November 9, 2011

Getting sustainable around Galesburg

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to the agriculture of Galesburg and Knox. That was a lesson Environmental Studies Chair Peter Schwartzman hoped to teach to participants of the Bioneers Ecotour early Sunday morning.

The tour started in the middle of campus with Schwartzman asking the group to try to take a “panoramic” view of the environment. As they neared the prairie, Schwartzman asked if anyone saw it, but received no answer. He advised the group to slow down and “be perceptive” of what was around them.

“We have to slow down,” he said. “We’re slowing down by walking but we have to slow down by even turning, and being perceptive about what we see.”

Schwartzman was joined by Knox alum Elizabeth Spiegel ’08, who spent two terms at Green Oaks as a student and a teaching assistant, to talk about the prairie’s relevance to the Knox community.

“It’s a representation of our mascot and it connects us to the larger prairie that we take care of at Green Oaks,” Schwartzman said.

Halfway between the prairie and Seymour Hall, Schwartzman stopped to point out the relevance of the fertile ground to the food in the community. Next to the building that houses the Hard Knox Café, Schwartzman asked the group where our food comes from. Looking down, he brought attention to the chestnuts, dandelions and other plants in the lawn.

“I was … thinking about food in a different context,” he said, “and getting people to think about growing food, which of course was going to come up later [in the tour],” he said.

Moving closer to Seymour, the group listened to Spiegel and Schwartzman talk about the new compost facility at Knox, a 10-year endeavor that was just completed last year. Spiegel attributed the inspiration for the project largely to Bioneers conferences that she and other Knox students had attended in past years.

“It’s a blur to me, but if she thinks it’s true, it might be,” Schwartzman said.

The next stop was the Human Rights Center (HRC), and the topic moved to finding places to actually grow food at Knox. Many of the suggestions made by the group were found to be freshly deposited soil, which made the land unfit for growing. However, behind the HRC and at several other empty lots on campus, the group came across fertile soil for a possible garden.

To show the effects of good soil, Schwartzman then took the group to two community farms: Mound Community Farm on West Tompkins Street, which was started in September of 2009; and the Knox Community Garden on West Street, which was started in April of 2010. While at Mound Community, the group found lush purple radishes, the seeds of which were planted in September.

At the Knox Community Garden, Schwartzman discussed how he and his Urban Agriculture class have plans to expand the range of the garden this spring. The group was allowed to pick plants such as Brussels sprouts and eat them from the garden themselves.

Schwartzman used the rest of the tour to discuss investments in environmental sustainability.

“We’ve probably spent about $1,000 in nine years to maintain the Prairie, for the seeds, tools … In terms of the compost facility, that was over $30,000; in case of the school farmland, I’m anticipating $1,500 over five years,” Schwartzman said. “Mound Community Farm, I estimated … probably [cost] about $1,500 over the course of the first two years.”

After discussing these costs with the group, Schwartzman ended the tour by leading the group towards the recent construction of the overpass at Main Street. He explained that the cost of this project was around $12 million, while providing workers to cultivate the community gardens every year would only cost around $1,500 a year. The payoff of the latter would be an abundance of organic food.

“We’re willing to invest $12 million for an overpass, and relatively speaking the rest of the [environmental] stuff is a pittance,” he said.

Schwartzman admitted that he could not say whether or not the investment in agriculture would “have greater impact” than the investment in infrastructure, but wanted to get people thinking about how they spend their money on their community, and how a little money goes a long way in terms of agriculture and organic food.

“[Mound Community Farm] required 150 hours of work all year … and if you divide that by 10 people, that’s 15 hours a year to have all this amazing organic food,” he said. “It’s a pittance.”

Sam Brownson
Sam Brownson ’12 majored in philosophy and minored in anthropology and sociology. This is his second year copy editing for TKS; he is also currently a post-baccalaureate fellow in music and theater and will be composing the music for two productions as part of Knox’s Repertory Theatre Term. A self-described grammar Nazi, Sam worked as a TKS reporter and as a writer and editor for his high school newspaper before joining the TKS editorial staff. He also manages social media for Brownson Properties in Holland, Mich.

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