The Power 2 Change

The City

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The City of Atlanta, or Atlanta, is located in the north-central part of the state of Georgia, which has been one of the top growth areas of the country for the last two decades. Atlanta was established in 1847, and since then it has provided municipal services to its residents, citizens, and visitors.  These services include police and fire department, the maintenance of streets, roads and street lighting and other infrastructures. It provides recreational activities and cultural events, public transportation, municipal health services, land use and building regulations. The City is also responsible for the energy and water supply, and sewage collection and disposal operations. The City is also the home of the worlds’ most transited airport, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport [1]. The City of Atlanta forms part of the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA (MSA), or commonly known as the Metropolitan Atlanta. The Metropolitan Atlanta is number nine in the largest metropolitan areas in the country and has become known as a leading center for logistic activities and business. The area represents one the biggest national and international transportation hub and it is among the top three distributions cities in the U.S., As a result, Atlanta has ranked number three in the country for the number of FORTUNE 500 company headquarters. The City has built a powerful economic base and was lately ranked 10th nationwide as an important technology market. The City of Atlanta also ranks 10th in the nation economy and social well-being with a gross domestic product of approximately $295 billion[2].

The Initiative

Addressing sustainability in cities like Atlanta is a complex undertaking, demanding respect and a comprehensive understanding of the interconnected nature of social, economic and environmental issues, and collaboration across all established jurisdictions, municipalities,  geographies, fields, and expertise. Meeting Atlanta’s sustainability development goals, therefore, entails complementary efforts at different scales and domains, where everyone and every single entity and organization is relevant, and where everyone has a role to play, and everyone has a responsibility to work to accelerate progress towards sustainability across the city.

Power to Change aims to offer a clear path forward for all Atlantans in these commitments, joining national best practices with local context, leveraging the work of countless individuals and organizations from the public and private sector, across many impact areas, and giving all a sense of shared accomplishment and purpose.

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As Atlanta’s citywide sustainability energy, Power to Change is the result of the contributions of more than 250 stakeholders across the city, representing their businesses,  neighborhoods, their schools, their community organizations and their government agencies. The input and continuing commitments and efforts of these individuals and organizations are what make Power to Change (P2C) alive and powerful, transforming goals, targets and initiatives into a better Atlanta.

Power to Change employs this framework of co-creation processes to build a strong foundation for measurable sustainability actions around 10 impact areas, joining and leading sustainability cities around the globe by using this compelling approach.

My Internship Experience

This fall I had the most incredible and fascinating government experience by working as an intern at the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a great honor for me to be part of a learning process that allows me to get a different perspective and a professional experience from the so-called public sector. During my internship program, I primarily assisted two departments and their corresponding green initiatives in addressing Atlanta’s sustainability efforts. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in two internships during this fall semester with different focus areas but with very interlinked domains.

The Urban Agriculture Department

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The goal of urban agriculture in Atlanta is to support and strengthen an equitable and healthy local food economy. To achieve this, the following are some of the actions and activities performed so far by Dr. Mario Cambadella, the Urban Agriculture Director, and his incredible team:

  • The city has provided technical and conceptual drawings for design and construction of the Capital View Community Garden Landscape Plan as well as supervised community work days.
  • The department has streamlined the permitting process for urban and community gardens to make it easier for farmers to do what they love to do best, grow, distribute and sell food.
  • The Department has also secured dozens of grants to strengthen Atlanta’s Urban Agriculture (UA) Network and increase access to local, healthy, and fresh produce. The awards include the GRO1000 grant to give social entrepreneurs an opportunity to grow and sell edible plants and a U.S. Forest Service grant to establish a food forest in Southwest part of Atlanta.
  • Thanks to the assistance and strategic partnership with Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, the Department of UA has completed the Customized Food Hub Assessment Tool Kit for the City of Atlanta.
  • Additionally, The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability has established a Community Supported Agriculture drop-off location at the City Hall with the local farming cooperative, Global Growers.

I participated and assisted the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability Urban Agriculture Legal Internship program. This program allowed me to acquire significant learning experience to seek for career options and develop professional skills in a diversity of leadership disciplines such as community engagement, urban agriculture development, and management, sustainability, urban planning, water conservation programs and many other related fields. By participating in programs such as the first Food Forest of the City, I understood and unleashed an interest in learning how urban agriculture can help to achieve the goal of making Atlanta a top-tier city for sustainability by the year 2025. The purpose of this position in the Internship Program was to develop a passionate and skilled leader in me, committed to urban agriculture as one of the critical components of sustainability progress in the city.

Working closing with the Urban Agriculture Director Dr. Mario Cambardella and Elizabeth Beak, his fellow, my primary responsibilities were: UA policy research, grant writing and editing, legal research, and analysis and the placemaking of the first Food Forest in the City. I actively participated in projects such as the opening of a fresh farmers’ market at the Five Points, one of the Marta Train Stations in the City. I also participated in the Food Forest Workshops and the site-visit and celebration of the Food Forest in the Browns Mills Farm.

The Climate Resilience and Renewable Department

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Atlanta’s City Hall

Atlanta has been one of the first cities in Georgia to pass a Climate Action Plan and has been a leader in solar energy programs.

The director, Dr. Jairo Garcia has been on the most dedicated sustainability practitioner in achieving new milestones on transition initiatives that act upon turning Atlanta as one of the most sustainable low-carbon Cities. The actions performed by this department are the following:

  • In 2016, the City began installing solar panels at more than 25 facilities across the city, half of wich are located in the low-income neighborhoods and minority communities.
  • The City of Atlanta was one of the major cities in the Southeast to participate in the COP21 Climate talks held in Paris. Also, the City was recognized by the Atlanta Regional Commission for the Climate Action Plan developed for the city.
  • Atlanta has been recently honored as one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities” in strengthening its ability to face the impacts of climate change such as flooding and heat islands.
  • Finally, the City of Atlanta has been recognized by the Center for Disease Control as a top ten worldwide Greenhouse Gas emissions reporter.

My internship experience in this department was to work in close collaboration with doctor Jairo in the Climate & Renewables policy research, GH Gases Inventories, updating, writing and editing the 2016 GRI-G4 Sustainability Report, and contributing to the update of the Atlanta Climate Action Plan. This role offered me a broad range of experience on Climate & Renewables Master Plans, GHG Emissions Inventories, GRI Sustainability Reporting, and Solar Atlanta. This position also gave me the opportunity to explore and develop a passionate and skilled leadership in public engagement, policy research, conceptual master plan designs, and working with great partners across the city.

1-2 “The City of Atlanta, Georgia, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report For the Year Ended June 30, 2015”. http://www.atlantaga.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=20459

Links of Interest

http://www.atlantaga.gov/

http://p2catl.com/

http://www.atlantastreetsalive.com/

Meet The Dakakker

A Cohesive Urban Farming Initiative In Downtown Rotterdam

Food urbanism or urban farming has become one of the major sustainable urban trends -a pleasant reason to dedicate this blog post to the production of fruits and vegetables within an urban contexts.

20160714_083216322_iOSNowadays, people are extremely concern about our current food system and supply chain. People welcome the need to begin producing local organic food. They have increasingly shifted their consumer behaviors into a more healthy, fresh and grown locally diet. They feel the call to reconnect with their roots, and the need to protects people’s right to access to healthy food and well-preserved environment while providing fair compensation to the thousands of farmers and growers.

Cities are the driving axle of such a tendency that is engaging many of us into the urban farming movement. Indeed, the increasing number of people living and setting down in already dense major capital cities of the world is an underlying reason that boosts the urban agricultural initiative to high levels of expectations. Cities like New York, Mexico D.F., New Delhi and Hong Kong are feeling the pressure to feed their residents and to grow sustainable food in their own cities. And the only spaces available in these urban areas are the rooftops and the abandoned old industrial buildings. I remember  a few years ago rooftop farms, for example, were ideal imaginary places and only observable in renderings, drawings, and images. But, now they have burst around the world, making cities greener and sustainable from the top. Therefore, in the following sections,  I present two of the most successful urban farms in the downtown of Rotterdam.

The DakAkker

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The Dakakker was founded in April 2012 by Binder Groenprojecten and developed by an architecture collective firm Zus in collaboration with the Environmental Centre Rotterdam. Located on top of the Schielblock building in the downtown of Rotterdam, the Dakakker is one of the largest rooftop farms in Europe. The garden is the house of a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, edible flowers, herbs and honey bees.

The rooftop farm functions as a test site for urban agricultural projects. Currently, one the most enthusiastic project the garden is participating in is the implementation of a smart rooftop. This smart rooftop consists of implementing a sensor and weather controlled roof with a much larger water storage capacity than a regular green roof. In addition to a test site to experiment with different ways of green rooftops and farming initiatives within the city, this place also offers workshops and educational activities and provide herbs and vegetable to local restaurants and shops.

During the summer period, the urban garden opens its doors for a bistro breakfast and lunch menu, and also organize special dinners, catering, and events with a great view of the city. Here are some nice pics.

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After a delightful breakfast at The Dakakker Café, I head myself towards Uit Je Eigen Stad, another extraordinary urban agriculture initiative that grows and sells fresh veggies, grass fed chickens, mushrooms, ornamental seasonal flowers and also provide a healthy menu option at its restaurant. Uit Je Eigen Stad means literally “From Your Own City.” 20160714_113403966_iOS

This story of success was initially conceived and began as a social enterprise, but at the moment the urban farm is a commercial business that provides to its customers a quality mixture of seasonal vegetables, and organic dairy products. It also provides a space for the Farmers Harvest Market on weekends and a full-service restaurant on a daily basis. One thing that was fascinating to me was the fact that the farm was situated in an abandoned old industrial building, which makes the place more appealing to customers and increases their interest. This place also offers stylish design conference rooms with vintage farm items for conferences, workshops and all type of events.

Rotterdam is an exceptional case when it comes to urban farming initiatives. Despite the dark times from the past, over the years the city has impressively and successfully recovered thanks to the active participation and positive attitude of their citizens. This participatory role led to goals that rebuilt the city and shaped the Rotterdam of today. The driving forces that have led the development and economic grow of the city have, without a doubt, been the city government involvement and the bottom-up citizen’s initiatives. I was very impressed with the spur of creativity, innovation and the level of engagement of the citizens, particularly when it comes to urban agricultural activities. And most importantly the straightforward support from the local government. The support is not always money. Instead, they are committed to providing the institutional strength, regulations, policies, and sustainability frameworks to push forward innovative ideas and programs related to areas such as education, food security, health, welfare and local economy.

 

 

Ecotourism Meets Cultural Heritage

For some travelers, sun and fun on a popular beach surrounded by creature comforts, modern amenities, and easy accessibility to restaurants and shops is their idea of vacation. More and more people, however, are hoping to truly experience something unique in a place that is hard to get to, that is surrounded by sites and sounds entirely different than the familiarity of home and that involves a certain degree of adventure.  Ecotourism is a way for people to really capture the pulse of a place and to discover the spectacular wonders of the natural environment.  When I am in Dominica, I am always amazed at the sounds of birds at dawn and at dusk, I find peace in the quiet solitude of a mountain overlooking the sea, I feel the exhilaration of jumping into a crystal clear river and I tap into my sense of adventure with a hike through the cinematic rainforest.  Exposure to these kinds of special experiences is the real magnetism behind ecotourism.  Additional value comes in the preservation of the environment, the economic benefit to indigenous people and the introduction of guests to the cultural heritage.

Dominica is perhaps the greatest location for ecotourism in the entire Caribbean.  It’s biodiversity is still intact and the cities have not been overdeveloped like other places of tourism.  For that reason Dominica is often a destination for reality TV shows that showcase adventure travel, secluded resorts or extreme competitions.  I have literally hiked a jungle trail, swam up a river gorge to a waterfall, and relaxed on a black sand beach all in the same day.  You can easily experience a whole lot with a vehicle and a roadmap, but if you hire a local guide for the day you get the backstory to everything that you are witnessing.  For example, you can travel to the village of Belles and hike the trails carved out by the maroons who had escaped into these forests during the days of slavery.  An African chief name Jacko was the pioneer and leader of an entire encampment in the rainforest.  Large steps, some three feet high, gave them an advantage over the French and English soldiers who had battled over this island for years.  Ruins of military fortifications still exist in places like Cabrits National Park near the village of Portsmouth.

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Dominica also offers the opportunity to connect with the living history of the Kalinagos, who are the largest remaining colony of Carib Indians in the world.  Travel to their territory, taste the cassava-coconut bread, watch them make wooden boats by hand, purchase some of their intricately woven baskets and if your timing is right you can experience some of their cultural celebrations that reveal ancient dances and traditions.  Their everyday lifestyle already reflects principles of sustainability and their new developments are considerate of these same values.  Their cultural center, for example, is running on electricity generated by solar panels.  I had the opportunity to meet the Kalinago chief and he said he would welcome the opportunity for university interns to come and help them develop new strategies that generate employment for their mountain community.

These days, information about cultures, cuisines and customs can be found on the internet and television, but it is so much better to encounter the people for yourself and enjoy a great big world beyond the screens that are always in our faces.  I encourage you to discover Dominica at least once in your lifetime.

Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

A Showcase for Sustainable Living

An interview with the Honorable Ian Douglas who serves the commonwealth of Dominica in leadership over the Ministry of Trade, Energy and Employment.

Dominica is considered to be the Nature Island of the Caribbean.  With that standard, the government, the business community and the people are committed to developing a nation that is sensitive to sustainability principles.  Around the island you will find solar panels on homes, street lights and other buildings; I even saw some photovoltaic panels over a Save-a-Lot grocery store and a KFC.  You will also find hydropower, wind-power and the early stages of geothermal power.  This opens up a great opportunity for USF students interested in sustainable energy to come to Dominica and experience firsthand the work conducted by engineers from Iceland and the development to come.  There are high hopes that the geothermal project will reduce electricity prices, provide jobs and encourage more business development.  I was able to interview the Minister of Trade, Energy and Employment to discuss how these three areas contribute to Dominica’s overall Green Economy.

With the demand for organic agriculture rising, how is Dominica fulfilling that demand and ensuring that these products are making it to market in good condition?

Because of the shelf life of many products, getting to the market in good condition can be a challenge. So we are working with the boat owners right now to equip them with refrigeration, cold storage and capacity onboard their boats to get the produce into the markets and on the shelves in the condition that the customer would want it. We have also invested in multi-purpose stock houses. All the stuff leaving Dominica, must go through these stock houses so that they are properly washed, sorted and packed properly. This is a multi-pronged approach. We are an agency committed to raw standards. Another thing that we are doing is certifying the farms to make sure that the farming practices of the farmers conform to this kind of conveyor belt system from the farm to the market. We are looking at all of the aspects up and down the product chain to ensure that what eventually ends up on the market is what the brand says it is.

Are there any plans for marketing to the U.S. or other nations?

Our exports are more or less targeted toward the regional, Caribbean markets. There are a lot of requirements for products entering the U.S. from Dominica, so initially, our export strategy is to grow our smaller markets like Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, and Anguilla and then eventually move on to some larger markets. We have our eyes set on expanding to places like St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico which are U.S. territories but we will need to grow incrementally and get more transportation involved. As we open more markets and create more demand for Dominican products, then we can encourage our farmers to produce more. Creating the demand is important. If we ask Dominican farmers to produce more now, but we cannot get those products to the market, then we will consequentially create a glut which will discourage the market because the farmer cannot sell. Therefore, we have to grow slowly and do it right.

We have to be able to enter the market and sustain it because what the supermarkets are looking for is consistency, regularity and reliability. We cannot send 10,000 pounds of ripe bananas today and then the following week only send a box; that just doesn’t make sense. So, we also have to stagger our production. Farmers have typically planted around the seasons, but now they will need to plant non-traditionally to ensure that they can sustain regularity on the market.

What challenges in trade have those in the agriculture sector faced in Dominica?

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This image of workers loading bananas at the docks in Portsmouth Dominica was sent to me by a friend on WhatsApp.

Back in 1998, Dominica made over a hundred million dollars sending bananas to the United Kingdom. We, along with some other small island nations were given preferential treatment because of the 400 years of exploitation that England had engaged in throughout the Caribbean. For those in the U.S. and around the world who supported Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte bananas, they believed that Dominica and other small islands had an unfair advantage and that they should compete on the same level as all other nations of the world. Consideration was not given to fact that small islands had less arable land, and smaller population sizes that could not compete on the level of those nations with hectares of agriculture bigger than the whole size of Dominica and which could easily out produce the island nations in quantity. When Dominica lost preferential treatment on the U.K. market, the price of bananas dropped, the farmer couldn’t produce for the price that he was getting, the boxes used to contain the bananas were costing more than its contents and many had to abandon their fields. This disillusioned some farmers, but we are determined to find our way in the market.

What other commodities will Dominica export and to what other destinations?

Bananas, both green and ripe; ground provisions including potatoes, sweet-potatoes, dasheen, yams; vegetables, especially those that have a longer shelf-life like cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbages, teas, spices, fruit and others. We just spent about 5 million dollars (XCD), developing two new buildings in both Portsmouth and Roseau and equipping them with a conveyor-belt system for washing, sorting, spraying, weighing, packaging and preparing produce for export.

The government had considered investing in a transport vessel for export, but it was determined that the issue wasn’t so much a lack of vessels but rather upgrading existing vessels and organizing them with better direction and more efficient trade routes. Some boats were traveling to St. Martin and back, but in between Dominica and St. Martin are other islands like Montserrat, St. Kitts, Antigua, and Anguilla among others, which are not being serviced. Those vessels traveling to Martinique, for example, could easily add Barbados as an additional stop on their trade route. There is a bigger market out there and we need to be more proactive about helping these vessels expand their routes and providing the facilitation that they need. The regular markets for Dominica, right now, include Martinique, Guadeloupe, Antigua and St. Martin. The next step would be to market to the greater Caribbean region and then grow from there. We hope to expand into Anguilla, Tortola, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Thomas, and St. John.

There are some things that are produced here in Dominica that would certainly be of interest to other economies. Two in particular would be coconut oil and bay oil. Producers of these products are doing very well. The Ministry of Trade is requesting some funding for them so that they can improve their packaging and labeling and so they can purchase more machinery which will enable them to supply more volume to the market.

How could marketing better reflect what Dominica has to offer?

We could definitely improve our marketing on the internet; I don’t believe we do enough web based commodity marketing because it takes a lot of funding. Even with tourism marketing, we only spend about 4 million (XCD) per year marketing the country and about half of that goes to trade shows leaving very little for e-marketing. This is a lot less than other competing small islands like Grenada and St. Vincent who spend about 10 million per year in marketing. Barbados probably spends about 20 million in marketing which enables them to capture even more of the world’s attention. This is not even considering the larger island economies like Jamaica and Trinidad. We are increasing our marketing budget to about 6 million for next year and are very hopeful for the future. The same goes for commodity marketing, we are going to have to put more into it.

Recently, eight representatives from Dominica, including a member from the Dominica Export Import Agency (DEXIA), a farmer, the manager of the multi-purpose packing houses, the director of training and others went on a trade mission within the Caribbean. The team traveled to around six or seven different islands and they returned saying that there is definitely a demand for Dominican produce which has developed a reputation for being fresh and tasty. The challenge facing Dominica is the ability to enter the market with the necessary quantity and reliability necessary to maintain those trade relationships.

Do you have high hopes for Dominica’s new coffee industry?

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Coffee Tree

Absolutely. I believe that Dominica’s coffee can rival Jamaica’s Blue Mountain Coffee easily because we have the elevation. Dominica is one of the most mountainous places, per square mile, on the face of the earth. Dominica also has the volcanic soil and tropical environment that have also proven great for growing coffee.

Ultimately, what we would like to do is brand Dominica as a totally organic, sustainable, renewable energy island. That is why we are going after the geothermal so much, because it presents so much potential for us to be able to reach that goal. Already in tourism, we are marketing the island for the ecotourism; if we can do that in other aspects, then the entire island itself can, in fact, become a showcase for sustainable living.

I’ve heard that in the long run, geothermal energy is the most affordable, most renewable source of energy but that the initial investment can be very expensive. How has Dominica financed their geothermal project and what is the present state of development?

Yes, it is true, the project has cost us an arm and a leg up front but the outcome can be very beneficial for Dominica.  We have drilled about five holes so far, tested the power, purchased turbines and spent about 100 million, 40% of which has been made up of local funding. We also received some assistance from the E.U. Engineers from Iceland assisted us with the drilling and testing and now we are ready to move on to the turbine stage which again will cost us around 70 to 80 million. It is believed that up to 120 megawatts of power can be generated from the wells. Dominica only needs between 10 and 15 megawatts, which allows for the potential to export energy to neighboring islands. Our geothermal wells are not just dry heat or wet steam either, they spring up hot water. We pump the hot water up, separate the steam from the water, and then re-inject the water back into the well.

Initially we were working with the French because we knew that viability of the whole project was in the export of the geothermal power to Martinique and Guadeloupe. We believed that a partnership with a French Consortium of companies could assist with this project, but they are holding out for now. Nevertheless, we will pursue our small plant on our own because our government has a particular agenda and a commitment to the people for the reduction of our light bills and we need to be able to deliver that. We are putting together a geothermal development company to move the project forward. The government will have a majority of the shares but we are going to open up the opportunity for other companies and individual investors to buy shares and have some equity in the company.

Would you be open to university students coming out to learn and volunteer with the geothermal project?

We would love that.

How does the geothermal project open up opportunity for job creation?

If we drop the price of electricity, more companies will be able to come here for manufacturing. Businesses will be able to allocate funds for expansion and new hires. Hotels will be able to offer more affordable room rates. The price of electricity right now is just prohibiting. For many of our hotels, the price of electricity makes the room rate uncompetitive and for that reason, some our hotels right now are self generating with off grid energy systems. All of this puts the need for the development of a renewable energy source as a top priority. If too many people are self generating, it could threaten the viability of the grid system and compromise the ability to make electricity available to everyone at a fair price. Geothermal energy will allow us to drop the price of electricity by more than 50% per kilowatt hour. Right now the price is around 55 to 60 U.S. cents per kWh and we need to drop that to around 15 and 20 cents per kWh to be competitive. One of the other spinoffs of geothermal is hydrogen gas which can potentially be used to power our vehicles. Even electric cars could plug up and be charged through our geothermal power generation.

What are some recommendations going forward for anyone interested in getting involved?

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New Coffee Production Facility in Portsmouth

For the geothermal it could be investment into the geothermal company. For trade it could be marketing and getting Dominican products out on the shelves of other countries. Dominica can readily produce ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric and other spices and herbal remedies that are gaining popularity. Dominica also has a brand new coffee production facility which needs some investors and farmers to realize that potential. Dominica could also export various teas which are not limited to the black and green teas but also include the basillic, sorrel and other gourmet teas. Pureed fruits like mango, guava, pawpaw, and sweetsop could also be made ready for export.

How can village communities benefit from regional/international trade?

There are agents here called hucksters who go into the villages to buy produce for export from local farmers who on their own cannot reach the regional/international markets. The hucksters handle all of the shipping details and often times serve as agents for their local governments for importing particular agricultural products. Though the local farmer does not deal directly in the trade, they are benefiting from the additional sale of products beyond their local area.

Dominica is such a wonderful place that the world needs to see. What else would you say is advantageous about your green economy?

Being the Nature Island of the world, we are at a comparative advantage and we have the resources like fresh water, geothermal energy, and quality produce coming out of our soil to prove it. Using sustainability principles to our advantage, we can bring about economic stability in Dominica.

Mr. Douglas and I had a great conversation and some good laughs too.  Looking to the future, I believe that at the Patel College of Global Sustainability, we have a world of opportunity in partnering with Dominica and their sustainability initiatives. – Jerry John Comellas

 

Transitioning at Drift

In this post, I would like to share how has been my first and second week at Drift as an international intern.

About the Institution  

DRIFTFounded in 2004, DRIFT – Dutch Research Institute for Transitions is the result and evidence of transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research in sustainability transitions. It is a union of researchers and professional advisors supporting the common cause of pro-active research projects aimed to advance the understanding on how sustainability transitions can be initiated, expanded and governed. They started off by proposing a set of reliable, cutting-edge research integrating advancing transition theories and practices with high-level advisory oriented to influence transitions towards more sustainable pathways. Based on realistic assessments and by providing academic and professional training and support to transformative agents. DRIFT aims to engage public and political attention, institutions, intermediary organizations, businesses and civil society to transform and develop new system dynamics in domains such as energy, water, food, and mobility, urban and regional development, climate change and social innovation.

The Way to Go

Diving is an extraordinary and intense experience loaded with adrenaline and mix of emotions, particularly when the surroundings and what you can see beneath your dive is beautifully unexpected. Likewise, diving into a new environment can also be a stimulating experience. The new surroundings and the contribution of uncertainty and anxiety that the new internship experience involves is something unique that keeps you on your toes. However, surprisingly, my first few days at my new internship did not result in any sense of ‘diving in’ emotion. On the contrary, the job got off to a slow start. Or should I say a smooth start?

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On my first day of interning at DRIFT, after walking in, I found myself on the sixteenth floor of one of the largest faculty buildings at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Suddenly, I felt my mind turning blank as I approached the offices without a clue of what to expect.  Everything was unfamiliar and new to me. Upon arrival, I was introduced to everyone, particularly to Dr. Derk Loorbach, Professor, and Director of Drift. I also met Marijke de Pous, coordinator of the Transition Academic and finally Dr. Niki Frantzeskaki, senior researcher, lecturer and my external supervisor during the time of my internship. I have to say this: they were extremely welcoming, incredibly and pleased to help with anything. Everyone at the office were extremely nice and fun to be around, and the jobs and different projects they work on are fascinating. DRIFT is involved in a broad range of national and international advisory and research projects. The one that I am happily involved is the ARTS project (Accelerating and Rescaling Transitions to Sustainability. The ARTS project is a European research consortium led by DRIFT to analyze best practices from innovative initiatives and showcase the best sustainable processes that allow continues experimentation and level playing field at the scale of a city level or region on many different domains such as food, energy, housing and mobility.

After a meeting with Niki and Steffen (another researcher for the ARTS project), the first task that I was given was to read the “Blue Bible,” a three hundred pages’ book of the DRIFT complete analysis on Transitions to Sustainable Development, and to summarize it in a comprehensive document. At first, 300 pages seemed very overwhelming, in fact, the content was very dense, but as soon I started to read the full study of long-term transformative change, I found myself delighted and I became more and more enthusiastic about the content, new concepts, theories, terminology and ideas on sustainable transitions. Understanding transitions and know how to influence them helped me to picture a holistic image of the career path Drift develops. It helped me to understand the specifics and the interdisciplinary approach to sustainable development.

After completing other different task and mini-projects during my first and second week, there were three important things that I experienced and learned. The first lesson was that not knowing and understating everything that I was learning within such a short period (5 – 6 weeks) is completely understandable and normal. Instead of having a pessimistic retroactive mindset, active approaches such as a straightforward and positive attitude would be the key factor to adjust in new environments. In fact, this positive attitude will help you during your internship experience and forward professional career. In case you do not know or do not understand something, never hesitate to ask for help. There will always be someone willing to help you, and the more you ask and look for different sources of information, what it was once topsy-turvy, prompt it becomes clear. In this regard, you will grow and learn so much faster.

The second thing I have learned was that you should NOT be reluctant or afraid to try new experiences. For instance, one of the tasks that I had to complete was to interact with people and become more familiar with the projects. Although this duty seemed like an easy one, for me was very challenging, especially when I am not a very sociable person and when the lack of fluent language is a barrier. The individuals associated with the different projects were researchers, professors, and advisors from a variety of extensive backgrounds such as environmental science, policy studies, political studies, and sociology. It has been the first time that I am involved in such environment. I had never taken part in any academic and research studies before. Therefore, the terminology, the theories, the methodology and the way they work was entirely brand-new to me. Lastly, I learned to take all mistakes as opportunities for improvement and every single task as an opportunity for growth! Even the smallest tasks have the potential to teach you great skills.

By being an active intern is when you should not be scared to try new things, enjoy unique experiences, make mistakes, and learn. This is the moment when you discover what your weaknesses and strengths are, and you develop more enthusiastic approaches to support your professional career. Thus, my advice is to continue to be curious, to give the best of yourself, put honest efforts in everything you do and be aware of the unexpected.

Week 3: Choosing my Path & Crafting a Mele

Mele in Hawaii

Get excited, this blog post contains music! But first, a little update on the progress of my internship.

While I had been doing research for the project alone, away from the school, I came across a listing of farmers, their certifications, and what they produce — created by Malama Kauai, the organization that I am assisting. One thing that I wish I had known in advance was more about the organization we are helping out. I didn’t realize that a list like this was already available, even if it only encompasses a portion of the island. This type of list was somewhat what I expected I would be able to create while I was here. However, based on the limited amount of time I have on the ground here, and the general difficulty it is to speak with farmers, it was unrealistic to believe that I would be able to create something like that over the span of just one month. Instead, I’ll have to remain focused on my primary goal: helping set up a plan for a school lunch program at Kawaikini.

I realized that since I had come up with the idea to partner with the college, there were splitting paths in my research. Should I focus on trying to get the community college to handle the lunch program, or should we contact farmers, hire someone to cook, and try to figure out how and where we could produce and store food on the site? It was time to figure out which way my attention should go. After discussing this with the school, we decided my efforts would be better focused on assessing how much food the school would need to procure, and what specific farms would be able to meet the demands. Since all of the other things involved in a farm-to-school plan would take a lot more time to accomplish, this is the most realistic and feasible way for me to make a difference.

A Mele about the Hawaiian Monk Seal

Besides being in Hawaii for my internship, I had hoped I’d be creatively inspired to craft an original song. After seeing the rare monk seals (llio holo I ka uaua, in Hawaiian), I can definitely say I felt inspired. Check out my music video about the endangered Hawaiian monk seal!

The significance of writing a new song is two-fold. First of all, I’ve only written one other song… it’s about axolotls. If you’re unsure what that is, check out my Axolotl Song! The second reason it’s unique and awesome: both songs are about endangered creatures.

Week 2: Unique Challenges & New Ideas

Challenges

I went to my first farmer’s market on Kauai the other day, and I’ve already honed in on a few challenges I didn’t realize I would have to overcome. First of all, not everyone over here speaks English! Some people speak Hawaiian Creole (also known as Hawaiian Pidgin English). I’m honestly not sure how to break that barrier. Unfortunately, since I don’t speak that language, and I don’t have someone to translate, they might be left out of the study. Other than that challenge, I noticed that a lot of farmers at the market didn’t want to speak to me once they realized that I wasn’t a paying customer. To overcome this, I think I need to come up with a better approach and come closer to the end of the market. It would probably also be better if I could present my project from a different perspective. Instead of saying it is research, maybe I’ll explain that I’m trying to put together a list of farmers that are interested in selling their products to a school… or something along those lines. This is obviously still a work in progress.

New Ideas

I got to visit Kawakini (pronounced kava-key-knee) and experience first-hand what the school had to offer. It was a little shocking to see how little infrastructure they have in place. Their cafeteria is an outdoor tent, and they don’t have any kitchen to speak of. However, they’re in the process of looking into grants that would help them get a mobile food kitchen and/or build a cafeteria in the future, if they choose to take either of those routes. Although they didn’t have a kitchen or cafeteria, they do have a school garden!

DSCF0681
This is the cafeteria. In the future, they plan to have a more permanent facility.

During my first visit, I got roped into weeding and planting a few new plants in it. The school officials are eager to see what I’ll bring to the table. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that one of them had read my internship proposal paper! When they realized that I was the person that had written it, they told me it was very well done and they looked forward to getting a new perspective to come up with a solution for the issue.

I tried not to disappoint! Since the school is practically on the same property as Kauai Community College (KCC) — which has a culinary program — I suggested trying to form a partnership with them. After talking to the school officials, we recognized that there would be some challenges to overcome, but my idea was really well-received and it seems like a great possibility that could benefit students from both Kawakini and KCC!

Week 1: Getting Aquainted with the Food Security Issue on Hawaii

Monk Seal on Poipu

During the first week, Greenwork (USF Partner) had an orientation where we traveled to different places on the island. We went to Malama Kauai’s farm, tried some of the local foods, visited a vendor craft and food fair, and just generally aimed to get us more acquainted with the island and it’s unique culture.

Poipu Beach, Mountains in Distance
Poipu Beach: During the last day of orientation, we went to a beach which is known to sometimes have monk seals, green sea turtles and more.

From sandy beaches, and fields of green crops, to mountains hidden by clouds, it’s easy to see why Kauai, Hawaii is considered a paradise. But reflecting on what I learned during the first week and how many farmers there are on the island, it’s strange to realize that most of the food on the island is imported. Through the USF partnership with Greenwork, I have the opportunity to join the efforts of Malama Kauai as they work with local schools to help encourage kids from a young age to foster interest in local agriculture. My role in this endeavor will be to help bridge the gap between small farms and the school system. For my project, I’ll be using Kawaikini as a pilot study — assessing the foods that they would need, finding farmers that could meet those needs, and figuring out how to meet all of the state and federal guidelines for a school lunch program. My favorite part of orientation was going to Poipu beach where I got to see two endangered monk seals sunbathing! I also happened to find a juvenile snowflake morray eel in one of the tidepools at the beach.

Monk Seals on Poipu Beach in Kauai, HI
Endangered monk seals sunbathing on the shore.
While exploring tidepools on Poipu beach, I came across a snowflake morray eel!
While exploring tidepools on Poipu beach, I came across a snowflake morray eel!

 

Make it Prettier….

So my display farm was fully functional and sustainable.  However, it looked bland and normal.  So I was asked to “make it prettier”.  Now like most guys, this is not my strongest area.  Luckily, when I was younger, I had my own landscape company.  This means it is a nice trip to the store with the BG card.  The pic to the right is 400 lb of stone, rocks, and other necessities.

I made a nice patio type arrangement.  I used the materials to design something that would look right at place in any backyard.  I then used Mr Stackey pots here in green.  I spiraled the herbs up the pots and used wildflower seeds to add some color to it.  Obviously these plants need to grow into their spaces.  I hope to post more pictures as they grow.

Part 2: I Hate Dirt

So rather than drag on and on about the same small garden area, I give you a two part blog.  So the big pile of dirt on the left is…well it is a big pile of dirt obviously.  This is the dirt I have to shovel into each of the 16 of the 4 foot by 4 foot boxes.  Just to remind all of you, it is over 90 degrees out and humidity is around 100%.  It is not very fun to shovel dirt.  The picture on the right is the completed version of 3 of those boxes.  I decided that was enough for the day as I had already planted many other things today.  The important thing is I made progress and I didn’t die of heat stroke.  Next step is to keep working on these boxes until I am done.  I hope to talk someone into assisting me soon.  Well that is all for now. I like keeping these short so that I don’t bore everyone too much talking about dirt and plants.

What is On Your Plate

Food is an interesting thing. We eat it every day. We shop for it, prepare for ourselves or our loved ones (or, stand idly by while the culinarily inclined prepare food for you). We tell others about our favorite places to get food and where to get the best bang for your buck. We take pictures of it. We write long-winded blogs about it (where we repeatedly beat the point over the head until it is seemingly unconscious…)

Food just appears, as if The Fairy of Everything Bagels and Cream Cheese Spreads waved their wand…and materialized in the gluten-free section of Trader Joe’s.

A large part of my research is looking at the ways food gets to our plates (seafood, specifically).

Our food supply chain is a series of splintered back streets converging onto mains, through tunnels, crossing oceans, soaring through clouds, and landing in our backyards with a variety of different names like local, free range, wild caught, and organic. But what do these words really mean, and how do they impact our consumption? Are we taking the time to trace our vegan sushi back to the fields where the soy beans were harvested, or considering the wages and living conditions of those who harvested the beans? Would it impact our purchasing habits if we knew? And what would it cost to ensure all parties benefited equally?

These are somewhat loftier questions than I will be able to answer during this internship, but I hope it inspires some others to dig deeper than tips of their forks when it comes to food.