Background Paper | Savor the earth hydroponic window farm project
Black Cultural Center Internship
January / April
The Savor the Earth Hydroponic Window Farm
By Monica Leslie
Even with today’s economic decline, the United States population has grown to 307 million
since the first settlers began to colonize the Americas (Google). Since the arrival of the first
slave ship, the Sao Joao Bautista to the Americas in 1619, the African American population has
grown to 4.4 million in 1860 right before the Civil War (Table 1, Heywood, and Thortnon). The
black population in America rose to 10 million by the time blacks were first allowed to vote and
by the civil right movement there were more than 18 million African Americans living in the
United States (Table 1). In 2008 an estimated 41.1 million African American lived in the United
States (Deshay). During the most recent economic recession from the year 2000 to 2008, the
poverty rate rose from 11.3 in 2000 to 13.2 percent in 2003 (National Poverty Center). While
African Americans are estimated to be only 12.3 percent of the population during that time, they
represented 33.2 percent of the impoverished population in the United States even after almost a
century of advocating for better civil rights (U.S. Census Bureau and StateHealthFacts.org).
Inequities in the distribution of income, educational opportunities and jobs have been
problems in the African American communities since before they were first recognized as
citizens in 1914. Even though the United States population continues to expand rapidly,
economic disparity continues to plague areas with the highest concentrations of ethnic
communities; including the Mississippi delta, “the black belt” in Alabama, borderlands near the
Mexico border, Midwest inner city neighborhoods; like in Detroit, Flint Milwaukee and many
more (Erickson 3-5). As more Americans continue to lose jobs, income and educational
opportunities more Americans are beginning to understand what it means to struggle to make
ends meet. According to the Bread for the World Institute, 3.5 percent of U.S. households
experience hunger (Siddiqi). Some people in these households frequently skip meals or eat too
little, sometimes going without food for a whole day. 9.6 million people, including 3 million
children, live in these homes.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act (Sider 176-179). This reform was intended to end the welfare entitlement for
those who cycled on and off federal assistance and reduced the set tighter restrictions on welfare
eligibility. During the 1990s Clinton was also one of the biggest advocates of sending American
corporations overseas to conduct business (Encyclopedia of the New American Nation). As
unskilled and manufacturing corporations began to cut jobs or move their operations to Mexico
or overseas with the promise of lower labor costs and a higher return on their investments, the
U6 projections of U.S. rate of those who were unemployed and have also given up looking for
employment dropped briefly from 9.8% in the beginning of 1996 to 7.1% by the year 2000
(Portal Seven). It dramatically rose again from 7.3% as the effects of globalization and bad
foreign trade policy began to take its toll on the American economy to 17.3 % by the end of
2010. During this same span of time, African American unemployment fell from 14.2% in 1992
to 8.9% after the legislation passed as programs were made available to help this group and
others living in poverty find jobs and educational training to be in compliance with the reforms
(The White House Web Site). But after the September 11th
attacks jump started the economic
recession in 2001 the unemployment for many ethnic groups in the United States rose once
This means that without income and the means to provide even basic needs; it is very unlikely
that any ethnicity living below the poverty threshold is guaranteed access to resources such as
healthy food, ethnicity specific nutrition and basic economic education or even conservation
practices that could help individual households reduce the amount of money spent that would
create better economic security.
Even though low income groups produce the lowest ecological footprints, cohort groups who
fall below the poverty threshold would benefit in many ways from learning about sustainability
practices because they demonstrate the largest need for these principles (Echo).
While some African Americans have learned little about the corporate “green movement”
advertised in the media and its impact on the environment, if this cohort group had
Access to information about the income barriers and other economic factors that
limit access to education;
o This leads to an identifiable avenue to generate mindful discussions about
resource depletion, globalization and peak oil.
Identification of cultural misunderstandings that create the misconception that
African American youth have no interest in sustainability
o Including the lack of identifiable leadership
o The xenophobic exclusion of low income cultures from participation in
sustainability initiatives due to the fear and mistrust of the interest of low
income cultural groups (Erickson 3-5).
An understanding of more practical applications of sustainability including:
o Why sustainability is relevant, how to research and facilitate dialogue
about pressing challenges
o How the practices of sustainability and conservation could be used as a
tool for personal and community development
o Practical methods to teach innovation skills in their fields using
o How sustainability can be used to help students learn to conserve
resources so that they can better make ends meet
More identifiable leaders teaching them about holistic health and sustainability
An understanding of how sustainability principles are different from the “green
movement” and how they can be used to cultivate valuable job skills and future
Methods to make the topic more engaging
more African Americans and other Americans who live below the poverty threshold would be
willing to embrace conservation practices and adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Learning how
to embrace sustainability and community agriculture would teach students a new perspective of
their historical connections to agriculture and provide an outlet for a more healthy and
sustainable quality of life (Ford).
The idea for the project came from a community eco-design forum that featured the
innovative work of Brita Riley. Riley created the first hydroponic window farm installation
located in New York City in February of 2009 (Riley). Her objective was to teach those who
lived in urban food deserts and worked in office buildings an affordable and easily maintainable
way to grow their own food and personally involve them in issues related to agriculture and the
environment. Food deserts are an area where large-scale supermarkets have abandoned--leaving
the entire community with little or no access to affordable, quality food (Bullard). Riley created
a community forum using social media in order to encourage other artists and gardening
enthusiasts to develop their own versions of her hydroponic, soilless, gardening system. And she
The ultimate aim of the Windowfarms project, however, is not to create a perfected
physical object or product. Rather, the most highly valued result is a rewarding
experience with crowsdsourced innovation. We are interested in the participants’
experience as they design for their own microenvironments, share ideas, rediscover the
power of their own capacity to innovate, and witness themselves playing an active role in
the green revolution (Riley).
When Dr. Tashia Bradley the director of the Berea College Black Cultural Center asked if I
would be interested in heading a similar community gardening project, I admitted to her that I
did not know how to plant anything without killing it, and that this project I knew very little
about would provide an interesting opportunity to explore the journey of other African
Americans who had no knowledge of how to build and cultivate a garden. It was also an
excellent opportunity to explore the cultural implications of the project on low income
community. I wanted to better assess the validity of the claim made by Dr. John Wegner, the
Chief Environmental Officer at Emory University back in 2008 who told me that through all of
his community efforts to attempt incorporating sustainability projects in Atlanta’s black
community that African Americans simply weren’t interested in sustainability. Was I, in fact,
the only one?
Initially the plan was to create a manual about the health and economic benefits of indoor
urban horticulture and to discuss how sustainability practices like this project could be used to
boost economic development within the community. The goal was to overcome historical
stigmas regarding the role of black in agriculture and to explore issues of food security, increase
access to nutritious food and increase low income African American’s resilience to poverty
(Moon). But because of the lack of authoritative African American voices in the field of
sustainability and the questionable credibility of some of my original sources, the project focus
was redirected. Some of the claims for the Afro-centric liberation movement about why healthy
food was scientifically, so important were invalidated once I discovered that some of the writers
making the claims had very limited scientific knowledge. Others, such as Leonard Jeffries had
also been critiqued as black supremacists (Peyser). Although I could find partial verification for
my initial claims about the need for low alkaline cruciferous vegetables, like the kind grown for
the installation which was unavailable to African Americans living in food deserts, piecing
together the information buried in research abstracts would take considerably more time than
allotted for the project (Tangpricha, Masterjohn and Lewis). While confirming the claims
that the effects of melanin production upon the metabolism, vitamin d deficiencies and mental
illness would be an important aid the Black Cultural Center in the nutritional objectives of the
project, the validity of these arguments would be weakened without more extensive supporting
evidence for claims that urban horticulture could provide a remedy for this real and critical need.
So the objective I believed would be more achievable was to instead explore the strength and
weaknesses of how we communicate the importance of sustainability to the low income
communities. This approach seemed like a more effective use of resources toward addressing a
very real and disturbing problem. The redirection of this type of exploration made the project
more interesting to my peers and also aligned better with the Black Cultural Center’s goals.
By using this project as a relational tool to get students to think more about the principles of
sustainability, students can become more actively engaged in learning to understand more critical
reasons for becoming more aware of sustainability and its benefits. Students also can begin to
think more critically about how they themselves use these methods to facilitate dialogue and
identify culturally relevant issues. The project can also be used to generate more interest in how
sustainability can be used to provide educational accessibility and economic opportunities. The
practical knowledge that this project incorporates is a great way to transform important
components of sustainability into students’ everyday lives. It also teaches students how to be
more innovative, learn to live healthier and develop their own solutions to encouraging a more
engaging method of sustainability education. By giving students a visible learning style identify
with, students can learn alternative hands on methods to relate to the material and they can better
understand relevant problems and barrier of access toward their education about sustainability.
Key Issues & Objectives
Access to Education
The purpose of the hydroponic window farm project is to build a bridge to the African
American students who fall within the low income poverty range. The DIY window farm
installation located outside of the Black Cultural Center in the student organizational lounge will
be used as a mechanism by the Black Cultural Center to engage student curiosity about the
practice of affordable community resilience projects that are achievable and cost effective and
that meet specific community needs. This installation specifically will be used to specifically
address the exploration of increasing access to food security and proper nutrition and facilitating
a dialogue about the social ramifications of teaching more cohort groups the economic
advantages of adopting sustainability. My personal goal with this project is to use this project to
explore why more cohorts in this age range, income classification and minority ethnic groups
don’t have this education. After being told by John Wegner that minorities “simply weren’t
interested in sustainability”, I was curious to know what kind of cultural issues have arisen that
has presented these barriers for Wegner -- or was this simply a xenophobic fear of the
impoverished black community. After investigating the claims a bit further through my own
participation in these programs, I began to understand either way that closing this tremendous
achievement gap was much more critical than pointing fingers in such an important area of social
The cohorts, for whom the project was designed to serve, have very little information about
the impact of sustainable practices in their everyday lives. These groups of students, most of
whom are African American Berea College students between the ages of 18 and 25, are very
active in the campus community. They have been able to do so because they fall within the
economic restrictions for the college which only offers free tuition to students who demonstrate
promise and excessive financial need.
Noam Chomsky argues, “Knowledge is not ability; it is not explicable in terms of skills,
habits, or dispositions. Learning doesn't achieve lasting results when you don't see any
point to it. Learning has to come from the inside. You have to want to learn, if you want
to learn you'll learn no matter what (Voshell).
Many of the African American students in the Black Cultural Center were asked if they knew
what sustainability was. Most who were questioned answered that they knew about recycling.
Some had recently learned about composting through the introduction of the new campus-wide
program and had been implementing the practices as they were instructed to do in their classes or
jobs. But most African American students working in Berea’s Black Cultural Center had no
knowledge of how sustainability could be used practically to save them money, save the
environment, or boost economic development and food security in their communities.
Learning to Engages Young African Americans
While the initial investigation sought to find way to make the topics and social implications of
sustainability more relatable to the students who fell within the targeted cohort group through an
internet blog. But the lack of relatable material and African American images made it difficult to
communicate to the students within this cohort what living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle
even looked like. For the African American students, the lack of identification and holistic
images that these students could identify with made it very difficult to know how to make the
information engaging and relatable for the cohorts.
While a couple of ideas, such as the blog post about the history of the African American diet,
elicited a positive response, the amount of the content supplied and the supplements; videos,
graphs, photographs, etc. were not interactive enough to encourage long-term participation and
the blog site hits decreased from 81 hits per day within the first week to 34 hits at the close of the
short term. This phenomenon was also due to the lack of the presence of an informed and
engaged facilitator to encourage students to check out the information on the blog site once the
term ended. But the one statement from the blog site that did stand out for one of the students in
a post about the need for healthier, more accessible sources of food in black nutrition that stated
“Are you a slave, then why do you still keep eating like one,” has encouraged some students like
Triston to think more mindfully about the types of foods provided for the Black Cultural Center
programs (Jones and Leslie). Further engagement and encouragement from the campus
community on the new composting program has also helped the center to adopt the practice of
composting in during the day to day operation of the center as well as during their programmed
Lack of Identifiable Leadership
As for the multimedia content, the lack of engaging content did not hold the long term interest
of the students (Pell). Cross cultural barriers such as the stigma of farming because of its
historical association with slavery made many of the narratives within the pieces unidentifiable;
even the animated films and posting made accessible via Hulu and Youtube (The Future of
Food). Although outlets such as the internet and social media have made it easier for progressive
black students already interested in sustainability practices to network and establish community
development ideas for projects in Africa. The community development focus is very limited and
does not teach those who live in domestic urban and impoverished communities how easily
sustainability projects can be researched, and how they can be used to improve the quality of life
for individuals in these communities.
Students like Chris, president of the Black Student Union understand that sustainability is
important but have not thought to do independent research (Perkins). “It’s like that thing you
built,” he told me pointing to the unfinished window farm and the germinated seedlings. “I don’t
mind watering that thing outside and I’m happy to help, but other than knowing that it has
something to do with food and that it’s sustainable I don’t really understand why it’s important
or what it is.” I’d spoken with Chris about the project several times. He even helped me
purchase some of the parts at his first visit to the hardware store. That’s when I realized what a
challenge community engagement can be, as well as why it is one of the most critical barriers to
overcome in intercultural sustainability communication. Although I do have to admit, before this
project I spent very little time in the Black Cultural Center.
Subsequently, after seeking out African American eco-design engineers or in fields related to
sustainability on Google, I found very few links that provided access to other African Americans
with these specialized backgrounds. The two I did find in visible leadership positions, Robert
Bullard and Will Allen, had only adopted sustainability practices so that they could give back to
their ailing communities; a value they had learned through practicing other fields.
While I was discussing the contributions of Will Allen with one of the other students at a
banquet, I overheard one of the African American professors ask who in the world Will Allen
was. The other professor, shrugged and the subject wasn’t mentioned again. This moment
helped me to understand that the problem didn’t just exist among African American youth, but
somewhere along the way we neglected to elicit the interest of our educators and leaders as well.
While people like Will Allen, the basketball player aren’t as notable as Magic Johnson or Lebron
James; his contributions through his urban gardening and educational program Growing Power,
have allowed Allen to transform his local community in more significant ways that any line of
sneakers would (Growing Power and Leslie). For all of his efforts, Allen is widely respected by
educators, progressives and activists who hope to learn how to transform their own communities
the way he did in inner city Milwaukee through sustainability projects like urban gardening.
And yet even though his work could be easily deserving of an NAACP image award, there is
little chance that Allen will be recognized by the greater black community for no other reason
than because people have never heard of him. This brings up an interesting question: how many
other African Americans are doing this kind of crucial and important work? And why have we
never heard of them?
With the number of African Americans in the media or visible leadership positions, you
would think that more African Americans would take advantage of this opportunity to expand
this thriving market to feature more African American members in Sierra Club magazines, or
hosting eco design renovation shows for television. Currently the only image of economic
development in the black community on television is done on hosted by Ty Pennington Extreme
Makeover (Mooallem). Pennington’s efforts and visible contributions have made him a
household name in young African American culture. But it can be certainly baffling to think of
how the families on the show will be able to keep up with those costs once he’s gone. And are
those who literally climb great heights to serve the needs of the community through the field of
sustainability and conservation are just not making the effort to be visible enough to the rest of
the African American community? Or have they simply not positioned themselves in a visible
manner because they are unaware of the potential they have to use their visibility as a way to
create more advantage and opportunity for younger African Americans?
Currently there seems to be a prevailing attitude among many African Americans that
conservation and environmentalism is just one of those wacky things that white people do, or
hippies (Robinson). The lack of relatable and identifiable leaders seen using socially responsible
conservation practices has created a perception that African Americans are materialistic,
uneducated and ethically misguided (Burrell). Poverty advocates like Ron Sider who point out
the economic disparities often imply in their publications that African Americans represent the
largest percent of the impoverished population because faith based organizations have not
protected them well enough from spiritual corruption (Sider 39). Would you be receptive to
learn from someone who thought of you like that? And yet these are the undertones I perceived
from Dr. Wegner when discussing why the sustainability initiatives in the Atlanta area were only
initiated in white communities. It could very well be that perhaps the African Americans were
interested in sustainability, but simply weren’t connecting with him.
For younger African Americans or those who have grown up more culturally isolated,
identification and perception is a key component of minority participation. As Cornel West
comments in his book Race Matters, “Like black politicians, black scholars fall into three basic
types – race-distancing elitists, race – embracing rebels, and race-transcending prophets (West
64).” And these are the archetypes that most young black scholarships have been taught to
recognize. But these archetypes like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have begun to turn into
caricatures for the younger generation. Young African Americans have begun to reject these
stereotypes by creating models of scholarship and entrepreneurship that reject this type of
stereotypical education. This model of innovation has allowed young African Americans such as
Pharrel and Sean Carter to break through economic barriers in ways that are more appealing to
their younger peers because they use images that they can recognize (Robinson). It has also
opened the door for young African Americans to bridge cultural gaps and promote inclusivity,
even though the culture was initially founded upon black ownership.
The hip hop industry generates over $10 billion dollars a year because investors see how
lucrative and valuable it is to sell an identifiable image of African American culture (Watson).
Clothing lines such as FUBU, one of the first hip hop clothing lines created an entire social
movement based upon African American identification and entrepreneurship based upon the
rumor that Oprah Winfrey kicked Tommy Hilfiger off of her show after expressing that non-
white ethnic groups would stop buying his clothes (Oprah.com). Winfrey confirmed that this
never happened, but the rumors created the idea to urban youth around the United States that
African American branding and image was important.
Practical Methods & Engaged Methods for Learning
Robert Bullard uses popular cultural references and relatable imagery when describing the
lack of access to healthy food when he describes what food deserts are to his students at
Morehouse. He also mixes comical imagery and humor into these discussions to help young
African American students understand his ideas better about environmental justice. This is
helpful when he describes the environmental and disparities that exist in Atlanta to students in
his OpEdNews article.
Atlanta's wealthier neighborhoods have more than three times as many supermarkets as
poor neighborhoods, limiting access for many people to the basic elements of a healthy
diet. When broken down by race, not just wealth, researchers have found that there are
four times as many supermarkets in predominantly white neighborhoods as in black
neighborhoods. Low-income residents also pay 10 to 40 percent more for food than
higher income residents (Bullard).
Bullard also uses pop-culture references that black students can recognize to discuss the ethnic
and environmental exclusion of African Americans from sustainability initiatives stating that
“While Atlanta goes green, full service supermarkets are closing in black neighborhoods.”
In his article, “Black Atlantans Left Behind as the City Goes Green and Sustainable” Bullard
continues to use these explanations to convey to students that access to healthy food lowers the
risk for obesity and other diet-related illnesses (Bullard). He also uses a case study in which the
closing of a supermarket in 2009 that left thousands of black residents a food desert to share that
even though Atlanta is home to the largest concentration of black millionaires and has risen to
ranking among U.S. sustainable cities, that “just because green jobs, including clean
energy and construction jobs, are available in Metro Atlanta does not automatically translate into
jobs for Black Atlantans.” Bullard explains to students how residents who live on the "wrong
side of the tracks" are subjected to elevated environmental health threats stating that “Place
matters.” Bullard continues to explain that place “limits access to health care and residential
amenities such as parks and green space, full-service grocery stores, farmers markets, and
healthy food retail outlets” and discusses that
Many of Atlanta's black neighborhoods are saturated with fast food outlets, liquor stores,
and convenience stores that make their profits off junk food, beer, wine, and cigarettes.
Convenience stores industry account for 27 percent of teen purchases of tobacco. Food
redlining forces many poor black Atlantans to spend more money and time, and travel
farther and accept lower quality and less healthy food. Food shopping at convenience
stores takes its toll in higher prices in health costs. Convenience stores mark up food
prices by at least 20 percent, amounting to a tax of $1,200 a year per family in higher
food expenses for residents of "food deserts (Bullard)."
The images Bullard paints, that many African Americans can easily relate to is the perception
that the “Green movement” is a corporate mechanism used to create economic disparity rather
that the community resilience movement that was designed for community development.
Students seemed particularly receptive to Bullard’s enthusiastic and mutually engaging
approach. By describing food insecurity and environmental pollution in a way that students
could recognize, students were able to understand how environmentalism is relevant to their
communities and others who live in low income neighborhoods. These images of undervalued
African American communities throughout history have been a familiar part of black cultural
education ever since African Americans have begun to look for liberation and answers to why
these disparities exist. Students are receptive to these lessons because it is an acknowledgement
that these disparities actually do exist.
Overcoming Xenophobic Exclusion
There is a misconception among many low income people that those who live in the inner city
have to leave urban environments to learn how to live sustainably or have a better quality of life.
But for some, creating these images of black inferiority or the perception of inferior poverty
cultures serve as critical barriers to teaching African Americans about the social and economic
advantages to learning more about sustainability (Erickson 3-5). This is because often
assumptions are made about these groups willingness and capacity to learn.
Dr. Bullard believes that the quality of life in low income urban communities will never
improve without advocacy for environmental justice and education. But without culturally
identifiable role models or relatable and enthusiastic advocates to teach how sustainability
models can be adopted without creating more economic disparities, it is difficult to interest black
students in taking the initiative to learn more about sustainability.
Students like Oliver, who is double majoring in Chemistry and Political Science do not
always fit the model of a student who admires the urban mainstream culture. For his peer group,
Oliver is considered to be particularly conservative or an exception to the rule. But Oliver, like
many other assimilated students within his cohort range began thinking about sustainability as a
skeptic even though he considered himself to be quite better educated than most of his peers.
During the fall semester of a Berea College SENS course, titled “Sustainable Appalachian
Communities,” Oliver learned about the economic ramifications of resource scarcity and
overpopulation and expressed a very nihilistic attitude about what he thought we could do to fix
these challenges. His solution to the gloom and doomsday messages was the same as many of
today’s political leaders, to build better arms and defense systems or establish military alliances
with nations in order to protect the depleting reserves of crude oil. But after watching Megan
Quinn’s Video “Learning from Cuba’s response to Peak Oil,” Oliver gained a different
perspective. By learning about how the Republic of Cuba was able to rebound from the brink of
famine at the close of the cold war, Oliver became hopeful that through greater community
awareness and education (Cristian). He also believed that by giving people the vocational skills
to make the infrastructural changes necessary to expand this community development model that
even the most impoverished communities could use the lessons that he learned from this visual
representation of Cuba’s “green revolution.”
The Cuban response to the oil embargos after the collapse of the Soviet Union illustrated a
very achievable and measurable model of how sustainable agriculture could be used to boost
economic development in areas where people needed food. It made sense economically, that in a
place where people were living on rations of half a banana and cup of rice a day that the
appropriate response would be for the Cubans to learn how to grow their own food through the
education of organic community gardening.
But in the United States, urban horticulture is seen by many as a cultural fad adopted by
environmentalists and urban trendsetters who wish to use the “green movement” to generate
corporate green (Phillips). Those who are unfamiliar with the urban horticulture movement fail
to realize that the primary foundation of the practice of sustainable community gardening is the
emphasis upon inclusion. Without the community there can be no community garden. And
those who do not live in areas with high levels of diversity, trust and inclusion may
misunderstand what an important tool practices like community horticulture can bring to creating
community inclusion. Thankfully, many of the participants in these types of programs do realize
Zack, an environmental activist who works for HEAL, one of Berea College’s service
learning programs centered on sustainability education affirms, “I get really excited when we
have someone who’s not white come to a HEAL meeting. I think we need to be more involved
in the everyday life of more students. ” It was HEAL that approached the Black Cultural Center
about the composting project in order to make the concept more appealing, to what Zack referred
to as, “everyday people (Danneman).”
The lack of understanding of the importance of practical sustainability practices and the lack
of leaders like Zack who enthusiastically engage his peers without thought to negative cultural
distinctions illustrates a success in overcoming the untapped resource potential of integrating
sustainability education across cultural boundaries and within low income communities.
The “Green” Achievement Gap
Cuba was also able to integrate sustainability into the framework for rebuilding their
infrastructure in a way that community gardening, and organic agricultural education became
more than some “get rich quick scheme.” By understanding the practical applications of how
sustainability can be used to increase community resilience and economic development, the
people of Cuba created a shift in social and educational priorities and now organic farming is one
of the highest revenue producing jobs.
But in the African American community, the achievement gap in math and science education
and the gap in interest in sustainability education due to historical associations with slavery make
it difficult to find engaged educators who can facilitate this education (Robinson). Students need
to understand the similarities of slavery and how modern day agriculture is produced from
teachers who have an awareness of the most effective learning methods and cultural sensitivity to
be able to generate interest in the practical applications of sustainability education. One way of
approaching this would be to introduce students to culturally relevant misunderstandings about
sustainability and the corporate “green movement” as well as provide students with an
understanding of how true resilience based sustainability education can be used as a mechanism
and model for economic development. By using the adoption of community based sustainability
as a tool to teach students practical vocational skills or how DIY sustainability projects can be
used to guide students through the process of design and innovation, these programs can give
students hands on experience that would even be effective in helping students visualize
applications they would need to do better in math and science (Robinson).
Most sustainability programs for low income communities are focused upon community
development initiatives and without recognizable African American advocates who can illustrate
models of how sustainability works to generate economic security. Tim Robinson, a high school
teacher from Greenfield, Massachusetts works with a group of community educators to educate
low income students how they can use vocational projects such as building solar ovens to
prepare his students for college (Robinson). By working on projects such as learning how to
insulate and retrofit homes with solar hot water heaters Robinson believes that he will better
prepare his African American and Latino students to gain better access to the emerging demand
for green jobs. Similarly, Dr. Tashia Bradley of the Berea College black Cultural Center has
begun to implement programs such as composting and African American nutrition programs to
create a dialogue with students about how sustainability can be used to teach students about how
these practices can be used to address culturally specific issues in African American health.
And without more accessible and culturally relevant education the gap in these lessons for
healthy and holistic living will continue to threaten the community resilience of low income
African Americans and the achievement gap in education, health and the workforce will continue
Better practical training
In order to teach African Americans why sustainability is important, the Savor the Earth
Hydroponic Window Farm Project can be used as a mechanism to address culturally specific
issues for African Americans so that students can become more engaged in researching and
developing their own resilience models. By including a supplement of programming and by
illustrating how sustainability can be used in an evolving manual of student perspectives and
development opportunities, students can begin to see a transformation in themselves and how
they approach challenging issues. By beginning to explore how techniques and topics in
sustainability can help students to develop unexplored career opportunities students can create
their own perspectives and understandings of how they can make their own contributions to the
field from the forefront of the sustainability movement; instead of hesitant participants from
America’s margins. It is important that we learn how to use interactive learning to create a
culture of social responsible innovation among African American students. Instead of just
teaching black students how our history reflects our present, it is equally imperative that we also
give students constructive and practical applications as a mechanism to critically evaluate and
develop sustainable solutions to these issues. By learning to recognize cultural differences and
approaches to learning, educators can learn how to engage low income students better and be
able to instill important values in this group of cohorts. Students must learn the value of thinking
their way through emerging issues, deconstructing the relevant and approachable parts of the
problems if they are to gain any experience learning how to fix them. And the most effective yet
overlooked method for creating these important facets for learning would be to expose African
American students to identifiable images of these models or teach these students how to create
Students who learn to proactively develop constructive models to solve relevant problems
will be better prepared to integrate a very valuable skill that can be used as a marketable niche
along their career paths. They can also develop a foundation to begin building a more forward
thinking perspective, in which they do not just see the systemic failures of the past, but begin to
believe they can proactively embrace the challenges of the future as well.
Fortunately, because of the lack of representation of African American perspectives and
developed models for how sustainability can be used to increase personal development and
community transformation, this presents a unique opportunity for the students who learn about
the installation. By learning how interactive and image focused model can be used to develop
center programming to address topics and concerns that have risen over the “green movement”
regarding accessibility and sustainability including:
Finding Time to be
you live in a
Lack of Interest
Lack of Diversity
Black & Green
problem of district
Peak Oil & what it
means for low
Slavery & the
stigmas of farming
to name a few.
As a result of failed early attempts to engage my younger peers in sustainability education, it
became imperative that the primary goal of the Savor the Earth Hydroponic Window Farm
Project be to provide students with the opportunity to learn the practical applications of
sustainability. Without learning these vital community resilience principles students would be
unable to understand and recognize why models like sustainability can be effective teaching
tools to improve community development in more ways than just saving a few trees.
By learning to develop such a complex project and encountering challenges I gained firsthand
experience with many of the cultural and educational development challenges that make it
difficult to include more African American perspectives in the emerging field of sustainability.
But the challenges encountered in this project also provided an opportunity to facilitate an
ongoing dialogue with the Black Cultural Center about many of the cross cultural barriers and
practical applications of working on more projects within this field. By working through the
process of innovation, I not only learned how to use the physical tools and cultivate a
rudimentary model for community engagement using a minimum amount of resources, I also
have been able to identify key areas that I can work on with my peers as a collective.
The Savor the Earth Hydroponic Window Farm Project serves as a reminder to myself and
other students within the African American community that in order to find better opportunities
for ourselves and for our communities, that sometimes we must be willing to seek out the
unfamiliar. We must also be flexible and proactive enough to find constructive alternatives to
addressing relevant problems before they get out of hand. The current method of education that
has left us frustrated with the system, devaluing ourselves or apathetic toward a culture black
youth have grown tired of trying to assimilate to may be the reality as it exists today. But by
learning how to look at key challenges and innovate new ideas in a way that addresses relevant
issues and appeals to the interest of our peers, we can begin to transform our expectations and
move beyond the barrier of perceived inadequacy and learn to create new realities for ourselves.
But this does not mean that we should overlook the importance of unfamiliar cultural lessons
because the other culture engages in behaviors that we do not understand. There are principles
and truths behind every movement and phenomenon that engages people’s interests and if we
pay attention, we might just be lucky enough to find the one truth that we can use to create a path
to freedom; real freedom, not just for our communities but also for ourselves.
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