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Sustaining Sustainability

  • http-blogs-fandm-edu-wp-content-blogs-dir-29-files-2012-04-dirtarmy-jpg
  • Kelsey Lerback ’11 holds an organic vegetable grown by the "Dirt Army," a key student group in the College’s broad-based commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship.


When Shawn Jenkins ’10 walked into his first meeting of the Environmental Action Alliance three years ago, he was one of only a handful of students in the room. Today, the environmentally minded senior has much more company.

“This year, we have more than 60 people,” Jenkins says of the EAA. “The same thing is happening with the Fair Trade Café—not many people came at the beginning, but now we run out of food.”

Jenkins’ experiences symbolize the College’s broad-based commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship, which includes a series of new initiatives this fall. The goal is to bring together previously disparate sustainability efforts and move forward in concert, according to Carol de Wet, associate dean of the faculty and professor of geosciences.

“There was a sense that, in the past, F&M had made small strides toward sustainability, but didn’t have a coordinated effort,” de Wet says. “This year’s work has put those fears to rest.”

The blueprint for the College’s sustainability efforts comes in the form of Beyond Green, a paper authored by de Wet outlining a plan to foster an interdisciplinary understanding of environmental stewardship. In addition, a Web site detailing the centralized program launched over the summer.

“All the little pieces are important, but many people didn’t know about them,” de Wet says. “There was no centralized way of communicating everything. There were pockets, rather than the whole package.”

The centerpiece is the Carolyn and Robert Wohlsen ’50 Center for the Sustainable Environment, located in the former Central Services building. A beehive of renovation activity in recent months, the Wohlsen Center will become the centralized hub of sustainability when it opens later this fall. It will house, among other things, a high-tech seminar room, public education/outreach space, the Wohlsen Archives, laboratory space, and office space for the sustainability staff: Acting Director Sarah Dawson, Artist-in-Residence R. Scott Wright and Tom Simpson, sustainability coordinator and Millport Conservancy liaison.

Simpson oversees the partnership between the College and Millport, an 85-acre nature preserve near Lititz. The partnership encourages students to conduct research among nature trails, wetlands and an award-winning restored trout stream. “Not many colleges have that type of relationship,” Simpson says.

Nor do many colleges have a core of students known as the “Dirt Army.” Last spring, a group of four students—Nic Auwaerter ’11, Kelsey Lerback ’11, Rachel Packer ’10 and Tyler Plante ’10—sketched a plan to grow organic vegetables within the framework of sustainable food production. With some help from Dean of the College Kent Trachte, who funded an internship program for the group, the “army” had a plot on Baker Campus by the summer.

“The idea of farming and hands-on labor often has negative connotations in this world,” Lerback says. “When people ask about it, sometimes they make a face. But we have an appreciation for what goes into farming.”

Lerback is among a handful of residents in the Sustainability House on West James Street, co-founded by Jenkins and Brian Marshall ’10. Plans for the house include new solar panels, courtesy of a $15,000 grant from the Sustainable Energy Fund matched by the College. Linda Fritz, chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department, wrote the grant with Sara Lupolt ’11 and Samara Valentine ’10.

“We’ve made amazing strides toward being a more sustainable campus,” Jenkins says. “We need to sustain action, keep pushing and be as creative as we possibly can.”