Earth Day was last Saturday, but we take environmental sustainability so seriously at Berea College that we celebrate the entire month of April. And really, every day is Earth Day here, because of our daily efforts to reduce our impacts on our environment and teach others to do the same. The largest ways we do this is through living-learning laboratories, where our students not only study sustainability—they live it.
For example, Berea College operates a 500-acre farm and trains our agriculture students in sustainable organic farming. Our Gardens and Green House, certified organic since 1998, use compost made from food waste collected daily from Dining Services. There is also an apiary used for honey production, pollination, and teaching. Our goal with the farm is to present a model of farming that is ecologically sound, socially acceptable, economically viable, and humane.
Then there is our Ecovillage, an ecologically sustainable residential complex for student raising families. Here, parents and children can learn to live in a sustainable way daily. The complex includes 50 apartments that incorporate a wide range of green design elements like passive solar heating, photovoltaic panels, and rooftop rainwater capture that contributes to landscape irrigation and gardening. Two great features of the Ecovillage are the Aquaponics Facility and the Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) demonstration house. The Aquaponics Facility uses a recirculating aquaponics system to produce fish, like tilapia and catfish, and grow vegetables without soil. Solar panels heat the fish tanks, and greenhouse gutters collect rainwater for use in the system.
The SENS house serves as a way SENS majors can live out what they learn in their classes. Mostly self-sufficient, the SENS house uses different technologies for energy conservation and production, water conservation, waste treatment, and use of local construction materials. Four students live in the house while developing and implementing educational programs in sustainable living and ecological design.
One of our latest efforts to raise awareness of everyday sustainability involves maintaining campus landscaping. This month we will be placing signs on our lawns explaining the value of things many regard as unsightly and a nuisance, like dandelions and other “weeds.” Naturally occurring lawn plants that many people try to eradicate are actually very important for local ecosystems and food chains. Dandelions are among the first plants to bloom in spring and allow our critical pollinators—bees—to survive those early spring cold snaps. The bees themselves are also crucial to a thriving ecosystem, so to protect them and to achieve a balanced ecosystem on campus, we have a no-spray policy. We do not use pesticides or herbicides to kill insects or plants that some regard as undesirable, except in areas like our athletics fields where particular turf conditions are necessary. This makes our lawns and campus friendlier to humans as well.
From living-learning laboratories for students to everyday policies and practices for faculty and staff, we are creating a mindful and sustainable community that acts, not in opposition to nature, but in concert with it. We are counting on our students to absorb this commitment on campus, and to take it to the world beyond after they graduate.