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Field Trip! Common Thread and Heritage Farms Visits

By Sustainability Office on July 25, 2017
-Camila Loke ’19

No two days at the garden look the same – there are always new issues to attend to as the plants grow and the weather changes. The work keeps us busy and on our toes, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get the chance to visit other farms in Madison County. Field trips to other farms are one of my favorite parts of working as a summer intern. This past month the garden team volunteered at Common Thread Farm and visited Heritage Farms, both of which are within fifteen minutes of the garden.

Common Thread Farm has been owned and operated since 2012 by Wendy and Asher Berkhart-Spiegel with the purpose of providing the community with sustainably grown food and opportunities to be more involved with the land. Common Thread operates on the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, in which members purchase a share of the farm’s annual harvest prior to the growing season, and pick up their shares weekly at the farm or other designated sites.

Our visit to Common Thread started bright and early at 7 am. We were lucky enough to be there on a harvest day, so we had the opportunity to witness the behind the scenes of a CSA. On this particular morning, we helped harvest Swiss chard, radishes, zucchinis, and beets. It was truly a pleasure to spend the morning with the Common Thread crew, but several parts of the experience stand out to me. One of my favorite things was seeing the organizational systems they have for harvesting vegetables.

There are two crucial components of harvesting at Common Thread: bins and rubber bands. Three different colors of bins – red, blue, and gray – indicate where the vegetables will be sold (such as wholesale or CSA). Then rubber bands are counted and placed into the correct color bin, corresponding to the number of bunches to be sold. From there, the vegetables are harvested, making sure that any damaged or unattractive ones are removed. It was great experiencing what it’s like to work on a big farm – even just for a few hours. Thank you, Wendy and Asher, for letting us help out!

Heritage Farms was established in 1985 and moved to its present location in Bouckville in 1990. It was designed specifically to promote independence and education in individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Participants in Heritage Farms’ day and summer habilitation programs learn a variety of skills, including tending gardens, caring for livestock, and woodworking. They are organized in groups depending on independence level, and each group leader works closely with their participants to meet their needs.

After touring the farm, I was impressed with the wide range of skills being taught and with the hard work being done to maintain the grounds in such beautiful condition. We were greeted right away by one of the newest members to Heritage Farms – a baby bunny! The farm has a barn in which rabbits, pigs, goats, miniature ponies, donkeys, chickens, and even a peacock live. Participants help clean the stalls and put out food for the animals, which are used mainly for therapeutic purposes. In addition to the barn, the grounds include a koi pond, wood shop, raised beds, greenhouse, and several buildings for indoor activities. In all, the grounds extend more than 150 acres but the buildings and other structures are concentrated in an easily accessible area off the main road.

In addition to operating as a farm, Heritage Farms provides participants with fun and educational experiences. On the day we visited, for example, participants and group leaders were enjoying a snack of banana boats made over a small fire. I also noticed a few individuals expertly using leaf blowers and weed whackers to help maintain the pathways around the buildings. One participant shared that she fed and cleaned the chickens’ cage that morning, and that her favorite thing to do at the farm is to ride in a big tractor. Overall, Heritage Farms appears to be using very creative and engaging ways to educate and support its participants. It’s definitely worth checking out!

Just Scratching the Surface: A Beginner’s Guide to Geothermal Energy

By Sustainability Office on July 19, 2017
-Chaveli Miles ’19

If you’ve ever seen a volcano erupt or a geyser spew hot water and steam, you’ve seen geothermal energy at work! Source: History.com

Underneath the Earth’s surface, large energy reservoirs cradled in subsurface geological formations can be used to illuminate and heat our modern world without the pollution caused by burning fossil fuels. The Earth’s natural heat, geothermal energy, can be harnessed in two ways: deep (geothermal power plants and direct-use) and shallow (geothermal heat pumps). While direct-use is still in its experimental stages, geothermal power plants and geothermal heat pumps have been generating clean, renewable energy for decades.

Geothermal power plants utilize both hydro (water) and thermal (heat) sources to power a turbine. As the turbine spins it generates electricity. This technology first occurred in Larderello, Italy in 1904. In the present day, geothermal energy is created in three ways: dry steam, flash, and binary. As defined by National Geographic, dry steam utilizes naturally occurring steam to directly drive a turbine. This is oldest form of geothermal energy production. Flash geothermal energy pulls high-pressure hot water into low-pressure cooler water, generating steam which can then be used to drive a turbine. As of right now, flash plants are the most common.

Lastly, in binary geothermal energy, hot water is mixed with a “secondary fluid” with a much lower boiling point than water. This causes the secondary fluid to turn to vapor, which then drives a turbine. Secondary fluids are usually hydrocarbons such as isopentane or a refrigerant. Future geothermal plants will likely be binary as this process does not release geothermal fluids such as nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia into the environment which can occur with older geothermal methods. In addition, the water and the secondary fluid are kept separated during the whole process, resulting in little or no air emissions.

Unlike geothermal power plants that are used to generate electricity, geothermal heat pumps are used for heating and cooling. They can also be used to provide hot water all year round. Here at Colgate, Chapel House – Sanctuary and Spiritual Retreat Center –  is heated and cooled using a vertical, closed-loop geothermal pump. Below ground, the temperature remains at about 45 to 75 degrees fahrenheit. Geothermal heat pumps rely on this constant temperature to regulate indoor heating and cooling. A system of polyethylene pipes called a loop transfers heat in or out of a building, depending on the season.

In a vertical closed-loop heat pump, the loop is drilled down approximately 100 to 400 feet deep and conjoined into one continuous pipe. A water solution (usually water in a open-loop system and a mix of water and environmentally-safe antifreeze in a closed-loop system) runs through the loop, transferring heat to and from the ground through a heat pump which is connected to an indoor air duct system. The heat pump contains a refrigerant which undergoes variations in temperature and pressure, alternating between a liquid and gaseous state. This effectively heats and cools the air indoors. The water solution and refrigerant never mix, the refrigerant remains in the heat pump while the water solution remains in the loop.  
A geothermal heat pump simply collects energy and redistributes it unlike a standard gas furnace. For every kilowatt of energy consumed by a geothermal heat pump, approximately 4 kilowatts of energy is generated, making not only more environmentally friendly but also significantly more efficient and economically rewarding than fossil fuels.

The Psychology of Recycling

By Sustainability Office on July 14, 2017
-Annaliese Clauze ’20

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“Reduce, reuse, recycle!” Most of us have heard the championing cry of the green movement so often that it’s now ingrained in the very fabric of our psyches. To hear the mantra, changing our behaviors to make our lives more sustainable and more efficient should be a simple, three-step process.

And yet, recycling rates in the United States in 2013 only reached 34.3%, putting it at the number 17 spot on the list of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (Source) Here on Colgate’s campus, recycling rates during Recyclemania 2017 only reached 11.41%.

So what’s stopping us? Even when we have only the best of intentions regarding our recycling habits, something seems to stop us from making the meaningful changes to our behaviors necessary to effect a real change.

Many studies have looked into this very phenomenon. What they have discovered points to a number of effects and biases that often prevent individuals from recycling responsibly.

  1. The Distortion Bias: Studies have shown that one of the strongest influences on recycling behavior is something known as the distortion bias. (Source) The distortion bias is the effect by which people are less likely to recycle an item after the item has been torn, crushed, or dented–in other words, its identity has been distorted. Once a material that normally would be recycled, such as glass, paper, or aluminum, is viewed in the eyes of the consumer as ruined, it is likely that the object will be reidentified subconsciously as garbage and miss the recycling bin entirely.
  2. Peer Pressure: Surprise, surprise: studies show that people tend to adhere to recycling guidelines more when others in their peer group do as well. What’s perhaps more surprising though, is that this effect works similarly in reverse; people are more likely to forego their recycling habits when surrounded by those who do not recycle. (Source) So, for example, a college campus that does not energetically promote healthy recycling behaviors amongst its students will likely see lower recycling rates than one where peer pressure does its part.
  3. Far-Removed Results: Perhaps one of the most negatively impactful biases affecting people’s recycling behavior is the belief that the results of one individual’s behaviors have an inconsequential, meaningless impact on the overall picture. After all, the social and emotional gratification that comes with recycling is short lived, and more often than not the average lay-person will not have the opportunity to see the big-picture effect that their actions can have. (Source)

So what’s to be done to overcome these biases? Mindfulness can go a long way towards improving your own day-to-day behavior, and may make you more aware of just how great of an impact your actions can have. Creating small goals for yourself and rewarding your achievements can go a long way towards establishing healthy recycling behaviors to last you a lifetime.

Applications are now open for the fall 2017 Colgate Community Garden internship

By Sustainability Office on July 12, 2017

The Sustainability Office is offering a paid Garden Internship to a qualified student starting in mid/late-August 2017 until early November 2017 (the end of the growing season). The garden intern will help manage and promote the one-half acre vegetable/herb garden and greenhouse on campus. This is a physically demanding, yet very rewarding job. Work includes exposure to outdoor elements (e.g., heat, sun, rain, etc.). The student intern is expected to coordinate and organize volunteers and student work parties. The Garden Intern will report directly to our garden manager (Beth Roy) and work in close collaboration with other garden interns and other Colgate students, faculty, and staff. The student intern will gain life-long skills and knowledge in harvesting and maintaining a garden, organizing events, and supervising volunteer workers.

Required Skills and Experience

Key Responsibilities:

  • Work with garden manager (Beth Roy) to plan and manage the garden during the fall season. Specific tasks may include preparing soil, cultivating, planting, weeding, and harvesting.
  • Organize and supervise volunteer work parties.
  • Coordinate with Green Thumbs presidents to schedule a weekly time for volunteer work parties, and be at the garden during those scheduled times to supervise the work parties.
  • Provide continuity for work on the garden throughout the 2017 growing season.
  • Prepare for and help run a weekly Farm Stand to sell produce from the garden.

Recommended Qualifications and Skills:

  • Strong work ethic and self-motivated.
  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Preference will be given to those with experience and firsthand knowledge in farming and/or gardening with vegetable crops; though previous garden experience is not required.
  • Experience organizing and supervising the work of others.
  • Tolerance for hard work and exposure to outdoor elements.
  • Excitement about promoting local farming and local food production

Work Requirements and Benefits
The garden internship position is rewarding but demanding work that involves physical exertion and exposure to the outdoor elements.

Starting Hourly Rate: Fall semester – est. $9.90/hour (estimated because Financial Aid determines pay rate)

Department: Sustainability Office
Hours per Week: 6 hrs during fall semester

Supervisor: Beth Roy, Garden Manager

Key Contacts: John Pumilio, Director of Sustainability; Christopher Henke, Associate Professor and faculty advisor to the garden; Beth Roy, Colgate Community Garden Consultant

To apply, send a resume and one page cover letter to the Garden Manager, Beth Roy (eroy@colgate.edu) and fill out an application on the Colgate Portal.

The application deadline is August 4. Employment will begin on or around August 21.