Sustainability Issues with Mason Dining

I find it highly irritating that Mason Dining claims to be becoming more sustainable when it leaves every possible light on in the dining halls after closing. I love the fact that they are switching to using produce grown on campus and bringing in food made locally, but I do not understand why, at Southside especially, the lights are left on every day. I do understand that it is used partly to prevent burglaries, however, there are too many lights being left on. I would be okay with the entrance lights being left on and a few lights in the actual dining area, but to have every single light on…is just ridiculous. Another issue that I have is that, also at Southside, all the televisions are left on. This leaves open the option of having light switches in the dining halls that would be programmed to keep the lights on from open until close. I came up with this idea after the class made a trip last week to the greenhouse in President’s Park.

When we went to the greenhouse last week, I was absolutely astonished by what was occurring inside. I had never ventured inside of a greenhouse before last week’s visit. I was fascinated by the type of soil used for the plants and how it was created. When we were shown the LED lights used during times of darkness, I could not bear to look directly at them, but I remember several times this semester, walking by the greenhouse while I was on my way to Ike’s and noticing the purple-ish glow coming from the greenhouse. I loved how the lights were programmed to be on for a period of time and turn off with no one managing it. I think if Mason Dining started to do this, they could save the a lot of money for the university.

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Farmy Harmony

Visiting the Arcadia farm several days ago was a great experience for me. The farm is located on a plot of Mount Vernon land with some very interesting history. Originally it was owned under one of George Washington’s nieces. Eventually, a group of Quakers purchased it in an attempt to turn it into a model farm; one which profited sustainably and without the use of slaves. They were successful with this endeavor and inspired many into this new age of farming. I find it cool that the farm, with this history, now serves as a sustainable farm that gives back to the community.

The farm taught me a lot about the systems we can use to interact with the earth in a mutualistic way. In order to use land at the rate we (as humans) want to, we need to manually process the soil. Strategies were used to encourage plant growth and increase nutrients. We planted a type of radish ,which is especially good at fixing nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil, as a cover crop. It grows exceptionally long roots which are able to penetrate deep into the soil, into the layer of clay. Because clay retains moisture very well, it encourages the decomposition of these roots. Tilling the soil helps mix up all this organic matter as well as loosen it up and get some air into it.

Human’s are able to both make the environment work better or worse for ourselves. Regretfully, we typically fall towards the latter. We use up the Earth rather than simply use it. Greater, long term, results can only be achieved by working with the Earth. There is virtually none of Earth left that is untouched by our pollution (http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141104-is-anywhere-free-from-pollution). Many places, and soon many more, will be beyond repair.

We require these sustainable practices, which are nowadays seen in only small scale, to spread worldwide. The mindset will change along with it and cause sustainability to accelerate exponentially. Just as the Quakers did, we can serve as models for the future. The revolution will not be televised.

On the History of The Blue Ridge Mountains and Camping

Two weekends ago I took a camping trip in George Washington National Forrest. With perfect fall weather and the fall colors hugging my friends and I from all sides, we set out on an epic adventure through the wilderness. It was a two-night trip blessed with some of the most stunning views I have ever seen atop the mountains there. On the second day we stopped at an overlook, the first we had encountered since we began our hike a day and a half before and 8 eight miles behind us. It was great to finally see something outside of the trees but that is not what struck me there.

It was the opportunity to reflect on life and the chance happening that a brilliant person also from Fairfax County encountered us while out on a day hike that day. He ran into us at that overlook and acquainted us with historical information of the region, of what used to be and what is. As we gazed upon the mountains and their lush forested valleys he said, “you know the entire place here once were all farms, even the mountain tops were farmed by peasant farmers that is until Theodore Roosevelt came along.” So everything was changed when Roosevelt founded the National Park System. But what we don’t hear is how the government paid these peasants farmers terribly low prices for there land which left them with even less than nothing afterwards. My point here is to highlight how sustainability isn’t always pretty although the view it created from that mountaintop certainly – I hope – made it worthwhile, as well as the many ecosystem services that these young forests are providing now.

In the end it is a good thing that we have a national forest preserved in our backyard, but talking to that guy on the overlook totally changed my perspective of the place. It gave me a feeling and a historical connection from which I could better relate to the mountains there and to which I could see them through others eyes. I have read books about the history of North American pre-colonization and they have stunned me. One such book is Water by Alice Outwater and in it she characterizes the amazing diversity and abundance of the lands that we came to inherit as well as our engineering and industrialization of the water systems that flow through North America today.

I have come to understand that this entire country once was one massive interconnected sustainable resource that Native Americans managed beautifully and of which provided an abundance of food and resources. We have come to de-nature our country beyond recognition in almost all places and truly all places in the east. The forests that have returned thanks to government intervention in VA are only about 80-100 years old and are not considered old growth by any means. We do not know the true meaning of forests because we have lost them all. I just hope we can allow some to return to their former old growth abundance and beauty over the course of the next 2-300 years so that our children can once again enjoy their beauty.

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Honeybees and Sustainability

       After this semester’s LLC visit to Mason’s main apiary, I developed a new love and fascination for honeybees. Though I learned a lot during the class demonstration, I decided to do some additional research about them. I was curious to find out more about the social structure of bee colonies, the mystery of Colony Collapse Disorder and about how they are related to sustainability topics.

       I have learned that there are typically three main types of honeybees that can be identified in a colony. Worker bees, which are the bees most commonly seen by people, are non-sexually developed females. These bees are responsible for finding food, building, cleaning and protecting the hive, and circulating air with their rapidly beating wings. Interestingly, worker bees have the potential to live up to five years in the wild. The queen is another type of identifiable bee, of which there is only one per hive. She is solely responsible for laying eggs. The third type of bee is the drone, or male bee. Several hundred of these male bees live in a hive during the spring and summer months, but will inevitable be expelled each winter.

       While there has been a growth in understanding about how honeybee colonies function, about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), scientists still know very little. As mentioned during the apiary demonstration, CCD is the phenomenon during which entire honeybee colonies disappear with no explanation, leaving all of their resources still in the abandoned hive. If this disaster continues to occur at its current rate, there will be no honeybees remaining in the year 2035. Most explanations for CCD are directly linked to human impact, including habitat loss, malnutrition, mortality due to direct contact with insecticides, immune system deficiencies due to “sublethal” contact with insecticides, and neurological effects caused by climate change.

       For someone who is environmentally and sustainably conscious, the mere idea of the extinction of any animal species is enough to spark initiative to prevent the tragedy from happening. Unfortunately, many people do not share this mindset and are moved more by strict economic consequences. In the case of honeybee colony collapse, there is a persistent, negative economic effect present. Honeybees are responsible for the pollination of one third of America’s food crops and as a result, are valued at more than $15 billion year. Without these natural pollinators, humans would be tasked with hand pollinating crops in order to continue food production. In a particular region in China where pears are grown, this hand-pollination is already happening due to a complete extinction of honeybees in the area. If this were to be the case in the United States, hand-pollination jobs would cost farms more than $90 billion per year – a devastating economic impact.

       I don’t think that it can be denied at this point that honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder is a serious issue we face today. If something isn’t done, there will be devastating effects on the environment, human sustainability due to lack of food, and the economy. If these reasons aren’t enough to spark more initiative to prevent the loss of honeybees, then I don’t know what is. I hope to continue to learn more about honeybees, with the possibility of taking a Beekeeping and Sustainability class in the Spring, and plan to spread awareness of this issue whenever possible.

 

 

Works Cited:

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/honeybee/

http://www.sustainablecitynetwork.com/blogs/dan_call/article_3c5e15e8-54f2-11e2-97ce-0019bb30f31a.html

On the Agricultural history of The Blue Ridge Mountains and There Current State.

Two weekends ago I took a camping trip in George Washington National Forrest. With perfect fall weather and the fall colors hugging my friends and I from all sides, we set out on an epic adventure through the wilderness. It was a two-night trip blessed with some of the most stunning views I have ever seen atop the mountains there. On the second day we stopped at an overlook, the first we had encountered since we began our hike a day and a half before and 8 eight miles behind us. It was great to finally see something outside of the trees but that is not what struck me there.

It was the opportunity to reflect on life and the chance happening that a brilliant person also from Fairfax County encountered us while out on a day hike that day. He ran into us at that overlook and acquainted us with historical information of the region, of what used to be and what is. As we gazed upon the mountains and their lush forested valleys he said, “you know the entire place here once were all farms, even the mountain tops were farmed by peasant farmers that is until Theodore Roosevelt came along.” So everything was changed when Roosevelt founded the National Park System. But what we don’t hear is how the government paid these peasants farmers terribly low prices for there land which left them with even less than nothing afterwards. My point here is to highlight how sustainability isn’t always pretty although the view it created from that mountaintop certainly – I hope – made it worthwhile, as well as the many ecosystem services that these young forests are providing now.

In the end it is a good thing that we have a national forest preserved in our backyard, but talking to that guy on the overlook totally changed my perspective of the place. It gave me a feeling and a historical connection from which I could better relate to the mountains there and to which I could see them through others eyes. I have read books about the history of North American pre-colonization and they have stunned me. One such book is Water by Alice Outwater and in it she characterizes the amazing diversity and abundance of the lands that we came to inherit as well as our engineering and industrialization of the water systems that flow through North America today.

I have come to understand that this entire country once was one massive interconnected sustainable resource that Native Americans managed beautifully and of which provided an abundance of food and resources. We have come to de-nature our country beyond recognition in almost all places and truly all places in the east. The forests that have returned thanks to government intervention in VA are only about 80-100 years old and are not considered old growth by any means. We do not know the true meaning of forests because we have lost them all. I just hope we can allow some to return to their former old growth abundance and beauty over the course of the next 2-300 years so that our children can once again enjoy their beauty.

Chickens

This past Friday some of us from the LLC went to Arcadia Farm to volunteer for a few hours. It was a small group of us, but I think we got a good amount of work done. We broke up a few rows of soil that sweet potatoes had just been harvested from. The woman we were working with, I can’t remember her name, said that we could keep any potatoes that we found still in the ground while we were digging. Sonam found a REALLY big sweet potato! I hope she made something good out of it; I’ll have to ask her about it. We found many other small potatoes and brought them back with us. I kept a few and cooked them for my roommate. Alright, back to the relevant part of the story. So we broke up the soil to make the rows ready to plant a cover crop for the cold season to put nutrients back in the soil. We were able to plant one row or some kind of radish seed. These radishes are not meant to be harvested, she told us that the greens will be cut down and the radish roots will just be broken up into the soil to decompose and enrich the soil for the next crop that will be planted there.

The farm was smaller than I expected it to be; it was pretty much a big garden, but they had a lot of things planted there. Before we started working she showed us around the different plants they were growing. Much of the space was empty because it is the end of the growing season and they had already harvested some things. I did see what an okra plant looks like for the first time though. There were a few things that they had just for educational purposes because sometimes they show groups of kids around; they had a few cotton plants, some popping corn that they show to the kids, and some chickens. I think she said they had seven chickens. We saw them in a little coop that she said was designed when they had some kind of contest to see who could create the best chicken coop. It was actually pretty cool; it had wheels on one end so you could just lift it and role it to a fresh patch of grass every day for the chickens to scratch for bugs and fertilize a new spot each day. I thought that was an interesting design that is very beneficial for the chickens and allowed the grass to grow back. She also explained to us what they do with the produce from the farm. The whole goal of Arcadia Farm is to provide fresh produce to communities that do not have access or the ability to get fresh foods. They partner with several other farms to provide a wide range of produce as well as milk, eggs, and cheeses. She told us that they renovated an old school bus with refrigerators that they drive to certain places every weekend to sell these fresh foods to communities that need it. They accept foodstamps and other government aid from low income families that probably wouldn’t have the money to buy those kinds of food otherwise.

I think that Arcadia Farm is doing a great thing to educate and provide a local, sustainable food source for the surrounding area. It was a great experience for me to get off campus and help out for a while, and I hope to volunteer there again soon.

Hokkaido’s Blue Pond

I was recently just browsing the internet when I found pictures both heavenly and horrible. It depicted a pond that was as blue as a swimming pool in a certain light going to a greenish color. It certainly looked beautiful with contrast between the pale leafless trees inside the water and the striking hues of the pond. I was shocked and mesmerized by the photograph and decided to research more about it.
There was not much information about Hokkaido’s Blue Pond. It was described as a touristic site and a beautiful sight to see. These words irked me as I felt that there was something more to the pond. After countless water tests, the cause of the colors was still not sure. However, widely accepted hypothesis is that it is due to an abnormal amount of aluminum hydroxide which reflects blue particles easily. This led me to question the origin of the pool. I found out that it was created by the erection of a dam to prevent mudflows in region. The water collects in the Blue Pond. While I could not find detailed information about the influence of aluminum hydroxide in water, I found a World Health Organization research showing that aluminum hydroxide is not poisonous to humans. It just means it is not harmful to animal organisms which might be the reason for the lack of interest in the Blue Pond component. But does that mean the Blue Pond is completely safe?https://sustainabilityllc.wordpress.com/wp-admin/options-general.php
The Blue Pond does not have living organisms inside of it. There are no fish or algae inside. It might be due to the fact that it is not a natural pool but overtime algae should have developed. The pH of the pond cannot be found. After researching reasons for pollution such as factories, all I could find was farming sites and a cheese factory. The farming sites could have polluted the pond but the usual signs are eutrophication and there are no signs of over fertilization of the site. Looking at the pictures, it seems like there might be some signs of sediment pollution as the borders of the pond are a reddish color. However that might just be clay and the way the photograph was taken.
The Blue Pond is certainly ethereally beautiful and attracts lots of tourist which is beneficent to the Japanese economy. It also is a small water space without a lot of current. The lack of aquatic movement could explain the higher concentration of aluminum hydroxide. My reasoning is that it just accumulates and does not evaporate. While I could not prove that the Blue Pond is polluted, it is not a natural watercourse and the colors cannot be explained.

Water In Israel

So about a week ago, I stopped by North Plaza to check out the Sustainability Fair going on. My first impression was that there was nothing sustainable about these six little tri-boards groups handing out flyers, but I kept looking around and began talking to some of the people. One group really interested me with all these facts about Israel. I had no clue where this group was going but a cool fact I learned was that Israel is recognized by the United Nations as world leader in use of recycled water. I thought this was super neat because I didn’t even know water can be recycled and sure as hell didn’t know that Israel was even a contender to have the best form of doing it. Something else the group card mentioned was that “An Israeli company developed the most advanced method for biological treatment of unsorted municipal solid waste to date”. Which is another fact I learned and was surprised by because you don’t even see the two flush system in much of America, at least I have only seen it maybe two times. Israel also has a water irrigation system which save water there too. The country needs to do this because they are in the desert and can’t keep depending on rain water for their water supply. I did a little research and on npr.org, it says that “To save money and make the system more environmentally friendly, Shafdan is now building a system to trap methane from decomposing microbes, known as sludge, and use that gas to power the plant”.  In water sewage treatment Israel at the top with 89% and Spain following with 19% effectiveness. This is amazing because it is such a sustainable way to live as a country. And being recognized for that outstanding achievement should give incentive for other countries to jump on board. I know Mason has made great strives to becoming greener each and every year but we need to become greener as a whole country or else it doesn’t make much of a difference. We need to “Think Green and Think Blue” (which is the group motto and has a broader meaning on being sustainable). Overall, I no idea that Israel was such a sustainable country and it is fascinating to know that other countries out there are taking steps to become greener.

If you want to know more the website is: IsraelActivism.com

The Buzz About Beekeeping

The trip to the GMU beekeeper’s hives was really fascinating to me because of the recent massive decline of pollinators. Honey bees are key pollinators around the world and critical to many species of flowering plants. At the hives we wore protective gear to avoid being stung by the bees. The bee suits are extremely hot to be in and it was a cooler day, actively working in those during the summer would be smoldering. The bee hives were different sizes, the larger ones for the colonies that have grown from their original size. Each hive had slots that provided areas for the bees to store honey and the queen to lay eggs.

Currently weird behaviors surround honey bees as colonies up and leave productive hives at times that have low survival rates for bees establishing a new hive. Queens will abandon hives, bringing the rest with her. These colonies that act strangely also abandon their larvae, something healthy bees never do as well as leaving large deposits of honey unconsumed. The hives that these bees abandon are never used by another colony again, scientists believes the stressed bee colony that abandoned the hive leaves some kind of hormone that signals other bees to stay away.

In order for a new queen to be born a hive must have grown to a certain size that it can split into two colonies. The queen bee will release a hormone signaling the bee larvae to be fed the royal honey that will allow the bees to become queens. The larvae then develops into several queen bees that fight to the death, the survivor then takes half the colony and leaves to start a new hive while the old queen remains with her colony. All larvae is fed this special honey up until six days I believe, at which point the diet is changed, which will in turn prevent any of the larvae from becoming queens.

In a bee colony there are many different roles. Drones and guards are two roles of bees in the colony. An individual bee’s role is determined by its age alone. The older the bee the less it is in the hive I believe. The oldest bees seek out pollen to turn into honey while the youngest defend the hive from attack. All working bees are female. The males almost never leave the queen and their sole purpose is to mate with her.

In order to work a bee hive the colony must be smoked, using white smoke only, which is produced from something organic like pine needles. This smoke sends bees into a panic of eating honey in case a fire should destroy the hive, that way they all have the energy to escape and build a new hive. Honey is made by the bees as their source of food. Honey is stored for the winter and consumed then, as the bees do not leave the hive when it is col and no too little pollen can be found.

I personally want to know more about what may be putting pressures on the bees and what is causing colonies to abandon their hives and larvae at times of high risk.

Is a Bad Winter Encroaching on us?

Maybe I am not the first to hear this news, but is it true? I’ve been hearing quite often lately that we have a bad winter coming. Or at least a very cold one…but how do these magical people know? My Mom likes to say that a lot of acorns on the ground means a bad winter is on its way. I don’t know if there is science to that, so I decided I would look into it before making any assumptions…because there have been quite a few acorns dropping.

First, before jumping straight into this winter I wanted to cover more of how meteorologists go about predicting the weather. It really comes down to air masses and their patterns. Air masses move in predictable ways so meteorologists usually can have a pretty accurate prediction on a forecast. But every once and a while they are off. General patterns that have been kept track of for seasons on end are what help forecasters predict the future of our weather…pretty neat. I won’t stick on the basics for too long because I have a bigger idea for this blog. Bear with me.

I came across a farmer’s almanac and they have 20 signs for a hard winter. I won’t list them all but here’s a couple: thicker than normal corn husks, woodpeckers sharing a tree, early arrival of the Snowy owl, early arrival of crickets on the hearth, early seclusion of bees within the hive, UNUSUAL ABUNDANCE OF ACORNS (Mom is always right), and frequent halos around the moon or sun forecast numerous snow falls. There are more to the list, if you want to check out the cite I’ll include the link for my fellow bloggers. But honestly, WOW. It’s amazing what people pick up on nature, the subtle changes can indicate so much. Some people may say it’s bologna, but watching the natural changes in nature- just like the weather forecasters- can help predict weather to come.

I find it fascinating that the world around us is always changing, adapting. Luckily people can pick up on the fact that it means something. Cause and effect. I really believe there’s always a meaning to something, even if it comes down to an excess in acorns. Which apparently can indicate a harsh winter… I guess we will all just have to wait and see!

http://farmersalmanac.com/blog/2008/08/26/20-signs-of-a-hard-winter/

P.S. They’ve been using this list of signs of nature since 1978.

Also, I know I went from meteorologists to acorns- so I hope you can keep up with the natural course of my fascination!