratic process to develop human and more-than-human communities built on dense networks of socioecological relations that allow for individuals to co-create the systems that they call home.

 

This feeling of home is something that has inspired me to get deeper into my work on local food system sustainability. After my first year at Michigan Tech, I transferred from Geophysics to the new Social Sciences interdisciplinary major Sustainability Science & Society. In this major, I work with a framework that studies sustainability beyond the perceived duality of human and environmental systems. Ultimately this duality is artificial, and it’s necessary that we begin perceiving human systems as embedded in and interdependent on one larger interconnected biogeophysical system that is sustained through a network of reciprocal relations. Over the last year and a half, as I’ve become more familiar with the system of relations that comprise our local food system, I find that this feeling of home grows within me.

 

For those who aren’t familiar, a food system can be broadly defined as all of the patterns, processes, and networks which facilitate the flow of food, from its inception to its consumption. When I tell people here at Tech about what I study, they usually respond with some variation of “really? You study the food system here? What food system?” In some sense, they’re not wrong in saying so.

 

The Keweenaw region today produces an incredibly minute amount of food relative to that which is consumed, so we rely mostly on imported food from the fossil-fuel intensive conventional global food system. Because we rely on food grown in distant lands by the hands of unknown people, many of us don’t know how unsustainable our food system actually is.

 

It didn’t used to be this way. The conventional food system is actually a relatively new phenomena in the context of this land’s human history. For centuries the Anishinaabe people derived sustenance from many of their more-than-human relatives in the region, such as fish and rice. While many Anishinaabe people still have these relations, the colonization that has occurred from the 19th century into the present has created structures of power which hinder the ability of communities to develop and maintain sovereignty over their food system. This history is vital in helping us conceive of how a more sustainable food system might be possible. While the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) considers the entire U.P. food insecure, we can look to the Indigenous communities for knowledge about how we might actually find an abundance of food in the waters and forests of this land.

 

In the 2018/2019 school year, I received funding through a Portage Health Foundation Undergraduate Research Internship Program (URIP) to conduct ethnographic research studying how local farmers navigate the challenges in our local food system and identify as opportunities for improved resilience. This work was inspired and informed by classes I had taken in the Sustainability Science & Society program, including SS 4700 Communities & Research, SS 3110 Food Systems & Sustainability, and SS 4211 Ethnographic Methods. When I asked one farmer what they wished the broader community knew about the farming in the Keweenaw, they said, “I just wish they had a better understanding of what is possible.”

 

This public misunderstanding of our food system seems to derive from the general lack of awareness about our local food system and its potential to support a more sustainable future. For example, when I ask people what they think about the possibility of developing a sustainable local food system in the Keweenaw, they often are quick to point out logistical challenges such as “we have too short of a growing season” or “we live too far north” or “the soil is too poor.”

 

While it is true that our growing season is short relative to other places, I’ve learned through my research that local farmers are using cold storage technologies to allow for the preservation of vegetables for months into the fall and winter season. While it is true that we live very far north, farmers have shared with me that there’s actually a number of places throughout the Keweenaw that have significantly extended growing seasons because of the way Lake Superior acts as a heat sink and regulates the climate, thus extending the season further into the fall. Further, these farmers have shared a number of technologies like low-tunnels and hoop houses which also allow for the season to be extended. Finally, while it is true that there are many places throughout the region with low amounts of organic matter in the soil, many of these farmers are working to build healthy soil over time through regenerative agricultural practices.

 

When that farmer told me they wished people had a better understanding of what is possible, I thought about how limited my own understanding was before conducting this research, and how that hindered my pursuit to uncover solutions to these sustainability challenges. The solutions that farmers shared with me speak to the vast reservoirs of ideas and solutions already existing in our own communities.

 

I will continue to pursue these questions through a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) in the summer of 2019 and another URIP in the 2019/2020 academic year under the continued supervision of Dr. Angie Carter. Through my research, I’ve also become more engaged in our community, working at Metsa Hill Farm and volunteering with the Western UP Food Systems Council and Food Not Bombs. It’s through engaging in this research and these dialogues that we can begin to develop a more holistic understanding of these systems and tailor our system interventions in a way that ensures we are working towards a world of justice, equity, and sustainability.

MTU students start Plastic Free Challenge in April

A group of Michigan Tech students has developed a three-week challenge focused on reducing the use of single-use plastics and other plastic items. The topic of plastics use has been in the news quite a bit lately, especially focusing on the implications of changing global recycling patterns of plastic, and the impacts that waste plastics can have in the environment. For a variety of reasons, it’s a good idea to reduce our use of many types of plastic! If you are interested in participating in the series of plastic-themed challenges, from near or far, you can find more information on the ‘Plastic Free Challenge’ on this Facebook link!

 

 

 

Tech Forward! On Sustainability & Resilience

Michigan Tech has ambitious plans to address the future of education, the contexts in which education operates, and the objectives and aims that a University education serves, given the expected disruptions resulting from external factors (you can read more about Tech Forward here). Discussions and meetings in the fall 2018 semester (you can read more about that process here) resulted in the announcement of big, broad Initiatives intended to create plans for proactively addressing the challenges faced by MTU, Universities, and the societies in which we live. One of the Initiatives is focused on Sustainability & Resilience, and the Working Group has been meeting regularly to discuss possibilities, priorities, and the principles that should guide Sustainability & Resilience activities at MTU — What do you think? What do you think Sustainability & Resilience should look like at MTU?

New Major! Welcome Sustainability Science and Society

The Department of Social Sciences is excited to announce a new major here at MTU: Sustainability Science and Society. Learn more at: https://www.mtu.edu/social-sciences/undergraduate/sustainability-science/

 

The most pressing problems we face today require integrated, interdisciplinary ways of thinking. These problems are complex, involving complex ecological systems, built environments and technological infrastructures, and social systems and human dynamics across multiple scales. These problems impact our lives in multi-faceted ways, including health and wellbeing and work and the economy. These problems also raise questions about our fundamental human responsibilities to care for ourselves, one another, and the planet that sustains us.

 

This major provides a grounding in the social science tools that allow students to think critically about these pressing problems, while also providing interdisciplinary training and flexibility to dig in to particular interests in more depth. The faculty in the Social Sciences Department are already doing groundbreaking and innovative teaching and research in the realm of sustainability, and we are excited that this work can now be formally integrated into undergraduate education through this new major.

 

Venn diagram with economy, environment, and society. People figures, a graph, and a globe to represent each area

A narrative of the Upper Peninsula forest through time

I just finished reading John Knott’s Imagining the Forest: Narratives of Michigan and the Upper Midwest (2012, University of Michigan Press), and thoroughly enjoyed his flowing narration of the path our forests have taken over the past 400 years. He uses a series of novels, books, and periodicals (both fiction and nonfiction) written during different periods to provide images of not just what our forests were like ecologically, but how they were perceived by those who lived in them.

His book begins not with the northwards retreat of the glaciers (when our forests truly began to be forests), but with the Ojibwa who utilized forest resources in seasonal movements and traditions. These traditions served them well when the first fur-trappers established themselves in the area, and the Ojibwa and traders formed integrated communities and relied on intact forests to support their trade in resources.

However, as the timber boom spread from Lower to Upper Michigan, the forests were stripped and sold to support urban expansion in Chicago, Detroit and beyond. His descriptions of the fires that raged out of control in the 1870’s, destroying top soil and villages, are difficult to imagine. The forest residues that remained after the logs were transported away from the area, combined with an intense series of summer droughts, seared the Upper Peninsula so completely in some areas that the forest has yet to return. These same drought conditions also fueled the Great Chicago Fire in the same year.

After the timber boom, government efforts to encourage agriculture on the near-barren soil failed, and reforestation began. The UP began to be marketed as a vacation destination, in the hopes of developing a new tourism-based economy.

Knott concludes his book with a discussion of the opportunities that our National Forests, Wilderness Areas, and State Parks provide us: hints of what our forests were like before the timber boom in the late 1800’s.

This book is a great read for both natives and newcomers; I recommend bringing it along on your next camping trip in the Porkies!!

Nasty cow pasties

Every Saturday my four-year-old son and I start our errands by going to a local dairy farm (Hidden Acres Farm) to get a gallon of milk. Since moving to the UP, I’ve been trying to localize our food supply, mainly by gardening in our backyard, joining Wintergreen Farm (Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA)), buying eggs from a friend and now our milk.

Aside from sustainability concerns (e.g., carbon footprints, food miles, local jobs, slow food/money/life, and the like), I garden with my son and bring him to these places so that he understands not only where food comes from but also how it comes to be food. He knows that beans and seeds must be planted, fed, and watered to get plants that produce fruits and vegetables, he knows that chickens love worms (above all else), and now he knows how cows eat grass, how they keep flies off of them (ears and tail), and today what a cowpie looks like.

I was stunned at first when he pointed one out and asked what it was. I then realized that he hasn’t been around pastured cows before (just those at the zoo) and therefore has never had the opportunity to see a cowpie. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, but I had nearby opportunities to be exposed to nature (in the Forest Preserves) and agriculture (such as Wagner Farm in Glenview) where I was able to figure out things like cowpies. We are only now understanding how critical this exposure to the natural world is for young children and their development. I suppose I have taken my early exposure for granted up until now.

On the way back to our car, one of the farm owners greeted us and I told her that my son had seen his first cowpie today. I’m sure on the inside she was rolling her eyes at such a bizarre and slightly pathetic revelation, but she smiled and said, “My son calls those ‘nasty cow pasties'”. Very fitting!