Edible Landscaping on the Down Low

TomatoesAs summer turns to fall, I am thinking about what I can do over the next few weeks to prepare my yard to be sustainable and healthy next spring. I recently read an article about Wade Landscaping on Seacoast Online. (You can read it here but you’ll have to sign up for a free account that gives you access to ten articles each month if you don’t have a paid account.) One of their suggestions is that to really make the plantings around your home special, use native species but also consider vegetables and herbs. This is something my wife and I have been doing since we moved into our home in 2007 but until recently we needed to keep it on the down low.

We live in an association that was built in the 1990s and when we moved in our covenants stated that vegetable gardens were not permitted. My best guess as to why this was part of the agreement to live here is that some people feel a garden in someone’s front yard can look like a bunch of weeds if it is not maintained properly. My wife and I both grew up with gardens and know that if weeds are around, the vegetables won’t produce like they should. We were confident that if we chose to ignore the rules, we could keep our garden neat and clean. But we also moved in next door to the Board Secretary, a  very nice person but not someone we wanted to taunt with a full fledged vegetable garden.

After discussing it for a few months, when May rolled around we decided to plant tomatoes, basil, and collards throughout our backyard. We didn’t do too much to hide them because it is difficult to see behind our house from the street. We put the collards along the foundation near the back of the house as if they were shrubs and planted the the basil and tomatoes between the perennials. It worked well and we enjoyed some of our favorite produce. The collards really amazed us by providing beautiful leafy greens well into December and coming back strong every year since we planted them. We also continue to enjoy the many “volunteer” tomatoes plants that grow up from the seeds of the tomatoes we miss during our fall cleanup.

In 2012 the restriction on gardens was lifted and we put in two raised beds. They provide us with plenty of fresh produce but we continue to gather our collards and some of our tomatoes from the plants we put in six years ago. If you haven’t already, I hope you give planting vegetables, fruits, and herbs in your gardens a try.



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The Cloud Institute for Sustainability: Educating for Sustainability with K – 12 Students

The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education is a New York City based non-profit founded by Jamie P. Cloud in 1995. The Institute has developed a holistic educational philosophy that involves the individual student along with his or her classroom, school, and community. Known as Education for Sustainability (EfS), this learner-centered method works with the primary influences in the lives of students, knowing that true, long-term change is most easily attained when nearly all major influences support the new vision.

This is the second of three posts that provide Jamie’s answers to several questions I recently posed to her regarding sustainability education.

Can you please explain the distinction between educating about sustainability and educating for sustainability?

What people don’t always realize is that educating for sustainability is not always about sustainability. It is first and foremost about developing the knowledge and the ways of thinking that will help us to thrive over time.

It is clear that people educating for sustainability do not all have a shared vocabulary with shared meanings.

The Cloud Institute’s framework for Education for Sustainability is designed to contribute to our individual and collective potential and that of the living systems upon which our lives depend.

When we educate about sustainability we treat sustainability as a topic. In my opinion, its use strictly as a topic is limiting and does not allow for what I believe is its highest and best use. To us, sustainability and regeneration are the names for the desired condition we are educating for. I think the greatest value to us is that the concepts of sustainability and regeneration are aspirational and measurable destinations.

Why have you chosen to focus your efforts on K – 12?

The Cloud Institute believes that a sustainable community agenda is unsustainable if it doesn’t formally involve all the children, young people and their teachers. We unite schools and communities to learn and change together  to instigate, sustain, and scale up the innovations and best practices that contribute to sustainability and that characterize Education for Sustainability. We can accelerate the shift toward Sustainability by engaging the schools in Education for Sustainability and securing the role of children and young people as participants, innovators and leaders. We believe that K-12 education can substantially influence knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors related to sustainability. This is the most fertile ground for helping to shape a society committed to sustainable development.

In the most serious conversations about sustainability, I have not detected a shared understanding of the role of education, particularly K-12, in contributing to the shift toward a sustainable future. I have spoken to system dynamics modelers who assume that the time horizon for the return on an investment in K-12 education is twenty years. When I hear that, I ask them, “Do you know any children?!” In my experience, it takes children and young people very little time (especially compared to adults) to turn what they’ve learned into action at the local level.  On average, they are much more responsive, creative, and quicker to make change than we adults are.

Many people have given up on public schools and yet we keep sending the majority of our children there. It is a bad scenario. We can either give up on them and create something else instead, or we can transform them into learning organizations that contribute to our children’s individual and collective potential and that of the living systems upon which our lives depend  (we actually like a bit of both.) We cannot, I would argue, continue to send the majority of our nation’s children to places for thirteen years of their lives that we have abandoned financially, psychologically and emotionally.  That’s just a disaster. That’s part of the problem. I’ll say that upfront.

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Sustainability Education at The Cloud Institute: A Different Way of Thinking

The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education is a New York City based non-profit founded by Jamie P. Cloud in 1995. The Institute has developed a holistic educational philosophy that involves the individual student along with his or her classroom, school, and community. Known as Education for Sustainability (EfS), this learner-centered method works with the primary influences in the lives of students, knowing that true, long-term change is most easily attained when nearly all major influences support the new vision.

This is the first of three posts that provide Jamie’s answers to several questions I recently posed to her regarding sustainability education.

When and how were you inspired to develop “a different way of thinking”?

[JPC] – I was in one of the first experiments in global education from the 6th-12th grades.  As a result, my work began at the age of 11.  I grew up in Evanston, Illinois.  Our teachers were influenced by Buckminster Fuller and other luminaries of the time. The gist of the experiment was to prepare us to thrive in the 21st Century, to become agents of change and inventors of the future we want.  They provided us  with learner-centered, constructivist methodologies  that produced reflective, flexible and creative questioners, systems thinkers, lateral thinkers, media literate, self-regulated learners prepared to deal with rapid change, increasing complexity and interdependence, uncertainty, diversity, and global challenges, including the environment, peace and security, human rights and human development.

In middle school, I could not have predicted that I would be a founder of the field of Education for Sustainability.  The term sustainability and sustainable development, as we understand it today, would not be coined until 1987, nineteen years later, and the field of Education for Sustainability would not be born until 1992 in Chapter 36 of Agenda 21—some 24 years later.

I grew up to become a Global Educator because that’s what I knew.  In 1987, when the word sustainability appeared in a U.N. report, Our Common Future, I thought to myself, “That’s the name for the desired condition I want to educate for.” I had been tracking the state of the planet data since 1968—since I was 11.  Now I had a word to describe what I saw:  The situation was un-sustainable for humans and other species of plants and animals with which we share the planet.  Sustain-able seemed like a better idea.  Once I had the word, I had the concept. Once I had the concept, I knew I needed to educate for sustainability.

Shortly thereafter, I came across an Einstein quote that we use daily: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that we used to create them. “


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Sustainability Education at Enclave Harbour

This article is cross-posted on Environmental Leader.

In my recent article, The Promise of Sustainability Education, I discussed the importance of introducing whole systems thinking and environmental sustainability into the US educational system. There are a variety of organizations using a range of methods to bring sustainability pedagogy into today’s schools. In this interview, David Miller from Enclave Harbour discusses the role virtual worlds can play in the transition to sustainability education.

MC: How long have you been developing virtual worlds and when did you get the idea to create Enclave Harbour?

DM: I started working in virtual worlds at the end of 2006 when Second Life was all the frenzy in the media.  I had been doing Blender 3D, an open source 3D animation program, as a hobby and saw the opportunity to make buildings that could be used by others. My first project was an art gallery for a Norwegian artist that was having a real life art reception and wanted it mirrored in Second Life.

I was interested in using Second Life for teaching science but it was far too expensive and Second Life does not allow anyone under 16 years of age to enter. However, I did use Second Life to teach eLearning developers how to “film” 3D animation, much like you would do with the much harder to learn Blender 3D.

MC: What are the advantages of teaching earth science “in world”?

DM: Immersion and engagement. The concepts I have students explore in these virtual science field trips have traditionally been taught with illustrations or photographs in a text book. If you are lucky, then maybe you can see a video or even a 3D projector image. All we are doing with Enclave Harbour is taking that illustration or photo and making it a 3D model that a student can walk around in.

It’s more fun to have an avatar and walk around a desalination plant or a landfill then to read about it. Kids love to explore, even if it is just virtually. Most kids won’t ever participate in a field trip to hydro-electric plant or calculate the kinetic energy of a toilet they flush atop of the world’s tallest building as captured by a wastewater turbine.

You can also teach the fantastical. We have a space station that teaches closed-circuit systems like the water cycle and the carbon cycle and we also have a spaceship that serves as a way to discuss future energy possibilities – those topics that are just fun to explore.

“In-world” activities can also be enjoyed by those at brick-and-mortar schools, virtual schools, and home schools.

MC: Was it a conscious choice to use a variety of alternative energy solutions within Enclave Harbour?

DM: We teach Environmental Science topics using Life, Earth, and Physical Science principles taken from the National Science Education Standards (NSES) and from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). In this mix it seems appropriate to teach all forms of energy being used. We teach science and not policy and in this respect there is no right or wrong energy.

However, since we do this with an eye towards closing the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), we do present activities designed in a way that students do their own research on current events and can write papers on differing topics. The goal is for them to uncover various sides of issues and to question assumptions presented by the media. They will make up their own minds about energy solutions and be better equipped to make sound decisions regarding them as they become older.

MC: How can youth best be educated on sustainability?

DM: I think that today’s youth is on the verge of this question becoming a moot one for them. We have seen significant changes in the last five years in the automobile industry and recent incentives, such as San Francisco allowing the free charging of electric cars, that are now making these things a day-to-day reality and not simply novel.

I believe that science literacy can help us become sustainable in our lives and our decisions. Science literacy in the US is lower than in many countries and we are now aware of this. Science needs to be restored to its former glory of the days when dreaming of space travel was something many kids did. Today we have no planned manned missions and the lunar walk is from a time way before today’s kids were born. The romantic side of science is not as bright as it could be.

Personally, I blame standardized testing to an extent because it removes some of the reward for passionate science teachers who want to teach but get ranked on their ability to have students memorize facts. Rote memorization might look good for test results but we can see that this does not inspire great science nor does it allow the US to lead the world in science innovation.

I taught three years at the secondary level and seven at college but I would not teach secondary science unless it was at a very progressive school that valued enthusiasm, passion, and real life experience.

MC: What is the most important actionable item you would like readers to take away?

DM: Question science that you hear in the media. It is sometimes pseudo-science presented to further a political agenda that may sound plausible but falls apart upon cursory inspection.

Science is all around us, it’s in your cell phone, the water you drink, the transportation you use, and science is magical and sometimes invisible. From pollination to hurricanes to sail boats, wind is an important “thing” that we have studied and understand very well but have you ever actually seen the wind?




The Promise of Sustainability Education

This article is cross-posted on Environmental Leader.

The educational system in the United States once ranked among the best in the world, but the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) most recent statistics show the US produced only average proficiency scores when compared against other countries in science, reading, and math. We now have a unique opportunity to regain our practice of effective teaching and prepare our youth for a rapidly changing future by incorporating environmental sustainability and social responsibility into all aspects of our educational system.

The current paradigm which pushes businesses and people to do more with less, and at increasing speeds, is transforming into a model aligned with the laws of nature. In this new world there is virtually no waste and people and planet are treated as more than raw materials, they are honored as the fabric of life itself. In order to make the transition, our youth must be exposed to and educated on whole systems thinking with the natural world as the ultimate guide. While a handful of school districts, private institutions, and universities are making great progress, many continue to teach more or less as they have for years.

A positive example for how to develop sustainability pedagogy can be found at The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education. This New York City based non-profit has developed a holistic approach that involves the individual student along with his or her classroom, school, and community. Known as Education for Sustainability (EfS), this learner-centered method works with the primary influences in the lives of students, knowing that true, long-term change is most easily attained when nearly all major influences support the new vision. The idea that a person’s surroundings will have to transform in order to support the much needed true shift in our cultural values is a powerful concept and exactly what will be required. Just as important is the Cloud Institute’s distinction as to the focus of their work. They are involved in “educating for sustainability, rather than about sustainability.”

Founded in 1995, the Cloud Institute offers a variety of services designed to enable sustainability, including long-term consulting, teacher workshops, and curriculum development. A great example of their work can be seen in The TerraCycle Curriculum Series. Lesson plans, story books, and student handouts are free to download and provide ready to use materials for educators. The Natural Laws and Principles of the Materials Cycle curriculum uses a story, Where Do Apples Go, to explain what happens to organic and non-organic material when thrown on the ground outside. The Healthy Commons program introduces children to the concept of shared resources, such as air, water, and community parks and begins to explore the responsibility we all have for these communal necessities of life.

While organizations like The Cloud Institute are focused solely on educating for sustainability, others include environmental protection as one piece of a larger mission. The Marion Institute works with communities, schools, and individuals on green economics and environmental education in addition to health, healing, and spirituality. They have launched four Seed to Table programs that link classroom experiences with the time children spend in the garden. The Marion Institute also aids schools in developing composting programs and providing field trip opportunities to visit local farms and green industries.

Sustainability field trips of another kind will soon be possible at Enclave Harbor. This well-designed virtual world has a variety of alternative energy and environmental science activities from solar-powered cargo blimps to tidal turbines and even a landfill. A workbook guides students through life, earth, and physical science virtual field trips with a focus on sustainability.

One well known real world school that has incorporated sustainability in a variety of ways is Phillips Exeter Academy. They developed an environmental mission statement in 2004 and, in 2005, fourteen staff members participated in a four-day workshop to learn how to infuse their teaching with environmental education. Today Phillips Exeter offers eight courses with a strong sustainability focus that cover topics ranging from English to science to religion. Students also have the opportunity to leave campus and explore sustainability in the larger world. Available programs are based in the mountains of Vermont; in Callan, Ireland; and at The Island School in the Bahamas.

While on campus, students who are interested can become Environmental Proctors. E-Proctors, as they are known, have a variety of responsibilities, including educating their fellow dorm mates on energy efficiency and conservation along with placing the composting pail outside the building each morning for pickup. Charging youth with these types of responsibilities has numerous advantages. The E-Proctors gain valuable experiences championing and managing environmental initiatives by promoting and supporting sustainability measures to their peers. Challenging students to live a life full of green measures solidifies important environmental habits, such as composting and turning off lights, preparing the Phillips Exeter community for stewardship of the natural world long after graduation.

Today, youth who are interested in sustainability have the opportunity to further their studies in both undergrad and graduate programs. Many traditional business colleges include triple bottom line course work and there has been a steady increase in “green MBAs.” The Presidio Graduate School offers both an MBA and MPA in Sustainable Management. Their integration of sustainability into every course ensures students are steeped in environmental and social responsibility. Being surrounded by green class work and real-life examples of sustainability in action allows students to become business leaders that see the world in new way.

The promise of sustainability education is a well trained, insightful workforce that views the natural world as a precious resource and all people as worthy of fair and equal participation in the global economy. If our nation looks to the examples of sustainability education currently in use and invests time and money into incorporating these holistic, whole systems ideals into a redesigned teaching model, our lagging educational system will begin to produce results that will benefit the entire world.

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