Promoting Environmentally Sustainable Behaviors in First-Year Students

Author: Courtney Crawford

The Origin of Earth Week: Irony and Advocacy in 1970

Earth Week began in Philadelphia in 1970 as a result of a makeshift committee of students, professionals, leaders of grassroots organizations and businessmen concerned about the environment who decided a sole day for the Earth was not sufficient. It was Democratic  Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, however, who garnered their attention through his call to action in the form of a national “environmental teach-in” and a group of University of Pennsylvania Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning students who originally heeded the call. They called themselves the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia – straight and to the point – and they soon grew to include a plethora of other students from the surrounding area. 

By 1970, many had begun to refer to Philadelphia as “Filthy”delphia, and while the air and water pollution was dire, it was not necessarily unique. One could find this level of pollution in any major American city at the time. The main goal of the committee was to find out who was doing the polluting and how they were doing it. Eventually the city released to them information that was previously confidential. Among the major pollutants were power plants, oil refineries, city incinerators, chemical plants, coke ovens, smelting operations and automobiles, releasing sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, among other toxic gases. 

Approximately 30,000 people gathered in Philadelphia’s Fairmount park to sign the “Declaration of INTERdependence,” listen to the Broadway cast of Hair sing “Air” (“Hello, carbon monoxide”) and hear from speakers like U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie (author of the landmark U.S. Clean Air Act of 1970), and poet Allen Ginsberg. The committee planned environmental events from educational activities to scientific conferences, but it was the mass media coverage at the national level that gave rise to the Earth Week we know today. 

“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”

– Gaylord Nelson, Founder, Earth Day

Young people took the lead, as usual, but clerics and politicians soon recognized the value of the movement for their own gain. The former endeavored to “reconcile the conflict between the biblical themes of ‘multiplying and subduing the earth’ and man’s stewardship of the land,” while the latter hopped onto an all-encompassing movement because it contained potential votes of previously apolitical and/or skeptical individuals – including labor and peace activists and the black community – in the hope of attaining them. 

While some black members of the community heeded the call to action, leaders in the black community felt that participating in the movement would only take attention away from their own activism. They responded to the committee’s request by saying, “by joining you we fragment our own power base.” This has continued to be an issue surrounding the environmental movement as a whole over time. More recently, however, the Sunrise Movement has been able to reframe the narrative from protecting the planet to protecting people, something Naomi Klein also emphasizes in her work. Klein’s powerful statement, “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism” addresses how the impacts of climate change are disproportionate. 

In addition, the original Climate Plan, on which President Biden campaigned, called for “communities who have borne the toxic brunt of dirty industries, so many of them Indigenous, black, and brown, not only to benefit from the transitions but to help design them at the local level” and last year he released a “Proclamation on Earth Day, 2021”, emphasizing his administration goals with regard to climate justice and combating climate change. This is a step in the right direction, but it does not seem to have come to fruition just yet. Racial justice goes hand and hand with Environmental Justice and this lack of realization at the time of the original Earth Week organization was detrimental. 

Regardless of the participation or lack thereof of these groups, the plans that had been developed were extremely ambitious and required much more money than the group – “with no track record, no recognizable constituency, [and] no 501(c)(3) tax status” – could realistically raise, without help. Not only was the lack of funding an operational dilemma, but it was also largely a personal one, as Edward W. Furia, the Project Director was hired with a salary equal to what he would have received as Assistant DA, stipulated on raising the equivalent to it in addition to operational funds. 

“Thirty per cent of the Earth Week Committee’s $30,000 budget came from business… and there was… delight that this money was being used to publicize how these same businesses caused pollution.”

– David Culhane, CBS News correspondent

CBS Special Report on Earth Day with Walter Cronkite

So, he chased after and roped in over 60 corporate sponsors, including Philadelphia Gas Works, which relied on advertising natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal and oil and would benefit from Earth Week’s admonition of these two energy sources. Some of the sponsors were crucial in the dissemination of information. For example, programs were printed on Scott Paper and phone services were sponsored by Bell Telephone. Each sponsor received merely a line in the official Earth Day program. But it was the acquiescence of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce that put the funding over the edge. 

Originally, the Chamber had planned on using $50,000 raised by its members to put a large full-color ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer “defend[ing] [the business community’s] environmental record … and indirectly impugn[ing] the motives of the Earth Week Committee.” The Earth Week committee was made aware of this by virtue of an anonymous caller and in response, Furia and Austan Librach, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania and Chairman of the Earth Week Committee at the time, intercepted the Chamber’s “Business Response to Earth Day” meeting. Together, they convinced the Chamber that it was in their best interest to redirect the money allocated for the production of the ad towards Earth Day and Earth Week in exchange for publicizing their financial support. Despite the fact that the two men were unwavering in their decision to publish data on pollutants Chamber companies emitted, the Chamber announced a $30,000 payment, which ended up being approximately ⅓ of Earth Week’s total funding.

The money did not come without consequences, however, as a controversy developed with regard to the ethics of accepting money from businesses that did the polluting that Earth Week was protesting. Regardless, many young people participated, wearing gas masks and passing out surgical ones to signify the danger of air pollution. In the end, Earth Week was deemed a resounding success. “Altogether some 20 million people – 10% of the U.S. population – participated in 1970 Earth Day teach-ins, marches, and rallies. About half were students, at nearly 2,000 colleges and 10,000 elementary and high schools.”

US Senator Edmund Muskie, author of the 1970 Clean Air Act, speaking at Fairmount Park.

Listen to music played during Earth Week here!

Sources:

http://earthweek1970.org/ 

https://www.epa.gov/history/epa-history-earth-day

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/04/22/a-proclamation-on-earth-day-2021/

https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/philadelphia-earth-week-fifty-years-on

https://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2010-04-23/1018735/

Four Leaf Clovers or Clover Cover Crop?

Clover means nothing to the average person, except for its association with the 17th of March when it becomes a symbol of partying like an Irishman. To farmers, however, they matter each and every one of the other 364 days of the year. They favor the hundreds of variations other than the iconic green clover with 4 leaves. But why do these variants matter to farmers so much? 

They ensure we all have bellies full of our favorite produce every season. Clovers are a type of cover crop, which are planted in early spring after soil is depleted of all its nutrients from the winter harvest of fruits and vegetables like beans, lettuce, garlic, and onions. But unlike other cover crops, clovers are gentle and resilient. They can survive any end season cold temperatures and keep the soil from frosting. These lucky plants also give the soil rest, nutrition, and aeration to reinvigorate the soil for summer crops like cucumbers, tomatoes, and berries.

Keeping your belly full not enough? Clovers are also beautiful when they bloom by the hundreds. Once clover reaches maturity and is ready to die off, it produces thousands of flowers ranging from white wispy petals to purple and pink tufts. If you take a drive in the country in early summer before farmers plant our favorite picnic treat, you can experience a real-life Sound of Music moment, feeling the hills come alive thanks to clovers. 

When people are sipping their green beers on St Patrick’s Day, they should be making sure to toast the farmers who care about those other clover variants. Without them, our caprice salads in the summer would be just cheese and our winter soups would be just broth.

For more in-depth information, visit https://joegardener.com/podcast/100-understanding-cover-crops-the-basics-and-beyond-with-jack-algiere/!

The Three Sisters Garden: Symbiosis Between Corn, Beans and Squash

Three Sisters Gardens allow for a thriving symbiotic relationship between their components: corn, beans, and squash. These three crops are and have been central to Native American agriculture and nutrition since the 1300s. Nutritionally, corn is a great source of carbohydrates, beans of protein and amino acids, and squash of vitamins. They were all foods that could be preserved by being dried, and thus eaten year-round, even if the growing period was limited. It was the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) tribe, in the regions around the Great Lakes and Northeastern United States and Canada, that coined the term itself and according to Native American legend they are inseparable sisters that can only survive together. 

Tall corn stalks provide the vines on which the beans grow with a quick escape from the sprawling squash vines below, while the bean plant supplies the soil with much needed nitrogen and supports the corn stalks during heavy winds. The bean plant is capable of converting nitrogen from the air to a plant nutrient that can be absorbed by plant roots due to rhizobia located on their roots. Rhizobia itself, in this way, acts as a microsymbiont! See here if you want to delve into a more in depth explanation of its role and the process of nitrogen fixation.

The squash plant’s leaves, on the other hand, prevent the growth of weeds by shading the ground. This shade also heightens water retention for all three plants, while its prickly stems scare off animals looking to eat the beans and corn. 

In some cultures, a fourth sister is often added to the mix, often sunflowers and amaranth because they provide much needed shade, crucial to counteract the heat of the southwest. They also aid the corn stalks by providing more tall stalks that the beans can climb and they attract pollinators. 

Unfortunately for us here in Middlebury, these plants cannot tolerate frost, making the publish date of this blog post a bit ironic. Instead, they thrive in the warmest months of the year. However, in areas like the Southern Southwest in early summer, the high heat and low humidity can particularly harm corn’s tasseling period (30-70 days). So, corn is always planted first in order to avoid peak heat during growth and to allow for its stalks to grow above the other crops. For a step-by-step of preparation and planting, including a video, I would suggest this article.

https://www.nativeseeds.org/blogs/blog-news/how-to-grow-a-three-sisters-garden

https://www.agfoundation.org/news/the-three-sisters

https://www.almanac.com/content/three-sisters-corn-bean-and-squash 

Looking for Some Stellar Hikes Around Middlebury? Add These to Your Bucket List!

There are plenty of hikes with varying degrees of difficulty in Middlebury and the surrounding area. While the MMC often leads trips to many of these locations, you can also grab some friends and head out to any of these trailheads on your own (Chipman and the TAM are accessible on foot from campus, but the rest are accessible by car). Below is a list of the best hiking/walking trails we have to offer you! All of these hikes can be found online by looking up the bolded names below. AllTrails is an especially great resource.

Chipman Hill

While there are three access points, we recommend that you use the road up past the Swift House Inn, right before Route 7. Once you pass the Inn, take your first left and follow the road until you see the gated entrance to your right. According to the MMC, “At the end of the steepest ascent on this trail, is a clearing surrounded by towering white pines. And there is a conveniently placed picnic table and bench with excellent views of town and the college.” This is a great place for a winter hike without spikes because the ascent is gradual and the trail is wide. There are also some fun places to sled. A little known fun fact is that Middlebury College built a small ski facility on Chipman Hill where Winter Carnival races were hosted during WWII. The old ski jump hill is still there and is a great, albeit a bit steep, place to sled after a big snow!

Length: 2.0 mi

Elevation gain: 364 ft

Snake Mountain 

Snake Mountain is the most classic Midd hike. By the end of your time here if you do any hike I would recommend this one. It’s considered best June through October, but can be hiked at virtually any time, even peak winter. With spikes from the Gear Room you can hike without worrying about patches of ice that you’re guaranteed to come across, but if you’re careful they aren’t necessary. About a third of the way up you’ll come to a divide in the trail. Make sure you stay left and you’ll arrive at great views of the Champlain valley before you know it. If you hike it in late spring or summer, you’ll come across bright orange lizards that almost look like rubber toys, but they aren’t, so be careful not to step on them! If it’s warm enough, or even if it isn’t, we’d recommend a picnic with friends at the top. On the other hand, a less trafficked day, being alone on top of Snake can be a rather meditative experience. You can witness a beautiful sunrise if you’re an early riser, since the overlook is facing East, but sunsets are also great. 

Length: 5.4 mi

Elevation gain: 1,062 ft

Snake Mountain at sunset.
Snake Mountain at sunrise.

Skylight Pond Trail

Skylight Pond has no “view” at the top, per say, but there is (as the name suggests) a beautiful pond and a cabin with a porch where you can stop to have a picnic or spend the night. You can check out a sleeping bag, pack, and other essentials from the Gear Room and spend the night with a group in the cabin. There’s no way to book it, however, so you have to hope that nobody else gets there first! A safe way to ensure you have a sheltered place to spend the night is to bring tents from the Gear Room as well. Directions are here

Length: 5 mi

Elevation gain: 1,480 ft

View of Skylight Pond from outside the Cabin.
View of the Skylight Pond from inside the cabin.
Hike up to Skylight Pond

Silver Lake Trail 

Silver Lake Trail is the perfect hike if you want the water view of Skylight Pond, but with a less strenuous, gradual ascent. It’s recommended to go between April and October, but similar to other hikes you can go outside of this time period. There are picnic tables at the campground upon arrival and in the summer you can swim in the lake if it’s not too cold. Alternatively, if you choose to go in the fall there’s incredible fall foliage surrounding the lake!

Length: 5.3 mi

Elevation gain: 711 ft

View of Silver Lake from the shore in summer.

Mt. Abraham

Mt. Abraham, named after President Abraham Lincoln and affectionately nicknamed Mt. Abe, is probably the toughest hike that will be listed here, but it’s also one of the most worth it, as it’s the fifth highest peak in VT. It has a 1hr 15min round trip driving time and is rated hard on most trail sites. It is best hiked from May to October, but can be hiked outside these months with the suggestion of spikes. From the Long Trail access (the Lincoln Gap parking lot), the route is approximately 5.1 miles in total. In 1973, a plane crashed and landed at about 3,000 ft elevation on the mountain. The pilot survived the crash, but part of the plane remains and you can see it on the hike. It’s the last bit of the hike, however, that in my opinion, sets Mt. Abe apart from the rest: slabs of slanted rock require the hiker to stay vigilant as they scamper up to the top. The summit boasts a 360 degree view of three states’ mountains: the Green Mountains (specifically Killington Peak, the second highest peak in VT), the White Mountains and the Adirondacks, along with Lake Champlain. It can be quite windy, so make sure to bring layers. Camping is also available at the Battell Shelter about 1.1 miles up from the parking lot.

Length: 5.1 mi

Elevation gain: 1,765 ft

Robert Frost Interpretive Trail 

(Taken from Go Take a Hike! An article in the Middlebury Campus.)

The Robert Frost Trail can be found along Route 125 between Middlebury and Breadloaf and is accessible year round. It’s an easy loop: about one mile, mainly flat and takes about 45 minutes to complete. Frost’s poems are mounted along the trail to contemplate, and the trail meanders across and alongside a stream. Plants such as birch trees and wild raisin are identified with wooden signs. During the summer, there are blueberries to pick and the forest is green and lush. In the winter, the trees may be bare, but they create a dramatic contrast with the sparkling white snow.

Length: 0.9 mi

Elevation gain: 49 ft

TAM Class of  ‘97 trail

This section of the TAM is located on Middlebury’s campus and was designed and built by senior Environmental Studies students in conjunction with MALT. It begins right across from the athletic center off of Route 30 and is marked by a sign labeled “The Colin T. O’Neill Trail… dedicated by the class of ‘97.5.” You’ll find a beautiful reflection on the origin of this trail and namesake here: https://middkid.com/outdoor-guide/hiking/trails-around-middlebury/the-colin-t-oneill-trail/. The trail itself begins with a relatively steep decline with lots of rocks and roots on the path, so watch your footing. It then pops out onto a flatter trail where you can choose to take a right or a left. If you choose to take a left, you’ll find yourself in a big open field that you’ll run around the perimeter of to eventually reach Route 125 where you can cross over to reach the Knoll and choose to continue on or head back to campus from the path that ends with the solar panels. If you’re looking for a shorter hike/walk/run, head right and you’ll find yourself in the Ridgeline parking lot from which you can head back up to the center of campus.

Length: 3 mi

Elevation gain: 128 ft

Buck Mountain Trail 

For how short this hike is, it has one of the best views. If you’re someone who always wants to do a sunrise hike but can’t get out of bed early enough to get to the summit by sunrise, Buck is for you! With relatively low elevation gain and a short length, it’s the perfect short hike with a view, specifically recommended between May and October. To avoid the muddy section at the beginning, especially in the spring, take the cut-off trail a bit farther down the road. While the sun actually rises behind you at the summit, you’ll find that the sun landing on the land below you and the Adirondacks in the distance are actually almost as beautiful as the sunrise itself. The summit itself is very spacious and I’d recommend exploring to the right once you pop out of the trail. Located close to Vergennes, the MMC recommends grabbing something to eat before or after your hike at the Vergennes Laundry, a popular bakery. Directions to the trailhead are here, but make sure you only park in the marked spots near the trailhead because there is a limit to the number of people on the trail at a time as it is on private property. 

Length: 2.5 mi

Elevation gain: 554 ft

Buck Mountain at sunrise.

Snow Bowl to Worth Mountain 

To access parking for this trail, head past the SnowBowl for about a mile and it’ll be on your right. Make sure to go slowly, especially if you’re driving in the dark, or there’s a good chance you’ll miss it. This trail is accessible year-round, but especially great for Fall sunrises during peak foliage. It’s pretty well-known and frequented by Middlebury students, so don’t be surprised if you run into other college-aged kids. The first break from the woods lands you in an open space that’s great to watch the sunrise from, but if you keep going through a shorter wooded continuation of the trail, you’ll reach the upper chairlift. It’s normally stopped just on top so that you can climb up onto the chair to watch the sunrise or you can walk down the hill below it. On your way back down try to find the detour that takes you to Pleiad Lake! Or, if you’re short on time, head here from the start and then straight back down for 1 mile out and back with a 219 ft elevation gain.

Length: 4.7 mi

Elevation gain: 1,407 ft

SnowBowl Summit
Chairlifts at sunrise.
Pleiad Lake during peak fall foliage.
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Check out this Middlebury Campus article from 2019 in which 4 students describe their experience with four of the hikes listed above! https://www.middleburycampus.com/article/2019/04/go-take-a-hike-hit-the-trails-this-spring 

Middlebury’s Outdoor Gear Room and How to Use It

The Middlebury Mountain Club (MMC) has been around since 1931, providing Middlebury students with guided outdoor trips, including hiking, backpacking and canoeing. The Gear Room allows all students to participate on these trips, regardless of experience level or whether they have their own personal gear. The Director of Outdoor Programs is Doug Connelly, but it’s majorly students that run the gear room itself.

Gear hours are held every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30-6:30pm in the basement of the FIC. If you don’t know where it is, it’s the building to the right of BiHall and in front of Coffrin Hall. Students can borrow sleeping bags, sleeping pads, hiking boots, tents, bear canisters, stoves, fuel, rainwear, headlamps, water purification kits, first aid kits, nordic skis and more. Gear can be checked out for one week intervals, although it can be renewed. Make sure to return your gear on time, or you’ll face a $5 per item overdue charge that can pile up, depending on the number of items you’ve checked out! 

The Middlebury Mountain Club (MMC)’s website has some great information on How to pack for backpacking. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned veteran, this can be a great resource before going on any of their trips, especially overnight trips, or if you choose to plan a trip yourself. 

Check out 9 of the best hikes in Middlebury and the surrounding area under the Resource page and add them to your Middlebury bucket list!

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