Sustainability and other unknowns at the university

The parody below is based on a recent article in the Wilmington, North Carolina by Hilary Snow. Ms. Snow begins her report: “Sustainability will soon be on the menu at UNC-Wilmington’s dining hall.”

Interview by Port City Daily of sociology Professor Leslie Hossfeld and Professor Roger Shew in UNCW’s Wagoner Hall dining center:

PCD: What is this thing you are building?

L.H.: It’s a 250-gallon aquaponics tank.

PCD: What’s aquaponics?

L.H.: An eco-friendly combination of fish farming and growing plants without soil.

PCD: What does it do?

L.H.: The large amount of waste from the fish tank is converted to fertilizer for hydroponic vegetables.

PCD: Why are you doing this?

L.H.: To remind students and faculty of the importance of sustainable food practices.

PCD: Isn’t current food farming sustainable?

L.H.: Oh, no. Scientists tell us we have to do things more sustainably, especially because climate change will make traditional farming unsustainable.

PCD: What scientists?

L.H.: Lot’s of them at our universities, such as Dr. Roger Shew one of UNC’s environmental professors here with me.

R.S.: Yes. Thanks, Dr. Hossfeld. A primary goal of this project, as an educational component of the system, is to insure peak operation. We have to monitor the water, fish and plants. Monitoring, measuring and adjusting are all part of what we do in science.

L.H.: Absolutely. I want my students to engage in examining their ecological footprint and how it relates to alternative food systems and sustainability.

PCD: What’s an ecological footprint?

L.H.: Well, it’s a measure of how much we are destroying our environment.

PCD: How’s that?

L.H.: The more we do unsustainable things, the bigger the footprint.

PCD: What’s the educational purpose of this tank?

L.H.: It’s a demonstration project to raise awareness and a teaching tool.

R.S.: Yes. And remember, Dr. Hossfeld, it will produce some food for local consumption.

L.H.: Right, Dr. Shew, and next year we expect to have a larger 500-gallon tank in another dining room.

PCD: Who pays for this project?

L.H.: Oh, I got a grant through ETEAL—UNCW’s Applied Learning Center.

PCD: How will this tank function with diners?

L.H.: This is an excellent way to bring the issues of sustainability to the students in a setting they use every day. There are countless ways in which students can learn about sustainability by simply sitting around during lunch watching it progress on a daily basis.

PCD: How would you summarize the importance of this project?

L.H.: This is much more than proof of concept and even more than education—we believe it is also inspirational. We’ve done many sustainable projects on campus. Students need these tangible projects that help them to develop a desire to do more, to participate and to make UNCW and the community even more sustainable.

At the end of the interview a female student passes the tank with a tray of mac-and-cheese, collard greens and a beer:

F.S.: What is that?

L.H.: It’s our new aquaponics tank.

F.S.: It’s gross; I think I’m going to throw-up.


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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