UMF students practice sustainability with local alumni farmers

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FARMINGTON — While washing potatoes Friday at Rustic Roots Farm, Casandra Moreau reflected on the changes she and classmates are making as a result of a No Impact service learning experiment at the farm.

Moreau, a junior studying early childhood education at the University of Maine at Farmington who commutes from Skowhegan, is taking an environmental science course, Practicing Sustainability, with professor Grace Eason.

It is a course that connects to our lives, she said while preparing the potatoes for Saturday’s farmers market. She related her appreciation for local, organically grown foods. 

“We get our hands in the dirt,” Moreau said. Last week they dug carrots with farm owner Erica Emery, a 2006 UMF alumnus. “It’s also about giving something back to the community.”

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It’s not that Moreau plans to farm, although someday she would like to garden.

It’s about looking at ways to practice sustainability, applying what they learn in class to conscious efforts of environmental stewardship and making an impact on climate change, Eason said.

It is also about partnering with the community, either the UMF campus community or the external community, she said.

The No Impact project started with a film by Colin Beavan, who is known as No Impact Man, she said.

Living in Manhattan, he attempted to have zero impact on the environment for one year. His sacrifice involved five basic phases: trash reduction, electricity reduction, local food production, transportation changes and water reduction, Eason said.

Moreau said she and her classmates tried reducing their impact for one week. During the week, she tried a 3-minute shower, ate locally grown foods, washed clothes in cold water and looked at transportation needs.

The students are now involved in the six-week, service-learning portion of the class. Students chose a project in one of the five phases. 

Choosing local food production, Moreau and others are working on either Emery’s Rustic Roots Farm or partnering with UMF alumnus Andrew and Sarah Marble on the Marble Family Farm.

The students contribute two hours of work each week for six weeks.

At Rustic Roots, the students are helping with harvesting produce. Next week, they’ll shift to putting the farm to bed for the winter, Emery said.

“The project is awesome,” she said. “The kids chose to be here and are excited about it. It’s total value added to have the extra help.”

The 2-acre farm on the Farmington Falls Road grows vegetables and sweet corn on another acre in New Sharon. It provides for 13 local CSAs, and 10 CSAs are taken to friends in Boston, she said.

About eight students work different time slots throughout the week. They provide about 80 hours of help over the six weeks, she said.

Emery, who studied secondary education at UMF, chose to farm because she’s “really into growing food for people,” she said. Active in 4-H as a youth and dairy farming in high school, she started growing sweet corn at age 16.

“These six weeks help the students learn about the labor and time it takes to provide food,” Emery said. “They see the stages of the farm role, from start to finish.” 

They are also into cooking and eating the produce she sends home with them. They come back and tell me what they did with it, she said.

The class is part of a project started last year with a $5,000 Northern New England Campus Compact EPA grant. Six professors agreed to put a service learning component into their courses to promote environmental stewardship, Eason said.

Rather than passively assuming that the impact on our environment is out of our hands, Eason’s students are looking at things like how to localize and stimulate the local economy.

When produce travels 1,500 miles from California to our plates, these students are actively participating in ways to transition back to localization from globalization, which is not sustainable, Eason said.

From the experiment, Eason’s research shows a rise in the motivation and confidence levels of the students. They are also making a difference from what they learn and are changing their own behaviors, she said.

abryant@sunjournal.com

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