Thursday, May 29, 2008

What are you doing to support local businesses?

A guest blog from my younger sister today. Farmers' Markets have started to open in Massachusetts. I went to the market in Davis Square yesterday and picked up some delicious organic rhubarb! MD

What are you doing to support local businesses?
BY Meghan Taptick

Vermont has a motto of Buy Local, Buy Vermont, meaning that the money you are spending on local businesses is going right back into Vermont. Last year, my husband and I gave up eating at chain restaurants. It was great because the food we were served at the local restaurants was local and homemade, the costs of the meals were less expensive and we became friends with a lot of the people who worked at the restaurants. Recently, I was thinking about what else I could do to become more of a local consumer. I decided that my goal for next year (I work at a school so my year begins in September) is to stop shopping at big chains and grocery stores and buy from local businesses.

As mentioned in a previous post, I am participating in Community Supported Agriculture so my produce through late fall/early winter will come from a local farm. We are flexitarians and don’t eat a lot of meat, so the majority of our meals will consist of our CSA produce.

We are incredibly fortunate that our local Farmers' Market lasts all year. Year round I have available root vegetables, jams, cheeses, sauces, meats, eggs, pies, and a variety of breads all locally made and all better tasting than anything you can get at the store. A lot of my Christmas and wedding gifts for friends come from the Farmers' Markets as well as there are always craftspeople selling their homemade products and who doesn’t love a “Made In Vermont” gift?

The Co-Op can provide the rest of our products and needs. We can buy our organic Bovine Growth Hormone-free milk, spices, peanut butter, cleaning products (Seventh Generation is made in Vermont), bathroom products (organic soaps without packaging), and cereals there.

We can’t forget about beer. Long Trail and Otter Creek Breweries are right nearby and there is nothing like going to Otter Creek and picking up a freshly poured growler (which is reusable) of the season’s special brew. Plus, it is always fun to try a few samples while you are there.

In terms of non-food or essential needs, we will rent our movies from a local video store, not Blockbuster, buy our plants from local plant farms, not Home Depot and buy our medicines from local pharmacies, not CVS. And if there is something I can’t figure out where to get, I can use websites like to help me find the product and think outside the box.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Green House

Professor Alcala sent me a link to an article about the Oberlin sustainability house from yesterday's New York Times. It is a great story and definitely something that we could emulate here at Lasell. Essentially, Oberlin designated one house as the sustainability house and took applications from students who wanted to live in this environment. From there, students instituted creative ideas to reduce their footprint. Students collected water from the shower while it was warming up and used it for other purposes such as toilet flushing. They also put timing devices in the showers. I really like this idea and I think it would help to reduce the 9 million gallons of water Lasell uses each year.

We have a unique campus with many students living in residential settings that are more like homes than traditional college housing. We already have the Community Service House and the students living in this house have already taken on living more sustainably. However, I think it is time we expand and create a Sustainable Living House and really make a push for green college living. The students in this house will be innovators and experimenters who try out many ideas to reduce their footprint. In the end, these students will identify solutions that work for Lasell College and spread those ideas to other houses and students.

Bringing students interested in sustainability together in a residential house opens up the opportunity to explore so many issues in an applied setting. Students can evaluate electricity usage, natural gas usage, water consumption, and even the food they consume. A sustainability house would be a tremendous connected learning opportunity for students. Students would have the opportunity to explore solutions to the many environmental issues they are learning about in their classes. A sustainability house is something I would enthusiastically support, and I would gladly serve in an advisory role.

Oberlin has a culture that is very active in sustainability issues. They had 25 applications for the 5 spots in the sustainability house. I think our administration would support a sustainability house here at Lasell, but students would have to demonstrate interest.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Agriculture Education

Lately, I've really become interested in learning more about agriculture. I grew up in a town dominated by agriculture but I still know very little about how farms and our food system operates. I know I am not alone in my lack of knowledge of agriculture. Agriculture was not a subject taught in my elementary or high school. I've attended a small liberal arts college, a public college, and a major research university and not one of these schools offered a single course in agriculture. For some reason, teaching about agriculture is not considered important in our curriculum.

I spent the morning researching the history of agricultural education. I was particularly interested in learning more about agriculture education in public schools. The first public schools in New England, such as the Boston Latin School, had a curriculum that was focused on the classics. This was very common in public schools until around the early 1900's when there was a push for more applied education. In particular, there was growing demand for agricultural education and home economics. Essentially, communities were debating whether an applied education was better for their children than one focused on the classics. Does this sound familiar? Jump ahead 100 years and let's look at the statement we choose to describe the education at Lasell College, "Where the Classroom is the Real World". Clearly, the philosophy at Lasell is to emphasize applied education.

I am a professor at a college that encourages applying the classroom to the real world. I am also increasingly concerned about the lack of knowledge American's have of our food system. I am in an ideal position to do something. I've never considered agriculture something I would be teaching but now I believe it is my job. Students need to be educated about their food system. They need to connect the food they eat with the field in Iowa.

Agriculture is certainly important in the real world so what can I do? In the fall, I am teaching Environmental Science, World Geography, and The Diversity of Living Organisms. Each course will have a component that is connected to agriculture. In Environmental Science, we will examine the energy inputs in industrial agriculture, pesticide use, and agricultural runoff. We will also expand our study of food waste in the dining hall. In World Geography, we will examine farming practices around the world, discuss world population and hunger, and investigate the distance food travels to reach our plate in the dining hall. Students in The Diversity of Living Organisms will study plant anatomy and growth and have the opportunity to grow plants from seed.

In all of these courses, we will connect classroom learning to the food on their plate. To really help students make the connection, I am also going to provide students the opportunity to volunteer at a community farm. Many students probably have never had the opportunity to stick their hands in the soil and raise a crop. I really think it is time we have more conversations about agriculture and our food. It is an topic and issue that can no longer be ignored in our curriculum.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Pledge for Graduates

Yesterday, Lasell College celebrated its 154th commencement ceremony. I should point out that Wellesley was only celebrating its 130th commencement, Boston College its 132nd, and Boston University its 135th. They have so much to learn from us.

Our invited speakers and President Alexander had very wise words for our graduating students. As I listened to the words of encouragement and advice, I realized one element was missing from this beautiful day. There was little mention or encouragement for graduates to live a green and sustainable life. I then realized I should have organized an environmental pledge campaign. The pledge comes from an organization called the Graduation Pledge Alliance. The pledge reads:

I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.

The program now has over 100 colleges and universities that participate in the pledge program. Next year Lasell College will be one of them. Typically, organizers give pledge signers a green ribbon to wear at commencement. Some colleges incorporate the pledge into the program and will even designate who has signed the pledge. Next year, I will enlist the help of Environmental Studies students to coordinate a campaign to encourage graduates at Lasell to sign the pledge.

For now, I will wish our graduating students the best of luck and encourage them to live it green!

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Localvore Challenge

Last week I sent my sister in Peru, NY an article by Bill McKibben about the year he spent eating only food grown in the Champlain Valley. I saw the article in a local magazine called The Organic Mom. I thought she would appreciate this article as she lives in the Champlain Valley and would be familiar with many of the farms and towns.

Well, today I hear from her that she is only going to eat food produced in the Champlain Valley for the month of June. Then my sister in Vermont responds and mentions how she is not going to enter a grocery store this summer and will buy all of her food from farmers markets and farm stands. Now the pressure is on. How can I match up to this? I have a reputation to hold here. After all, I am the environmental scientist in the family.

I spent the morning cruising the internet looking for my options. The local eating culture is growing rapidly and there actually are quite a few options for my family. We could join a CSA which now include meat and produce but we will probably travel too much this summer to make that a good option. There is the option of going to Lionette's in Boston but that is a bit inconvenient. I could travel out to farm stands and pick up my meat, eggs, and produce. Places like Codman Farm, Newton Angino Community Farm and Chip-In Farm do a great job of continuing local agriculture in the Boston area. But still, this costs me about 20 mile of driving.

Then I stumbled upon a buyers club that might be the perfect option for my family. The buyers club works as an organizer takes weekly orders, picks up the goods from local farms, and delivers to a set pick-up location. Members don't have to order every week and the organizer of the club obtains the meat, eggs, milk, and produce from local farms. The group I found is called and they are about to start delivering to Porter Square in Cambridge. With this option, coupled with the farmers markets in Cambridgeport, Harvard Square, Davis Square, Harvard Yard, and Central Square I may also be able to avoid grocery stores and the corporate industrial food complex completely. And I may even gain bragging rights over my sisters because I can get all my food without having to get in a car.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Lasell College is a quiet place today. Most students have now moved out of the residence halls and left for their summers of political canvassing and environmental activism. Maybe not, but that is what I like to imagine my students doing.

The move-out process at college campuses is notorious for the amount of waste generated. Students toss cinder blocks, refrigerators, carpets, laundry detergent, food, and a host of other things. I've observed that the level of waste is a function of year in college. Freshmen and sophomores typically live in traditional dormitory-style housing and will bring home most of the contents of their room. I kept an eye on the dumpster near Woodland Hall this move-out season, and I did not get the impression that the waste generated was over the top.

That can't be said for upperclassmen who live in suite-style housing and share resources such as couches and coffee tables. Frequently, these items get tossed at the end of the year, and the college has to absorb the disposal cost. The worst violators are the seniors who are finished with school and ready to unload all of their college possessions into the dumpster.

As Lasell College continues to move towards greener pastures, the move-out process is something we will need to evaluate. I may call upon students in our new Environmental Studies program to help create a program to keep dorm items out of the waste stream. Many schools have already created creative programs. Take a look at the program at UVM. Harvard collects items and hosts a stuff sale to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. They have raised over $70,000 for the organization by selling items that would have ended up in the trash during move-out.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Community Supported Agriculture

Today's guest blog comes from my sister Meghan. Meghan lives in Vermont which is a state known for its agriculture. She writes about Community Supported Agriculture, which is growing in popularity across the Northeast. Locally, we have many CSA's around including the Newton Angino Community Farm and the Waltham Fields Community Farm. They are a great idea and help farmers earn a living producing good food while minimizing environmental impacts of our food system. MD

Community Supported Agriculture

By Meghan Daley

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a program that connects local farmers with local consumers. Basically, members of the community buy shares in a farmer’s crop (usually organic) for the season. Some CSA programs consist of more than one farm so the variety of the produce is bigger. The crops are generally a variety of vegetables and may even contain flowers and eggs. Once a week, the produce is divided up evenly amongst the shares and is delivered to a local meeting point where the shareholders come and pick up their week’s supply of produce.

I am participating in CSA this year. The farm I am supporting has a different style of CSA than most. I paid $180 for $200 worth of produce. Our farm, Boardman Hill Farm, has a farm stand so when we need produce, we go to the farm stand and using an honor system (only in Vermont do honor systems still exist), we deduct money from our $200 account. He owns a pretty big farm so the range in produce is huge.

The style of CSA that I am participating in works for me because I live in the Adirondacks during the summer so I am not in Vermont to pick up my week’s supply of produce. Therefore, my shares would go to waste. With my CSA program, I don’t have to collect any produce until the fall when I return to Vermont. Also, I can choose the produce I want so if I want to spend my $200 on rainbow carrots and patty pan squash, I can!

I love taking part in CSA. I feel good that I am supporting a local farm and I feel healthy because I know my produce is fresh, organic and hasn’t traveled thousands of miles to get here. You can learn more about CSA’s on

Monday, May 12, 2008

We Add Up

Carson Poe is a friend I went to graduate school with at Boston University. I bump into Carson from time to time and I am always interested in what he is up to. He is a tremendous endurance athlete with some pretty impressive accomplishments in marathon and triathlon races. Carson is now attempting a challenge that takes the cake. He has set off on a bike trip across the country as part of the WE ADD UP campaign.

The idea of WE ADD UP is to encourage individuals to pledge to take some action against global warming. If you make a pledge you get assigned a number to symbolize that we can add up to fight global warming. Carson has decided he will pledge to bike. Not just to bike to work but to bike across the country. He wanted to see the Pacific coast and jets burn a lot of fossil fuel. So, he launched his bike journey with a friend on April 26th and they are already in Iowa.

Carson is getting to see America from a very unique perspective and he hopes to complete the journey by June 21. Way to go Carson! Impressive!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mother's Day Cards

Mother's Day is on Sunday. I am pretty excited as this is my wife's first Mother's Day as a mother. Holidays such as Mother's Day see a surge in the purchase of greeting cards. I've decided to skip the greeting card for Mom this year. The little man made an art masterpiece at the Barn which is much more impressive. If you must send a card, try and think of a green solution.

I want to share a story from a birthday party I was at for my brother-in-law. His family did something really clever and quite green. They would give birthday cards but not sign them. Jim got to laugh at the cards but they weren't personalized at all. Why? So they could be used again. He could take the cards and pass them on to others in the future. I thought this was a fun idea and the whole family was into it so it worked.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Under Pressure

Today's post comes from Kevin Lawson. Kevin is graduating from Lasell and his presence on campus will be missed. He has been an active member of our community and always involved in our environmental initiatives. Best of luck Kevin! MD

Under Pressure…
BY Kevin Lawson

During the next 5 years our campus will undergo many changes. This includes building two new dorms, expanding the number of students, faculty and staff, and countless other items. But what does all of this expansion mean for our campus impact on the environment?

I believe a global problem requires a global response. This means students, faculty, and staff all must take place in saving our environment and minimizing Lasell’s environmental impact. The current trend at Lasell has been a mixed one. Though the cafeteria encourages “tray less” days, it does not inform us why we should give up our trays. Another example was the creation of the path on the corner of Woodland and Maple. This short cut was used by almost everyone, myself included. However, while walking on it I thought I was making my walk a more convenient one and assumed the grass would grow back once the temperatures increased and the weather got better. Instead of planting new seeds or encouraging students not to use that path, Lasell did just the opposite and decided to pave a path!

With Lasell’s growth our students, faculty, and staff must continue to pressure ourselves and others to change our current environmental impact. All plans submitted by students for the Contest to Reduce Greenhouse Emissions should be examined and used. Students should be encouraged to conserve energy, faculty should be encouraged to have “paper less” classes, and staff should be encouraged to minimize travel to and from work. If we all take the necessary steps and provide each other with encouragement and information how and why we should save our environment then Lasell can become an example of how colleges can reduce their environmental impact.

Thank you and have a great semester!

- Kevin Lawson
Class of 2008

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Let's BACE It

About once a year, a group of ecosystem scientists from Boston area colleges meet to share their current research. The meeting was held on Monday and was hosted by Jeff Dukes from UMass Boston. There was a group of over 20 people including faculty, post-docs, graduate students, and laboratory technicians. I've had limited time since starting at Lasell to think about research so it was great to have the opportunity to get together with this group and talk about ecosystem science.

Dr. Dukes decided to host the meeting at the site of his current research project called the Boston Area Climate Experiment (BACE). In this project, the Dukes Lab is setting up to study the impact of climate change on wildflowers, grasses, and trees. They are establishing a set of warming treatments along with a set of precipitation treatments to the vegetation. This is a really impressive research project and is going to make a big contribution to the field.

While Dr. Dukes has done all the challenging work of getting funding and establishing the study site, he is still excited to have others collaborate on the project. This is why he chose to have the meeting at the field site. It provided the opportunity to share the project and to get others thinking about it. I have to say that since seeing the project I haven't stopped thinking about how I could contribute. I think adding a component to study transpiration and vegetation water use would benefit the project. I hope I can carve out a niche and participate in this project. It is exciting stuff!

There is also an opportunity for Lasell College students to get involved with the project. At the study site, the Dukes Lab has installed an educational area. In this area they have a set of posters to share with visitors about climate change. They would like to expand the set of posters and their outreach but lack the time. I mentioned to Jeff that Lasell College may be able to help as I could see incorporating this as a connected learning activity.

I have to commend Jeff Dukes on the job he has done putting together this project. It certainly must not have been easy. Dr. Dukes is a really talented scientist (check out this paper)and we are lucky he chose Waltham to set up this study. I'll definitely plan to take students in my courses to visit the research site and I hope Lasell students can contribute to the effort.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Small Victories

Another guest blog! Thank you Mary Barbara. Guest bloggers are always welcome. MD

Small Victories
BY Mary Barbara Alexander

I wrote recently about training my new housekeeping helpers to change their practices with regard to cleaning supplies, in particular, not using paper towels, but rags instead. I was amazed and elated last Tuesday when Maria showed up at my house and exclaimed excitedly, “I am never going to use Windex again! After you showed me how to use vinegar and water and I see how well it works for cleaning windows, and how much less expensive it is, I am using vinegar and water for all my cleaning.”

“And,” I added, “it’s non-toxic. If a little gets spritzed on the kitchen counters or near the dog dishes, it won’t hurt anyone, unlike Windex.”

So, there you have it. Example is a powerful teacher. And if you think one person can’t make a difference; you’re wrong!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Environmentalism is as easy as 1-2-3

Today, I am happy to share the first guest blog from a Lasell College student. Seth Mantie has written a nice piece about easy steps that students can take on campus to reduce their environmental impact. Thanks for the post Seth! MD

Environmentalism is as easy as 1-2-3.

One of my favorite bands is a German punk rock band called “Die Ärtze” who have a great song in which the chorus reads “Es ist nicht deine Schuld dass die Welt ist wie sie ist, Es wär nur deine Schuld, wenn sie so bleibt” or in English “It is not your fault that the world is how she is. It would only be your fault if she so remains.” It’s important to take environmentalism into our hands now, because although it isn’t our fault that the world is how we’ve inherited it, one day it will be our fault.

I have the impression that students generally think that going green is something which would somehow detract from their current lifestyle and would be difficult. In reality there are many different simple changes which can not only be beneficial to the environment but also be beneficial to the person participating in them. There are three very simple steps that can hopefully improve students’ lives while at the same time saving the environment.

1. Drink responsibly. Reduce or eliminate plastic water bottle usage. Although Poland Springs has been good about trying to reduce the amount of plastic in their bottles, plastic water bottles are an enormous form of waste and they’re fairly expensive. An alternative that I utilize is a Brita water pitcher with a built-in filter and a standard water bottle. The pitcher can fit snugly even in a mini-fridge and stores about four water bottles worth of water. Another convenient thing is the pitcher only takes about a minute to refill and the filters last me an entire semester. However the best part is that I save anywhere from 70 to 100 dollars a semester by not buying bottled water.

Another important step towards being environmentally responsible with our drinks is recycling our cans and bottles. Cans and bottles can both be recycled and usually get the redeemer of them a 5¢ deposit. 100% of an aluminum can is recyclable and there is no limit on the amount of times aluminum can be recycled. A recycled can saves 95% of the energy that would be used making new aluminum so the impact of recycling is very profound.

People can take their cans and bottles to the Waltham Can and Bottle Return located at 131 Linden St in Waltham and redeem them for cash.

2. Ride the T. The T provides an efficient and cheap way to get to Greater Boston’s greatest destinations. Whether taking the subway, the commuter rail or the bus line you can get to almost any destination as far as Worcester or Providence in an hour’s time for a very low cost. Compare the expenses of paying to for a parking permit, gas money, parking fees in Boston and the ridiculous parking tickets on campus to a $4 round-trip T-ride to Boston. Not only could students save hundreds of dollars each semester but students wouldn’t burn any additional fossil fuels. The express bus to Boston can have students in the city in under twenty minutes even during rush hour and people can let someone else worry about navigating Boston traffic. It’s a real win-win situation.

3. Reduce Electricity Use. $763,338 of our room and board dollars went to cover electricity costs this past year. If students were more conscious about their electricity usage it’s quite possible to save thousands of dollars. Aside from electricity being a burden on our wallets, it’s an even bigger burden on our environment because electricity use on campus causes almost 2,900 metric tons of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere each year. To reduce energy use, students can do a few simple things:
- Change light bulbs to energy-efficient bulbs, and turn lights off when not in use.
- Turn off the television when you’re not really watching it. If you leave the room when watching TV and don’t want to miss anything when you come back keep the remote near the door so you can turn the TV on as soon as you’re back.
- Turn your TV’s sleep timer on at night, so if you fall asleep your TV doesn’t stay on all night.
- Turn your computer off at night. There’s no reason to leave your computer on during the night and no one cares what your away message says at 5am.
- Use your computer less, or strictly for school purposes. Instead of having a conversation over AIM try having a conversation in person for a change.
- Change your power settings on your computer. By right clicking on your desktop, selecting ‘properties’ and going to the screen saver tab you can select power options at the bottom you can set your monitor to turn off after 5 minutes of non-activity. This way if you walk away from your computer as I often find myself doing unexpectedly your monitor will turn off and save a great deal of your computer’s energy. When you get back to your computer simply jiggle your mouse and your screen will turn back on.

These are only a few things we can all do to improve their surroundings and help the environment our children will one day inherit. Don’t stop here though, there’s plenty more we can all do. It’s important to think about ways we can make small changes to make big differences in our own lives each day. Lastly, I’d like to take the time to thank Professor Daley for his continued efforts and never-ending dedication to increase environmental awareness and sustainability on the Lasell College campus and for letting me guest blog for him.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Down the Wrong Path

We now have a new path on campus. I've overhead people commenting on how nice the new path is. I find the path a disappointment and a loss for green efforts on campus. The new path cuts diagonally through the green space on the corner of Maple and Woodland. The path cuts right through the middle of one of the largest green spaces we have on campus. It was very discouraging to see this happen.

Since arriving on campus in September, I've watched as this herd path continued to grow. I watched students trek across the grassy space in the snow, rain, and mud just to save themselves the few extra steps it would take to walk around the grassy area. I pleaded with students in my classes to stop cutting across the grass and to stop their friends from taking this route. In the end, the herd path became so large that Buildings and Grounds had to put in a paved path to improve the appearance.

Now, one of the nicest green spaces we have on campus has a paved path cutting right through the middle of it. Lovely.

The path problem is an issue at most college campuses. Students insist on taking a direct line from door to door. Areal images of college campus reveal crazy lines cutting across campus. What was once a pretty green space is now lined with concrete. It is too bad. It takes away space that could be used for recreation or for natural habitat.

I tried to quickly generate a culture of staying on the path when I arrived here but I failed. The best example of this culture is at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. There, students have a tradition of scolding people who cut across the quad. Student can use the grassy quad area for recreation but cutting across it to save steps is banned. There are no formal rules but just a known tradition that other students will abuse you if you are seen cutting across the grass. As a result, this campus has been able to maintain a beautiful grassy quad free from paved paths crossing in every direction.

As Lasell College continues to expand and build new buildings, I have one message. Don't cut across the grass!