Sustainability Practicum Essay 3

Reflect on how your exploration of “place” in your other core course, Understanding Place, influences your thinking about the scale, scope, or nature of the system that you are considering for the challenge in the Sustainability Practicum.

Post your essay as a comment to the relevant post of the MSoE’s blog, The Stream, by Monday, June 17th, by 9:00 pm (although you’ll probably want to complete this before we leave for Washington, DC, on Sunday so you don’t have to deal with it while we are traveling).


  1. Lydia Waldo says:

    In our short three weeks together so far, Understanding Place has led me to think critically through new lens that are invaluable in my quest to fully comprehend the larger challenges that we face moving forward with regard to sustainability of this planet.

    Before this class, I never realized how important temporal scale is to brainstorming ideas (a plan that could be implemented in two years looks drastically different than a plan that could be implemented in twenty years, for example). Twenty years from now is such an abstract timeframe when I think about it: 2037, how can you possibly imagine what life will be like (or if there will be any life at all)? I know that twenty years ago I was in diapers, but to think of how much Earth has changed – primarily due to human impact – during this time is hard to wrap my mind around, especially when that amount of change is projected forward another twenty years… Additionally, knowing that I play an active role in shaping this future, and not limiting myself with regard to crazy ideas that could help to “save” the world has opened my mind to the limitless possibilities.

    My group’s challenge in the Sustainability Practicum centers on the increased frequency and impact of natural disasters, specifically floods, that Middlebury College likely faces as a result of climate change. The last “major flood” in the area in terms of a “hundred year flood” was in 1927, but there was another large flood in 1973 (20×2 years ago if we’re keeping to this twenty year timeframe idea). Then in 2011 (within the last 20 years), Hurricane Irene devastated Vermont. In between these events, there were other more localized flooding events that caused millions of dollars in damage – the heavy rains that have hit Vermont in last week alone have caused the state to officially file for federal disaster relief. The anticipated cost of cleanup and repairs is greater than 1million dollars (Ready-Campbell, 2017). By using this mindset, I’ve realized that flooding is not only an imminent threat, but that it’s already happening more frequently than it was twenty years ago. Without our discussions, readings, and labs in Understanding Place, I wouldn’t have noticed that flooding is a challenge that Middlebury College faces and must address now.

    In this same vein, one of the challenges that my group faces is narrowing our ideas down to a way that Middlebury College can effectively push our planet in the direction of sustainability. Spatial scale is crucial to deciding whether or not an idea is relevant to our challenge in the Sustainability Practicum. Although we have some grandiose ideas that should be tucked away for the day when our group (hypothetically) develops a solution to accommodate national flooding, on the spatial scale of the College, they ideas are too expansive and are not likely to help make Middlebury College more resilient to flooding events that will impact its Vermont campus in the future.

    Really-Campbell, C. July 7, 2017. Vermont Requests Flood Help from FEMA. VT Digger.

  2. Sadie Rose Zavgren says:

    Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve helped my parents nurture our space; we collect sap from the maple trees in the early spring, let the hens out to free-range during the day, and when we were raising pigs, we would feed them vegetables that were donated by local farmers. This environment was my classroom. We learned by doing, by observing, by interacting with this place. I know how plums and peaches looking through every stage of development, the way tomatoes vine out and often need to be trellised, how to care for honey bees and their wooden hives, the best time to pick raspberries and blueberries in the summer, among other things. I’ve been privileged with this education. I know where my lettuce comes from and I most likely picked the frozen strawberries we consume in the winter. The maple syrup on our shelves is from our trees and the honey in my tea is from our own bees. Unfortunately, this understanding has become abnormal and a large quantity of children and adults are unaware of how their food is grown. There is a detachment, and this disconnection is detrimental to the health of our society and to the earth.
    The challenge that my team and I are working on is tacking the idea that our community needs a reality check. We need to change the current mindset that millions of people have about food in our country, and educate them on food production, labor rights, and food waste. This challenge neatly ties into my exploration of my “place” because it relates to the importance of seeing food grow and interacting with the people who grow our food. In order to repair the separation that people have with their food, we must begin by demonstrating a new normal. One idea that we are grappling with is how to make food production more visible. After speaking with Jay Leshinsky and hearing about his idea of implementing a living green house in a noticeable place on campus, this thought seems more possible. By creating visible installation that are not ignorable, we are creating a new culture around the idea that seeing food grow in public is normal and the new standard. I believe that we learn best by observing and interacting, therefore this installation may produce positive results around our goal to make local food more customary in the lives of Middlebury students. I see this education as a valuable tool for our society as a whole. We may not all become farmers, but knowing how food is grown should be part of our basic education from kindergarten through college. This knowledge is just as important as history, math, and arts, and I certainly learned this by interacting with my place over the years.

  3. Maeve Sherry says:

    In Understanding Place, we have spent the last three weeks exploring different lenses that can be used to characterize the system that a place is a part of. By examining Middlebury College on a multifaceted, interdisciplinary level, I gain better insight into the problem my team is tackling: water use and waste. Matters involving water resources and usages are not confined to the campus. Taking temporal, spatial, and ecological relations into account unlocks the broad understanding of the Middlebury College system necessary to solving this problem.

    Today, it doesn’t make much of a difference if one takes a fifteen minute shower instead of five. The preponderance of rainstorms of this season has supplied us with abundant freshwater resources. However, this supply in a 20 year span is precarious- there’s no way to know for certain what the future will hold for precipitation patterns. Temporal scales are especially important to take into consideration for our project to understand that what’s plentiful today might not be 20 years from now.

    In Understanding Place, we use the term “downstream communities” as a metaphor referring to places that absorb our negative impacts. Here, this term is literal. At our location next to Otter Creek, stormwater runoff has a particularly powerful effect. When rainstorms hit, fertilizer and herbicides from the golf course and other grassy zones are discharged directly into the Creek. These pollutants are whisked away and harm ecosystems past what we can immediately see. This, combined with climate uncertainty, is what lead my team and I to researching an implementation of rainwater collection systems.

    Looking at Middlebury College as a component of a greater system has shaped the way I see sustainability issues within the campus. I don’t see Middlebury’s problems as just Middlebury’s problems- they are a culmination of forces much broader than the campus. Most importantly, I’ve come to see the interconnectedness of climate and social uncertainties that have the power to shape Middlebury’s future- and how we can prepare.

  4. Thomas Wentworth says:

    Three weeks ago, we were given a challenge: present a Big Idea that could help increase the resilience of Middlebury College to the impacts of climate change in the next 20 years. Although broad, it was pointed out that it had two clear boundaries. Temporally, it is limited to 20 years. This allows for the groups to not get lost in conjectures regarding the ultimate outcome of massive global weirding, or try to address issues that may be affecting the college over the next year. Spatially, engaging with the Middlebury College system makes the most sense because we have easy access to the greatest amount of resources regarding it’s functioning. Three weeks ago, I thought these were clear boundaries.

    To be clear, I do not think that there is a better time span to focus upon, or a spatial scale more applicable than the college which we are attending. However, much of our exploration in Understanding Place has contributed to a blurring of those boundaries. Firstly, in the current global political climate, it is extremely unclear what will happen a month from now, making it very difficult to guess what will happen in 240 months. We acknowledged this difficulty in some of our first steps, by labeling certainties and uncertainties. Unfortunately, our ability to differentiate between the two relies on prior knowledge that is necessarily out of this temporal (and spatial) range.

    Even more fascinating to me is the blurry boundaries of space here at Middlebury. In essentially every dimension, Middlebury College is a complex convergence of other places. Socially, the entire purpose of any institution of higher education is to find a geographically, intellectually, and demographically diverse group of people and bring them to one location. Physically, and partially as a result of a globalized economy, this system relies on products and materials from all over the country and world. Even the placement of every tree on campus has been decided, leaving hardly anything that could hint at what this exact geographical location would be if humans had not brought materials and ideas here from elsewhere.

    As a result of this realization, the group I am a part of chose to focus on one of basic human needs that our privilege allows us to take for granted: food. It is easy to discuss our food system here at the college as purely physical infrastructure. To many students, the dining hall is where the food is, and that’s as much as they need to understand. We acknowledge that food is a complex operational system, from farm to truck to processor to distributor to Proctor to preparation to plate. In addition to this reliance on a much larger spatial scale, it is important to note the influence of student habits and expectations when it comes to food. For example, many cultures are careful about using the entirety of an animal when it is slaughtered. Dining staff are wondering what they can do with the heart, liver, tongue, and intestines of the 10 local cows that were just purchased, because students are not used to seeing those things in a dining hall. More than anything, Understanding Place has helped me to understand how fickle “place” is. Only by addressing the expectations of the student body and thinking about shadow places such as the Tyson chicken factory in Arkansas can we begin to increase the resilience of the Middlebury College food system in the next 20 years.

  5. Elissa Edmunds says:

    Elissa Edmunds

    My group has been working on scenario planning, four futures, certainties and uncertainties, and how all those processes can help us to make Middlebury College more resilient to the impacts of climate change over the next twenty years. For this project, the other class for the Sustainability Track, Understanding Place, has helped me to understand spatial and temporal scales.

    For this project, my group is looking at the future through a severe weather lense, specifically flooding. Because we are focusing on Middlebury College and how to make it more resilient, our spatial scale includes Middlebury College and the surrounding community and county. However, because Middlebury College is in Vermont, we can use information from the Vermont’s government websites to understand how floods have impacted the state. We know what our focus is, but we can also use outside information and apply that to Middlebury College. Because I understand and have been taught about spatial scales, I am able to be realistic about what our group will be able to accomplish and understand. I recognize that I cannot possibly learn everything about the entire state, but with a focus on Middlebury College and the surrounding community, I know exactly what areas I need to be paying attention to, and who I should be talking to.

    When it comes to understanding the scope and time of the project, understanding temporal scales has helped my group immensely. Because the assignment is focused on the next twenty years, we have had to conduct research to see what has happened in the past twenty years, what is happening in the present, and not looking too far into the future. Twenty years is a long time, and we are unsure of what is going to happen, who will be in power, and what the land uses will be. Having twenty years as our temporal scale helps us to develop ideas and plans that can be brainstormed, tested, and implemented over a larger period of time, instead of a rushed plan that is only for five years. Understanding temporal scales has helped us to better understand what the size of our project needs to be, and what could be accomplished over that time.

    Furthermore, in trying to understand what is happening in Middlebury College and in the surrounding communities, we have had to take into consideration the non-human others that are in the area. Our plans have the potential to impact the quality of life for non-human others, so we are working hard to be cognizant to make sure that our plans will not exploit or deplete resources. We have a respect for the area that we are trying to make more resilient, and recognize that humans are not the only ones that could be impacted by the plans. Ultimately, Understanding Place and the concepts we have learned within it has helped me to better understand what the goals of our project is, how much focus we should be putting on one area, the time period we will be working within, and the area that we need to be studying. If our groups did not have that knowledge, we would have still been trying to figure out the scope of our project.

  6. Dinatalia Farina says:

    In many Latinx cultures and communities, making use of any and all resources is crucial. In my Puerto Rican culture, which is also the location of my place—my family makes use of the land efficiently. If my uncle has coconuts to share, he will share with his family. Same with the quenepa fruit or the guava. I remember my grandmother asking me one summer to get sugar from my aunt who lived in the house next to her, which was about a few hundred feet away from hers. I hopped on my bike and retrieved the sugar from her. Or even walking to my other aunts who lived next door as well on the opposite side of my grandmother’s home. We are a very fortunate family to have our aunts and uncles live so close to each other—all walking distance. This made me realize, that we fuel each other. We are a family that despite certain differences, help each other no matter what. We fuel each other with food, love and respect.

    Within the Sustainability Practicum, my group and I are focusing on energy/fuel—algae specifically. Due to the current climate, there have been some unsolicited algal bloom in Lake Champlain. My group wants to research how we can harness that algae and use it to fuel Middlebury College. I understand algae would be considered a non-human other and often times those non-human others are pushed to the side and forgotten. For our project, we want to harness algae’s non-human other “power” and perhaps figure out a way for Middlebury to fuel their campus. Keeping the bio-mass plant in mind and realizing it is obsolete and will either need an update or an entirely different energy source. This is where algae comes into play! Though we have a lot more research to conduct, we will see if this option is feasible. Firstly, we need to really understand the Lake and the people surrounding it. Once we have that understanding we can do more.

  7. Joshua Yuen-Schat says:

    For my group project in Sustainability Practicum, we started off with the scenario planning method. First, we identify certainties and uncertainties in the next 20 years that relates to the resilience and sustainability of Middlebury College. We based off our uncertainties on the Vermont Climate Assessment. Due to the geographical location of the college, we suggested that security/access to resources and the inclusivity of these efforts to reduce the impact of climate change will be the key issues in the future.

    With the 2 key uncertainties, we were able to formulate 4 future scenarios: Business as Usual, Equity, Robinhood Reversed, Thoughtful but Not Perfect. Our ideal future scenario is Equity because it’s a community-centered effort that ensures security and accessibility to resources for everyone. This is built on the foundation of mutual understanding, trust and interdependency between Middlbury College and the town community. This relates to the concept of “critical bioregionalism” because we are taking into account the inputs and outputs of Middlebury. In addition to the impacts it has on its surrounding community and the state of Vermont. In regard to scope, we feel that students, faculties, staffs and community members are the key stakeholders in the system, which sums up to around 8,500 people as of 2010. These are the people that are directly affected by the negative impacts of climate change.

    After determining our future scenarios, we moved on to creative ideation. We brainstormed our ideas and categorized them into 3 sections: Yes, Maybe, No. We had a variety of ideas from building an arc to something more realistic like an underground tunnel for people to reach higher grounds. To sum up our work, we collectively agreed that community planning will be our overarching idea because it encompasses majority of our ideas.

    Our goal is to assess, adapt and integrate current plans of action on the local, state and federal level to build resilience and reduce the impacts of severe weather events caused by climate change. The focus will be on adaptive and mitigation solutions to reduce and minimize the damages caused by severe weather events like flooding.

    Our next steps include composing a list of interviews questions to ask during our DC trip next week, contacting various local organizations that are currently addressing issues such as flooding, and narrowing down on our creative ideation ideas and expand on it.

  8. zoe zeerip says:

    In Understanding Place, we have spent much time talking about time scales and critical bioregionalism. These two concepts have introduced me to an appreciation for details and the interconnected of the earth. Both time scale and critical bioregionalism have shaped how I have thought for many years, but now I have a more in-depth knowledge of them and I can see how they apply to solution solving.
    In our sustainability practicum, we are looking to make Middlebury College more resilient to climate change. This means we must understand that the earth’s environment has the potentially to be different in twenty years. This could come in the form of more or less rain, less access to fossil fuels, a threat to our food systems, or many other possible scenarios. It is to Middlebury’s advantage to take the knowledge we hold about them and become precautionary
    Thinkers rather than reactors. Because climate change is happening so rapidly compared to past climate change events, we have less time than ever to adapt and create resilience. The earth is 4.3 billion years old and humans have only been around 200,000 years, yet we have created the sixth mass extinction and altered Earth’s climate. The most severe effects of these changes are happening now and expected to worsen, we want to be ready for that.
    Our group has come to understand, based on knowledge from the National Climate Assessment that rain patters will be less predictable. We want to make sure Middlebury can adapt to this. We are looking as run off prevention solutions for times of flooding and a rain water collection system to help with water security in times of drought. Because we understand time doesn’t stand still, we want to keep up to date with the changing times.
    Secondly, understanding critical bioregionalism reminds up that Middlebury doesn’t exist in a bubble that is immune to climate change. Middlebury gets it food for many places around the world, its fuel from other countries (Canada), and its rain from the Green Mountains and the clouds that travel around the world. These are just a few examples how Middlebury is interconnected with the world. These are also potential leverage points that can leave Middlebury in a state of panic if they dynastically change and no longer can fulfill Middlebury’s needs. It is crucial to not underestimate the effects that climate change will have on the world because those effects can trickle down to our backyard. We must create resilience in our infrastructure to be ready for these changes.

  9. Rayna Berger says:

    In understanding the meaning of the word “place”, I am exploring the interconnected web of the food system here at Middlebury College. Working with my group, we have interviewed six various people so far involved in the food cycles at Middlebury – from professors to the farm manager – to further comprehend the entirety of inputs and outputs. Middlebury sits on hundreds of acres of land with buildings sprawled out across wide, green lawns complete with a garden that sits atop a hill on the outskirts of campus. We are evaluating the scale and nature of food relationships here at Middlebury for a more resilient and sustainable future.

    The college garden serves as an interactive conversation place. It was built for connection rather than efficiency. We initially wanted to focus on the garden and increase the scale of production since the college already owns the land and has invested time and money, but it is difficult to increase the scale of the garden if the interest is lacking. Middlebury is physically located in a place that is prime for local farmer relationships. The scale of these relationships seem to be steadily growing, which is awesome. However, the college sits on hundreds of unused/untouched acres of land. While some land is rented out to existing farmers, I would challenge the college to go even further. Encourage beginning farmers in this physical place to rent land and practice their skills while growing a certain percentage of food for the college. Encourage a healthier relationship with the land by switching to USDA organic, or even better, by adopting holistic practices.

    The nature of food relationships at Middlebury is the most challenging to shift. Many people don’t take into account the “shadow places” (Plumwood) when thinking about food. Local coffee may be roasted nearby but the beans are most likely grown outside of the country. Do you know the farmer/company that grew the beans to your morning cup of joe? When one realizes the importance of these farms and communities that aren’t always visible but support so much of our daily lives, a shift occurs – one may create a conscious awareness of the food they purchase, change the amount of food they eat and waste, or maybe even their whole diet.

    As our group dives further into this food web, we discover new ways to evaluate place in terms of scale and nature. Our goal is to reconnect Middlebury with food by consuming locally, building stronger, healthier relationships with surrounding farms, and rebuilding outside relationships with meaning and respect.

  10. Colleen Dollard says:

    The Understanding Place curriculum has introduced me to many new concepts in the last three weeks. Though I have only been exposed to these ideas in a short period of time, they truly have shifted my thoughts around my understanding of place. The main influences in my thought process for the challenge in the Sustainability Practicum, is the novel Eating the Landscape by Enrique Salmón and the essay “Shadow Places and the Politics of Dwelling” by Val Plumwood.

    I connected with the Plumwood reading because it is an honest analysis of the consumptive and money driven reality that I live in today and actively participate in as a resident of the United States. It was a reminder to me of the global connections that are omnipresent in my life in ways that are easily overlooked. Using my laptop as an example, something that I am constantly holding, I have absolutely no idea where the metals that are inside of this laptop came from nor the plastic. Additionally, all of the miles every piece had to travel until assemblage is untraceable to me. These places that support my ability to write this essay right now are unknown to me, but that does not mean that they don’t exist or are not important. In the case of Middlebury College, it led me to thinking about what other places support the economic livelihood of the college.

    The reading by Enrique Salmón discusses human relationships to non-human others, particularly to food. He points out many modern western attitudes towards food that stood out to me. One that I found to be most relatable is the disconnect between humans and food because I experience it in my everyday life. Like the pieces of my laptop, I am also not totally aware of where all of my food is coming from, especially in processed foods which are nearly unavoidable in America. Salmón references the Raramuri culture in Mexico, who have a strong relationship with the landscape, with the food, and with each other. The three are also not separate, they are interconnected in the community. This is starkly unlike American culture today, where food is bought at the grocery store and the farmers and landscape are dissociated with the product.

    With these concepts in mind, my group and I began thinking about the food system at Middlebury. One of the biggest issues that we discussed thus far has been the consumer and producer relationship. With shadow places and the disconnected consumer in mind, we really want to develop a way in a which we can reduce the gap and bring others to cherish the land and the people that support their everyday lives.

  11. Dakotah Kimbrough says:

    In Understanding Place, we seek to interpret our senses of temporal and spatial scales so as to gain a more intimate knowledge of our surroundings. Fostering this kind of intellect can put one into better relations with the environment, as we cease to operate on merely human scales. A place in time exists only because of its interdependence with other places, and we define it by its limits. These boundaries, so often thought of as restricting, actually give us a place to flourish within as without them existence would be chaotic. Becoming aware of patterns and cycles on non-anthropocentric scales can help us to better attune our practices to work with, rather than against, the environment.
    The Sustainability Practicum puts this into practice, and in a complementary way urges one to consider the human aspects of design. Creating systems that achieve goals more efficiently and with greater care operate to place people at the center of things instead of mere profit. While this is ostensibly a very anthropocentric view, in considering the impacts of our conventional production and standard practices, this technique of Human-Centered-Design reveals that what works best for humans can work well for the environment.
    My group project is seeking to increase the resiliency of Middlebury College to the projected fluctuation in extreme precipitation patterns. As defined by the parameters of the challenge, we are working on a 20-year time scale on the college campus. After reading through the National and Vermont Climate Assessment, it was obvious that the flux in rain and snowfall events posed a serious threat, including not only longer droughts but also more intense rainfall when precipitation occurred, leading to erosion and runoff. Learning about ‘shadow places’ and downstream communities in Understanding Place prepared us for thinking about the impacts that the actions or community takes or does not take will have an impact on our neighbors down the line. This is why we are pursuing the idea of rainwater storage on campus. Also encountered in the VCA is the pattern that rainfall could increase in the near term of 15-20 years, but then diminish as temperatures increase. A rainfall collection and storage system would provide water for such uses as irrigation, steam power, and in appliances like washing machines and dishwashers. This would decrease our reliance on the town’s supply of drinking water for non-potable uses, and reduce the amount of runoff coming from roofs. Additionally, we envision incorporating a social component where students are engaged to reduce their water use as a community through constant feedback of their water use habits.

  12. Matia Whiting says:

    The in-depth exploration of the concept of “place” in our other course, Understanding Place, has profoundly influenced my thinking regarding scale, scope and nature of the system my group is considering for the Sustainability Practicum challenge.
    My group is focusing on energy and how to move away from non-renewable, international fuel sources to more local, renewable fuel sources. Our main idea is centered on using algae as a potential biofuel source, as well as a biomass input for Middlebury’s biomass plant. The various components of this hypothetical system demand that we think about “place” in a very nuanced, complex way, and as we strive to do so, we pull from lessons learned in Understanding Place.
    Scale is an incredibly important aspect of our system: how “local” should our energy sources be? If we have an algae farm, how big would it need to be and how far away from the school is a feasible location? On what scale is energy being produced? It seems our project is an amalgamation of questions when it comes to scale, all of which are vital to consider. To take scale in another direction, we must think about the temporal timeline of our project. Our group stretched our minds to ponder the amount of time it would take to implement our system, and then for how long the system could feasibly remain in place. We had to contemplate the fact that in the time it takes to build something, technology may advance to put the built object out-of-date. As we design our renewable energy system, we must keep this in mind and work with technology and ideas that can adapt to a changing world.
    Scope was another important aspect of our system. We sought to connect the system with as many people as possible from both the town and the college, and thought extensively about ways to make this connection. We interviewed a member of the town energy committee to brainstorm collaborative strategies to increase the involvement of local farmers and residents of Addison County. The scope of our project must be one that pushes boundaries, but acknowledges that there are indeed limitations to what we can do.
    Finally, Understanding Place has probably had the most profound effect on the way that I think about the nature of our project. In regards to the idea of “shadowplaces,” our group thought a lot about the economic and ecological relationships that our system would either break or establish. One of our main goals was to eliminate exploitative practices, both locally and internationally, as they relate to Middlebury College’s energy sourcing. We thus chose to source entirely locally, and to create a system that benefits all of its users. The incorporation of wastewater treatment into our approach to algae growth benefits residents and farmers in the area, as well as the energy consumers at the college. The algae growth system strives to acknowledge these relationships, as well as refrain from creating any harmful ones.
    In conclusion, Understanding Place has created an important framework of thinking for our project in the Sustainability Practicum, as it has changed the way that we think about “place” in regards to scale, scope, and nature.

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