Honors Program Students Chew on Topic of Sustainable Food

by Paul Goraczko, Think Green Correspondent 

VegetablesAs far as college courses go, ‘The Geography of Food: Fast, Slow, Global, Local, Policies, Politics, Economics, Energy, Sustainability, Culture and You,’ is a full-course meal.

Assistant Professor of Geography Wayne Brew jokes that his Honors Colloquium may very well be the longest course title that Montgomery County Community College has to offer, but he ensures it is for a good reason.

“It’s because the goal of the course was to really focus on the issues around food,” Brew said.

And whether we realize it or not, there are a lot of issues and concerns that arise with the agricultural system: sustainability, environmental degradation, government agriculture subsidies, the explosion of the fast food industry, and even health problems caused by the food we consume (to name a few).

Brew’s desire to discuss these issues with students stemmed from another class that is offered at the College. The class, entitled “Food & Culture,” was co-taught by a nutritionist and a geographer and allowed students to learn about how culture plays a role in the cuisines of various civilizations around the world.

While teaching “Food & Culture,” Brew found himself wanting to discuss the issues of food more and more, but found it deviated from the intent of the “Food & Culture” course.

Thus, when Brew was given the chance to design a one-credit honors colloquium in 2009, he took advantage of the opportunity to develop a course that dealt with the issues surrounding food production.

Brew wanted students to understand that we have a global food system that is probably not sustainable.

“The evidence is pretty clear that what we’re doing right now is not sustainable and we have to figure out ways to make it sustainable,” Brew said.

Brew acknowledged that the transition from a highly industrialized agriculture dependent on large amounts of fossil fuels to a more sustainable system would be difficult, but is wholly necessary.

“One of the unsustainable parts of this agriculture is that it’s so dependent on oil,” Brew said. “Oil drives the whole process. It takes ten calories of oil energy to make one calorie of edible food. As oil becomes more scarce and expensive, how are we going to continue to support systems that are based on oil?”

Students in the colloquium were faced with tough questions like these on a regular basis.

To ensure students remained invested in these discussions, Brew made sure that the course remained student-centered. Therefore, Brew ended the course title with “and You.”

“The last thing I ended it with is ‘you,’ because I have the students keep a food diary throughout the course,” Brew said.

The diary requires students to write down what they eat throughout the day.

Brew ensures students that this diary is not so he can critique them, but so they can have an awareness of what they are eating and can see where their food is coming from.

“I keep a food diary along with them and it’s helpful for me,” Brew said. “Every time I do that, I take something new away from it, based on a pattern I see or something I think I could improve upon.”

At the end course, students were asked to reflect upon their diets in a reaction paper.

The students used resources such as Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan, along with many other articles that focused upon food issues, policies, and sustainability to inform their reaction papers.

Brew says these books give students an eye-opening look at food production in the United States.

He also supplemented these readings with the screening of two films.

The first, “Food Inc.,” is a 2008 documentary that examines and critiques corporate farming in America in what Brew describes as a “horror story approach.”

The second, “King Corn,” is a 2007 documentary that spotlights the role government subsidies play in the production of corn in America.

Other highlights of the course include two mapping projects.

The first mapping project requires students to look at how many fast food restaurants and convenience stores there are within the two-mile radius surrounding their house.

Students then read articles on “junk food geography”—meaning very poor urban or rural areas where the access to healthy food is very limited due to limited budgets or geographical restraints—and come to have a greater understanding of the food options offered to their communities.

The second project requires students to map out a supermarket of their choice. They have to document the layout, take pictures, draw a map and answer questions related to the store’s floor plan.

The project helps students to see that supermarkets are tactically designed to lead consumers to make certain decisions.

In the class’ final meeting, students learned more about locally sourced food and shared a meal that was made entirely from locally sourced food suppliers.

Chef David Green, Chef and Food Service Manager with CulinArt at the College’s Central Campus, prepared the food, which consisted of locally sourced chicken and vegetables including carrots, potatoes, and salad greens.

Chef Green led a discussion with the students in which he described the many changes he has made over the years to make the food services at the college more sustainable.

“He does amazing things,” Brew said. “He is a great spokesman for many of the things that I talk about in the course and he’s the person that actually practices these things by trying to buy all his foods locally, which is not cheaper, but is better quality and supports sustainable and organic farms.”

Overall, Brew hopes students who take the course will ultimately question the policies and politics behind food production in America.

To ensure that they start thinking more about these policies, Brew asks students to take one of the problems identified during the course and look into possible solutions for it, including systematic policy changes or economic shifts that would improve our food systems by making them more sustainable.

Brew said these papers are often the highlight of the course for him, because of the realizations, thinking, and ideas that students exhibited.

Click here to learn more about the Honors Program at the College.

College Gears Up for 2014 RecycleMania Tournament

RM_logo_2013by Alana J. Mauger, Think Green Editor

Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) will once again take part in RecycleMania, a nationwide tournament among colleges and universities designed to increase student awareness of campus recycling and waste minimization.

After finishing second in Pennsylvania in the Waste Minimization category during the 2013 challenge – collecting 15.292 pounds of combined trash and recycling per capita – MCCC expects to maintain momentum in this, its seventh consecutive year of competing.

Pre-season practice weeks are held from Jan. 19-Feb. 1. Then, the official competition kicks off on Feb. 2 and extends eight weeks to March 29.

During the program, campuses compete in different contests to see which institution can collect the largest amount of recyclables per capita, thelargest amount of total recyclables, the least amount of trash per capita or have the highest recycling rate. Final results will be announced on April 11.

In 2013, 523 colleges comprising 3.5 million staff and students recycled and/or composted 90.8 million pounds of waste.  In addition, Recyclemania 2013 resulted in a reduction of 121,436 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MTCO2E).  Of the totals, MCCC contributed 34,132 pounds of recycling and averaged 4.252 pounds of recycling per person each week.

According to the U.S. EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM), MCCC’s recycling efforts during the competition resulted in a greenhouse gas reduction of 48 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E), which translates to the energy consumption of four households or the emissions of nine cars.

RecycleMania is made possible through the sponsorship support of Alcoa, SCAThe Coca Cola Company, Keep America Beautiful, and the American Forest & Paper Association. Additional program support is provided by the College and University Recycling Coalition (CURC), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WasteWise programCampus Conservation Nationals, the United Negro College Fund, and the National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology program.

Check out MCCC’s Think Green blog at mc3green.wordpress.com for RecycleMania stats and updates.

To learn more about the RecycleMania 2014 competition, visit recyclemaniacs.org.

Culinary Arts Institute Goes ‘Landfill Free’

by Alana J. Mauger, Think Green Editor

Montgomery County Community College’s brand new Culinary Arts Institute (CAI) became the institution’s first “Landfill-Free Enterprise” when it opened in August 2013. The CAI partners with Sustainable Waste Solutions (SWS), of Souderton,  to convert all waste — trash, recycling and food trimmings — into energy or materials.

“Sustainability is so important in the food industry, especially since we produce so much waste,” explained Chef Instructor and CAI Business Manager John De Pinto.

For waste that can be recycled, SWS employs single-stream advanced techniques to increase the rate of materials that are actually recycled, eliminating  byproduct waste that may end up in the landfill.

For materials that cannot be recycled, SWS employs Energy-from-Waste or Waste-to-Energy processes, which create energy, typically in the form of electricity, from the combustion of solid waste.

SWS also transforms 100% of the CAI’s food scraps — including meats and high fat foods that typically cannot be composted — into agricultural compost through a scientific process that complies with government regulations regarding disease control and ground water pollution. In addition all of the CAI’s cooking grease collected and transformed into biofuel.

Check out a short video tour of College’s brand new Culinary Arts Institute below!

Household Batteries Now Accepted for Recycling

Montgomery County Community College is partnering with Grainger Industrial Supply to recycle household batteries. Collection boxes are available at several locations at the College’s Central Campus in Blue Bell, including the College Hall south lobby entrance, the Parkhouse Hall 202 lobby entrance, the Advanced Technology Center atrium, the Facilities Management Building conference room, and the Science Center lower level near the Engineering laboratories.

Battery collection box in the ATC atrium.

Battery collection box in the ATC atrium.

Keeping Pottstown’s Riverfront Park Green

Students from Montgomery County Community College’s Beta Tau Lambda chapter of Phi Theta Kappa at the West Campus spent the morning of Saturday, Oct. 19 cleaning up Riverfront Park in Pottstown. Thank you to faculty advisors James Bretz and Diana McFadden for providing photos!

Campus Sustainability Days to Showcase ‘Green’ Efforts

csd2013logo_thumbnailby Alana J. Mauger, Think Green Editor

Montgomery County Community College will join hundreds of colleges and universities across the country to celebrate Campus Sustainability Day 2013, the theme of which is “Climate Adaptation: Resilient Campuses & Communities.”

In its 11th year, Campus Sustainability Day is designed to create awareness and facilitate discussion between students, faculty, staff and the community at large. While the day is officially observed on the fourth Wednesday in October, many institutions host activities through the week and month.

See the list of supporting organizations

MCCC has two days of Campus Sustainability activities:  Wednesday, Oct. 23  in the South Hall Cafeteria at the West Campus in Pottstown, and Wednesday, Oct. 30 in the Parkhouse Hall Atrium at the Central Campus in Blue Bell, both from 12:30-1:30 p.m. Each day will  feature informational exhibits about a variety of “green” campus topics, including:

In addition to these, campus sustainability info will appear on campus television displays, and the Central Campus event will feature info from the College’s Environmental Club, as well as Campus Sustainability Tours, hosted by Assistant Professor of Biology Jerry Coleman.

The College is also asking community members to get involved by tweeting ways they are going green with the hash tag #mc3green.  Responses tweeted by Nov. 1 with #mc3green will be compiled and posted to the College’s Think Green blog!

csd2013logo_header

‘Cone 6 Transition Project’ Greens College Ceramics Department

by Paul Goraczko, Think Green Correspondent

Montgomery County Community College‘s Ceramics Department recently revamped the way its reduction kiln is fired.

The project, entitled the “Cone 6 Transition Project,” is part of an effort to support the College’s commitment to sustainability.

The project was piloted by Dr. Aaron Shatzman, Dean of Social Sciences (who was serving as Interim Dean of Arts & Humanities at the time); Frank Short, Professor/Coordinator of Fine Arts; and Michael Connelly, Assistant Professor of Ceramics.

Previously, students’ ceramics projects were bisque-fired in an electric kiln and then glaze-fired in a natural gas-fired reduction kiln at Cone 10 (2360 degrees).

The transition has lowered the overall kiln firing temperature from Cone 10 to Cone 6 (2192 degrees).

Learn about Cone Temperatures

The 168-degree difference between the two firing temperatures may not sound like a huge difference, but reducing the temperature at which the kiln is fired will have some green friendly effects.

“Although change is hard,” Connelly said,” the ceramics program should focus on the benefits of firing mid-range reduction.”

The change will save time and fuel, reduce the College’s carbon footprint, and lower costs.

Heating a kiln to Cone 10 can take anywhere from 10-12 hours, while Cone 6 takes only 8-10 hours. This translates not only to a 30% fuel savings, but also to savings in staffing, as each firing has to be overseen by a member of the College’s staff.

Reducing the firing temperature also adds longevity to the kiln by reducing the wear and tear. This translates to savings in the long term, because it will decrease the likelihood of having to replace the kiln prematurely.

Connelly admits that “ceramics is not the greenest of art forms,” but the Cone 6 Transition Project is just one way the department is helping the College to go green.