I Got Engaged!

I Got Engaged!

Civically engaged, that is.  Hope I didn't scare you too badly.

 

One of the components of TWC is civic engagement.  Part of being a well-informed, social, and publically engaged leader out in the world is by starting small and playing an active role in your local community.  Civic engagement challenges us to develop leadership skills, mobilize social change, and leave a positive impact on the D.C. locality through a particular project.  There is a range of several projects in diverse areas including human trafficking, animal welfare, education improvement, and veterans affairs, each of which includes a few sessions throughout the semester of either learning-based or service-based activities. Imagine my dilemma in choosing a civic engagement project.  Playing with puppies, tutoring children, listening to the oral histories of veterans...I wanted to do it all!  I settled, however, on a topic very near and dear to my heart, and chose All Things Sustainable.

 

NoMa recycles.  Do you?

 

Union Market

I just couldn't hold out until the rest of civic engagement was over and already mentioned the glories of Union Market here. Our first educational activity, a tour of Union Market, exposed me to the sector of sustainability I find most interesting; food and agriculture. The farmer’s market culture is a growing trend, and not only enforces sociocultural solidarity within a community but fosters economic prosperity. Locally-sourced food requires less transit time, reducing harmful emissions and producing direct financial returns to farmers. Many restaurants nowadays, even more upscale ones, use “farm to table” as a huge selling point and with good reason – food cultivated without artificial pesticides, hormones, and GMOs is nutritionally superior. It can also provide a source of exciting variability to one’s diet – rather than eating blueberries from halfway around the world in December, introducing little-known types of in-season produce or locally-farmed meat can be a sensible tool in expanding one’s palate. Rather than eating winter squash in summer and summer squash in winter, adjusting our diets with the Earth’s natural productive capacity allows us to better appreciate the foods we enjoy when they are in season.

 

You really could eat your way through here

 

 

Friends, not food

 

Green Energy Building

We visited the home of green energy entrepreneur Scott Sklar, in Clarendon, VA.  His home is a recycling junkie's dream and shows how a little creativity goes a long way. His use of geothermal heat pumps, barrels to recycle rainwater, and low-flow toilets not only conserve energy systems but restore them. He uses natural resources to enhance the Earth, and although he was once laughed at, he is now a technological trendsetter. What many scoff at as eclectic and a waste of personal time and energy, in fact saves so much energy that it’s environmentally AND economically efficient; he pays significantly less for utilities, a commonly complained-about expense. It makes all the more sense to me for more people to begin adopting these practices of home-modification.

 

Junkyard or backyard?

 

The man himself.  Imagine driving around town in that.

 

Panels

Between an environmental lobbyist from the EPA, an educator from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, engineers, and policy wonks, our discussions centered around how climate change is an imminent threat, whether people [pretend] to realize it or not.  Behind all of the scientific jargon and numerical models, I learned that data collection, sharing, and reporting is global, and our investments in research vessels promote a more connected international community able to better combat climate change.  However, it is the human effort that ultimately complements data collection, and society is moved to inaction simply because we can't perceive now what could effect us in 10 years.  And even though it may seem costly to act, moderate investments now will produce far greater financial returns in the long run.

 

Getting Down and Dirty with Direct Service

Washington Parks and People

The Washington Parks & People initiative at Marvin Gaye Park integrated aspects of sustainability and community development. It was the first time I had exposure to a severely impoverished neighborhood, one that was actually threatened by low income, poor health, high drug use, and crime. As residents watched me pick up cigarettes and trash from a public park, the reactions on their faces were priceless. There is nothing more rewarding knowing that my singlehanded beautification efforts can foster citizens’ pride in their living space. Internal forces within the community are also striving to revitalize its culture. When assisting a vendor at a new farmer’s market, I learned that it was the community’s first attempt to sell fresh produce. Watching young children come by and beg their parents for watermelon and grapes was especially exciting – the ability to socially and emotionally connect with the vendor (often a family friend or acquaintance from the community) and support them financially is a win-win situation. The particular vendor I worked with explained to me upcoming plans for a weekly neighborhood festival featuring musicians, food trucks, outdoor games, and community bonding. From black market to farmer's market, residents will soon be integrated into a vibrant culture.

 

 

Fun on the Farm

The second direct service opportunity, the Neighborhood Farm Initiative at Fort Totten, was all about hands-on harvesting.  After working long days in an office, time spent enjoying an outdoor garden, the fresh air and company of others made me realize how efforts like these aren’t only about  beautification but how food production and ecological health can be attained in a way that builds communities.  All my past gardening efforts have been major failures, so it was gratifying to harvest tomatoes off the vine and snap peppers off the plant.  Tasting the literal “fruits of my labor”, I can now confidently agree that a little soil is safer than a little pesticides.

 

 

 

While I may not understand engineering jargon nor be able to explain how a wind turbine functions, civic engagement taught me that I can advocate on behalf of utility audits in corporations, set measurable energy standards for my personal lifestyle, make conscious choices about food consumption, and exemplify waste-reduction habits for others to follow.  And so can you.

 

Proud to work in a green building.

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