MUSC Urban Farm

I have never considered myself as the person who has a green thumb. At home I would always get nervous when I was in charge of watering the flowers because I felt like they would always die when I just looked at them. That is why when my friend asked me if I wanted to come with her and check out the MUSC Urban Farm, I king of dragged my feet. Gardening and I were never friends. However, I thought back to everything I learned in this class and remembered thinking how sad it was that people do not know where their food comes from, so how could I not go and check it out?

We drove over to the half-acre garden out on Bee St. and I was amazed. In the middle of a concrete lot, there were rows and rows of plants. We got to work on planting…do not ask what kind. All I remember was basil. All the other names have already left my head. I’ll work on that, I promise. We weeded around some plots, saw some beautiful butterflies, and my highlight was the furry caterpillar that I became friends with.

After going and helping out, I became curious as to what the farm does to help out the community. After some research, I found out that their mission statement is, “The mission of the MUSC Urban Farm is to build a healthier community by growing crops and social connections while educating and inspiring people with local, nutritious, and delicious food.” I found it really cool how they create a real hands on environment where people can become inspired to learn about what they are eating and how to incorporate more vegetables into their every day lives. They offer workshops, seminars, and host school field trips to spread their message as far as they can. I think this hands on approach to education is the key to getting people involved and interested. I know it at least got me interested in attempting to take care of at least one plant over the summer as a summer project. Baby steps.

VW Emissions Scandal

The Volkswagen diesel scandal is not unknown news to anyone. It was widely publicized how the company was advertising its low emission diesel cars, only to find out that 11 million of its engines had been purposefully tampered with by engineers to trick the emissions tests. The company had spent $77 million in America alone advertising the “clean” engines, all while knowing that they were outright lying to potential customers. I believe that is why this example of greenwashing is so incredible to me. Greenwashing is the practice of making something seem to be more environmentally friendly than it actually is. For most companies that take part in greenwashing, this usually means exaggerating the environmental benefits of a certain product. However, the fact that Volkswagen sat down and hired multiple engineers with the sole goal of creating a piece of software that would trick the emission test, fascinates and disgusts me.

I know greenwashing has been around ever since the green craze has started but I believe that the scandal with VW was the first time people felt deceived to that extreme of a degree, all the way to the point of banding together for a massive class-action law suit. I think that after the VW scandal, people became more aware of greenwashing and how merely a label or a slogan was no guarantee that the product or practices were actually environmentally beneficial. VW is still feeling the sting of being caught. They are dealing with law suits from all angles, because it was not only the consumers that felt lied to, but also the shareholders of the company. Lots are full of VW cars that will not be bought and it poses a real problem for the company. The scandal came as a shock to people also because of the fact that it was VW in particular that got caught with this deceit. Germany has worked hard to establish itself as a very green and responsible country that genuinely cares about the environment. If Volkswagen, a very iconic German company that has usually always been in good standing with consumers, is undertaking these practices, who is to say what other companies are taking part in similar practices all over the world. It creates an environment of suspicion but I believe that suspicion is the only way to ensure that companies work towards making what they advertise true. Once people find out that they were lied to, companies may have to deal with the same problems that VW is still facing to this day, and no company with dreams of being successful in the long run would willingly put themselves through that.

Food Inc.

People warned me when I told them that I was going to be an Environmental Studies minor. They told me I would become sad, would become discouraged…and also that I would become vegan. I always laughed at the last warning. I grew up in a German family and the entire food pyramid is built around meat and butter. It is what I grew up with. However, recent facts learned in class and the documentary Food Inc. make me want to rethink what I eat.

The thing that struck me the most about Food Inc. was the power that the big companies in the food industry hold. The fact that 80% of the meat in supermarkets is controlled by only four major companies was a wake up call.  It is true that the illusion of diversity is upheld but it is only that, an illusion. They have grown so big that if one thing goes wrong, it will affect one fourth of our meat. That is a little terrifying. Also, it was made clear how these big companies are abusing their power when it comes to their workers and farmers. I was already aware of the terrible conditions that some animals find themselves in but I was not aware of how bad the situation was for the people. When the lady showed the crew inside her chicken farm against the will of Tyson, it struck me how brave that was of her. Companies can make sure that farmers get so in debt that they cannot afford to stand up to them is wrong on multiple levels.

Also, the way workers get treated needs to be looked into. When they interviewed workers from Smithfield it became clear that we have moved backwards ninety years when it comes to worker conditions in the meat packing industry. Consumers enjoy cheap food but have they ever thought of why their food was so cheap? It is because immigrants are being used for cheap labor and they cannot fight for better wages because plants set up shop where they know the people need the job and will not fight back. This exploitation of humans needs to be common knowledge to consumers in order to make any change in this system.

Now, not saying that I will become vegan but it does make me want to become more aware of where my food comes from. Is my meat from one of the four big companies that controls the meat industry or is it from a local farmer? Is this chicken truly a free-range, organic chicken or has it been pumped full of hormones to the point of its hearts exploding? It makes me want to learn when certain fruits and vegetables are in season and if they came from local growers. I agree when the documentary said at the end that consumers often feel powerless when it comes to what they eat. In the case of the food industry, knowledge is power, and I plan to use knowledge to at least make a minor, positive change in our environment. And maybe, if more people follow, we can even change the whole industry.

America is Being Left Behind

I know this topic might be a bit premature since the talk of Germany’s green policies is not until Friday but I was inspired to go ahead and write about my experiences there for this blog post. My entire family is from Germany so we go and visit them as often as possible. I went to visit this Christmas and I was amazed by how environmentally conscious the country has gotten over the years. For starters, I know this is starting to begin in America too, but I ended up carrying all of my groceries back from the store for my grandparents cradled in my arms because I did not realize you had to pay extra to get bags. I know here in the states some grocery stores are starting to do the same. The only one I am aware of is Aldi, which is a store based out of Germany. There was also a moment where I was talking to my grandmother and she was saying how she had to rethink how to package and store a lot of things since plastic bags are all but gone in Germany. I was taken aback when she said this because I am so used to plastic bags just being everywhere and being a product that people just expect to have. That moment made me realize how behind America is with some of its environmental policies.Everywhere in Germany, one sees houses with solar panels on its roofs, especially with any new construction. The houses are made of stone to better insulate so that costs can be saved with heating and cooling. Everywhere there are LED lights and in places such as northern Germany, wind turbines are part of the landscape.

The way the German political system is set up, they have a multi-party system. If a party gets a certain percentage of votes, they get to have a say in the German political system. The Green party in Germany has gained a lot of power and is not shy of exercising its power. In some cases, I had to listen to my relatives complain of how it can be taken to the extreme sometimes. For example, an entire new subway tunnel system was disallowed due to a certain species of lizard that called those rocks its home. Or, a new soccer complex was not allowed to be built since the floodlights would confuse the bats that inhabited the area. While these measures may seem a bit extreme, is it worse than just not considering what might live in the forest before we flatten down? Alternatives are also always trying to be found and compromises are possible.

Most of Europe has taken the initiative and talk of becoming more sustainable and environmentally friendly is the norm. In the mean time in America, environmental groups have to struggle for every step towards sustainability. How hard would it be to ban plastic bags? How hard would it be to encourage people to start to bring their own grocery bags. How difficult can it be to make sure that every new construction is run on some form of sustainable energy? Steps are being taken in many parts of the world to better the environment on a large level and I hope the time has come where America will do the same.

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

I watched this documentary before school started. I was intrigued because last semester I found myself frustrated and a little bit discouraged. My parents have decided to turn my bedroom at home into a guest bedroom so they asked me if I could declutter my room and throw everything out that I didn’t need anymore. This simple task made me realize how much stuff I had that I did not need. There were art projects from first grade that I didn’t need but it didn’t feel right to throw them away either. Over the years, I had collected so many random items such as an old-school Cola bottle that had never been opened. While I was throwing stuff away, I wondered how I could’ve let it get to that point. It is just so easy to put stuff in a drawer and never think about it again. I then began to walk around my house and look through drawers that hadn’t been opened in years and was just amazed at all the useless objects that I found.

After that experience at home, when I saw a documentary titled “Minimalism” I was very curious. The film consisted of hearing people’s stories of how they came to embrace a minimalistic lifestyle. There were entrepreneurs who realized that climbing the corporate ladder was not going to make them happier or a man who realized going to buy stuff for a new home would not cause his wife to come back to him. These people found peace in the opposite of what the big advertising agencies want us to believe. They found happiness by owning less objects, by only owning objects that added value in their lives.

After watching the documentary, I was inspired. I wanted nothing more than to tell everyone of it and I did. I told my mom all about it and she sent me a message the next day that said, “You inspired me. I am cleaning out my closet right now and giving away a bunch of my clothes to the shelter.” That made me happier than ever. I believe that once you declutter and get down to the basics of what you actually need, it is easier to focus on the things that are actually important. Keeping up with the latest fashion trends won’t be as important (although being a girl I know this will be hard) and it will be easier to focus on building relationships and making smart decisions for the environment. I feel like you take more notice when you are being wasteful and greedy. It makes you realize what you believe is actually important, not what ads or other people want you to believe should be important. It is a slow process to living a full on minimalistic lifestyle but taking steps to start is the most crucial step.