"Connecting Sustainability and Environmental Justice" by Giovanna Di Chiro
This talk explores the "three pillars" of sustainability (ecology, economics, and equity) through the critical lens of environmental justice. What do we mean when we talk about sustainability? How do different groups of people understand and define the goals and visions of sustainability? This presentation provides examples of sustainability initiatives led by environmental justice organizations focusing on local agriculture, food security, energy and climate justice. It also discusses local partnerships and student-led community-based learning projects with community groups in Philadelphia and Chester, Pa.
Giovanna Di Chiro is the Lang Professor for Issues of Social Change at Swarthmore College, and Policy Advisor for Environmental Justice at Nuestras Raíces, Inc. in Holyoke, Massachusetts. She has published widely on the intersections of environmental science and policy, with a focus on social and economic disparities and human rights. She is co-editor of the volume Appropriating Technology: Vernacular Science and Social Power and is completing a book titled Embodied Ecologies: Science, Politics, and Environmental Justice. Di Chiro's current work examines environmental justice activists' reframing of the climate change debate to focus on the local, bodily impacts of wide-scale environmental problems like global warming. She is widely known for her research and practice focusing on community-based approaches to sustainability and the intersections of social justice and sustainability.
Mike: Good afternoon and welcome to this afternoon's presentation. I'm Mike Delores and I'm on staff at the college, and I have the privilege to introduce Doctor Giovanna Di Chiro. Doctor Giovanna Di Chiro is the Lang Professor for Issues of Social Change here at Swarthmore College, and also Policy Advisor for Environmental Justice at Nuestras Raíces, Inc. in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
She is published widely on the intersections of environmental science and policy, with a focus on social and economic disparities and human rights. Giovanna's current work examines environmental justice activists' reframing of the climate change debate to focus on the local, bodily impacts of wide-scale environmental problems like global warming. She is widely known for her research and practice focusing on community-based approaches to sustainability and the intersections of social justice and sustainability.
Giovanna teaches environmental studies and gender studies, and she collaborates with environment justice organizations to conduct community based research focused on environmental health concerns and on developing culturally relevant sustainable initiatives in poor and low income communities.
Here at Swarthmore she is teaching environmental justice, which is cross listed through political science and environmental studies. A directed reading and community based learning course called Sustainable Community Action in partnership with the community organization in North Philadelphia, and next semester she'll be teaching the environmental studies senior capstone seminar.
In 2012, Giovanna was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Environmental Policy and Technology, a federal advisory committee that reports to the administrator of the EPA. She holds a Masters of Science in Environment Studies from the University of Michigan, and a PhD in History of Consciousness from the University of California, an interdisciplinary program integrating her background in biology, environmental studies, and sociocultural theory.
Giovanna has over 20 years teaching experience and has held faculty positions in environmental studies at Deacon University in Australia, University of California in Santa Cruz, Al Agami College, and [inaudible 00:02:37] College.
We are delighted that Giovanna is here at Swarthmore this year as a Lang Professor. It's my privilege to introduce to Doctor Di Chiro.
Giovanna: Thank you, Mike, very much and thanks to everybody for coming out here on this beautiful global warming afternoon in October. It's great to see some of my students and other students, parents, and alum's here, which is one of the great things about Swarthmore Colleges is this wonderful family that can get together at various times. So I want to start off with a disclaimer, and despite the wonderful introduction that Mike gave for me that uses sustainability in virtually every sentence, the work I do with the EPA, I was appointed to on a Federal Advisory Committee by Lisa Jackson, the former Administrator the EPA. Now working with Gina McCarthy who's the current Administrator of the EPA teaching courses with sustainability in the title. Have sustainability in the title of my talk despite all of this, I'm actually a bit of skeptic or I'm nervous about the use of the term sustainability or perhaps what I should say is the overuse of the term sustainability.
As many people probably would agree it's become a bit of a buzz word of sorts. What does it mean? What exactly is it that we want to sustain? Whom is sustainability for? And importantly with the kinds of issues that I'm interested in what does sustainability mean for communities who are living in poverty, living in highly polluted or environmentally devastation communities and environments. It's usually not. Sustainability usually doesn't mean for these communities buying a $30,000 door Prius hybrid car or being able to put solar panels on the top of your house or being able to buy organic food at Whole Foods Market. These are the kind of personal lifestyle changes that are talked about as for example, aiming to lower our carbon footprint, which of course all of these are good things, and essential things for us to do to reduce or at least try to curve climate devastation, but sustainability for many poor people low income and minority communities in this country and around the world is most often talked about in the terms of survival.
About children's high asthma rates, about neighborhoods living on the fence line right next door to polluting facilities that are contaminating their water, air, and neighborhoods, and soil. It's about high poverty and unemployment rates, and hazardous workplaces. Jobs and that actually make you unhealthy. About lack of access to healthy nutritious foods or safe green spaces, and parks for children to play, to learn, and to flourish. Among many other issues, so I'm interested in how those of us here it's worth more, and I would say in higher education more broadly who are talking about sustainability and making changes in our own institutions, in our own curricula to advance the goals of sustainability, which again are usually talked about as the aim to reduce our carbon footprint.
How can we imagine ... How can those of us at colleges like Swarthmore, how can we imagine and think together, and work together with those communities who focus on sustainability a survival? And how can the movement ... And these are the kinds that I focus on and that I will share with you in the ways that I try to answer them. How can the movement for sustainability co-create and co-produce, and be meaningful? How can we co-create and co-produce sustainability that is meaningful for all communities? And that includes how do we build partnerships and collaborations that brings diverse voices and visions for a sustainable future to the table.
Son in this talk today that's what I want to talk to you about and share with you some of the ways that I have worked to connect or to bring together the ideas of sustainability with the ideas that environmental justice. Specifically in the context of institutions of higher education like Swarthmore College.
Oh, great. Technology, the very first moment that I need it. This is kind of anti-climactic. I am pushing the right button, right? It's pressed. Okay. So the next slide, that event I'm going to show you is ... Thank you. So now it should be working. Okay. So despite a lot of the talk about the revolution and sustainability discourse, and the revolution in sustainability. Sustainability actually is nothing new, and we can actually look to a fifteenth-century philosophy, and I would say an environmental management philosophy from the [Haudenosaunee 00:09:17] people or the Iroquois people, the Six Nations people from North America who talk about the 7th generation principal, and Oren Lyon's who's spiritual leader of the Haudenosaunee ... Again, the Iroquois Confederacy, Six Nations people. He says the first mandate of traditional Haudenosaunee chiefs is to ensure that their decision making is guided by consideration of the welfare and well-being of the 7th Generation to come.
We say that the faces of coming Generations are looking up from the Earth, so when you put your feet down, you put them down very carefully because there are generations coming one after the other. If you think in these terms, then you'll walk a lot more carefully, be more respectful of this Earth. Again, this is a vision, a 100 year old vision of sustainability that we can learn from and in fact, one of Swarthmore's illustrious alums, Christiana Figueres who is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and she actually ... This is a picture of her last year when she came to Swarthmore College two give a talk, and this was just before the United Nations Framework Convention meeting in Qatar last December. She was here in September, and just before she came to Swarthmore she had gone one of Al Gore's climate reality project trips to Antarctica.
And when coming off of the boat from Antarctica she actually drew upon this on this Haudenosaunee 7th generation principal when she's saying what do leaders like herself, leaders on the global scene in the United Nations, how should we actually be thinking about what our responsibility is in support of sustainability, in support of mitigating climate change? And she said, "I left the climate reality project boat haunted by the moral challenge that was put before us." Before you make a decision that affects the world's climate imagine the eyes of seven generations of children in the future looking at you and asking, "Why?"
So again a focus on the idea of the future, on the idea of intergenerational equity, which is fundamentally what sustainability is about. How we survive and preserve our climate, our planet, our environment, our children's futures. Not a new concept. The current paradigm of sustainability as many of you have probably heard, often talks about the three E's or the three pillars of sustainability. The three E's being ecology, or environment, the focus on the long-term functioning and health of ecosystems. The second E, economy and employment. The focus on economic security, thinking about livelihood being imbalance with ecological integrity. The importance of providing healthy green jobs.
And the third E, the focus on equity or equality. The focus on a sense of fairness and interdependence of all members of the global community including thinking inter generationally. The 7th generation idea. You can see I also have a fourth E up there. Sometimes people talk about the four E's of sustainability including education. That once you have this knowledge or awareness, the importance through education. The importance of the commitment to acting on this new awareness, this new knowledge. And the focus of active and engaged education. So engagement, that would be a fifth E. So lots of E's. The three pillars of course you can see this graphic that focuses on the three pillars economic prosperity, environmental protection, and social justice.
At the EPA the Federal Advisory Committee that I'm on, reporting to the administrative, the EPA. Our charge, our mandate for this term is to focus on sustainability, and particularly to focus on the EPA's monovision on that one element of sustainability, environmental sustainability. And how the EPA now is asking us, formerly Lisa Jackson and now Gina McCarthy, are asking us how can the EPA think about the pillar that is often left out of the story. And that is the social pillar. Usually we tend to focus on the ecological and economic pillars of sustainability, but one of the things that as you'll see as I move forward in my talk that I really want to do, is to make sure that we think about those three pillars, those three components simultaneously. How do we do that?
One way that I have engaged with that is thinking about how the growing discourse, and movements, and activism, and scholarship around environmental justice helps us to think that way. And just briefly the environmental justice movement in the United States and also globally, is a grassroots movement of poor and low income people and communities of color. One of the important contributions that the environmental justice movement has done is to look at the phenomenon of environmental racism, and environmental injustice. Asking questions like how are disadvantaged communities disproportionally affected by environmental degradation and pollution, and including about how climate change affects poor communities, and disadvantage in marginalized communities, disproportionately.
The environmental justice movements links diverse movements and issues. Links environmental issues, civil rights issues. They focus on health care and available and affordable healthcare. Affordable housing and quality housing. Good education, jobs and livable wages, safe workplaces, healthy food. Things that I've talked about. Access to land, green space natural resources, livelihood and indigenous peoples land rights, and rights to self-determination. These are all the different kinds of issues that encompass a broader notion of sustainability. And finally the environmental justice movement also focuses on not just saying, "How can we spread the environmental bad's equally." That's not the idea of environmental equity.
The focus for most environmental justice communities that I've worked with throughout the country have been thinking about precautionary approaches, and the prevention of harm to human communities and the environments on which they depend. So the question that I'm interested in how can we link together these movements for environmental justice and movement for sustainability?
So the rest of my talk I want to address some of the ways that I have done this over the last several decades, and I talked about this borrowing ideas from many of my colleagues, and partners, and fellow activists around the country and the world, is thinking about this concept of just sustainability. So how can we start to think about moving towards just sustainability. And one way as an academic myself that I do that is thinking about how I do that in my teaching, and in my community based work through teaching.
So when I was at Mount Holyoke College I taught a course called Urban Ecology, was an environmental studies course, and here you can see some of my smiling students who are working with a community organization called Nuestras Raíces, which is the Spanish word. Can someone tell me what that means or Spanish term?
Speaker 3: Our roots.
Giovanna: Our roots, yes. Our roots. So Nuestras Raíces is a community organization in Holyoke, Massachusetts, which by the way is not where Mount Holyoke is located. Mount Holyoke is located only about four miles away across the Connecticut River in a pastoral landscape. Holyoke is actually one of the urban areas in Western Massachusetts, so I work together with the organization Nuestras Raíces, and here there's a picture of Western Massachusetts near Holyoke. This Autumn picture ... Can you see that? Oh, not very well. Okay. Is the inner city offices of Nuestras Raíces. In the top picture are the urban farms of Nuestras Raíces.
For those of you who don't know where Holyoke is, you still can't see with this laser. Can anyone see the laser? Okay. Technology's not working well for me here today. Holyoke is there in sort of the Central Western part of Massachusetts. Holyoke is considered one of the first planned cities in the United States. It was developed and founded in the mid-nineteenth century next to the Connecticut River, and it was focused on paper mills and textile mill. Now it's considered an environmental justice, EPA designated environmental justice community. About 40% Puerto Rican and Latino. A very high childhood poverty rate. Many vacant lots, abandoned buildings, abandoned factories, and over 17 contaminated brownfield sites. And also up here on the left hand corner one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in Massachusetts is also in Holyoke.
Holyoke is a very conventional environmental justice community that has all of the social, health, economic, and environmental problems associated with environmental justice communities, but it also has a strong sense of cultural survival, and a strong sense of community. Largely because of the Puerto Rican residents who migrated from Puerto Rico after the war to work in some of the remaining factories and also to work in the vegetable and tobacco fields in Western Massachusetts. And they set up residence in the former tenements where the textile and paper mill workers used to live.
So many of the Puerto Rican residents who migrated to Holyoke in the mid-twentieth century came, and they came from agricultural and rural backgrounds and found this urban blighted city, and started to want to transform the city so it looked a little bit more like Puerto Rico. Many of them, again, had a lot of expertise and knowledge about gardening, and started working with partners in the area, including academic partners. B5 colleges in Western Massachusetts, and started to develop community gardens throughout the city. Holyoke or Nuestras Raíces, the gardener's then developed a non-profit organization called Nuestras Raíces this is in 1992, and now have a network of nine community gardens. Some of these gardens actually have 10 to 15 families who have plots in the garden some of which can earn by selling in local markets or even to families, and to neighbors, and family, and friends.
They can earn up to $4,000 a season, which is not a bad addition to your income when the annual income is around $14,000 a year. One of the other things that the organization Nuestras Raíces has done is to focus on sustainable jobs, sustainable income, and focusing on local micro-enterprises that are food-based. That food products that come out of the garden, so the organization has helped local gardeners to actually start small enterprises, smalls food based enterprises including a restaurant, including Sofrito, a salsa company. There's a community kitchen in the down town offices of Nuestras Raíces, and there are some local women who actually started a Sofrito business. For those of you who don't know what Sofrito, it's a traditional Puerto Rican salsa that is made from peppers. [Spanish 00:23:25] dulces, or sweet peppers, that are used to flavor all kinds of Puerto Rican cuisine.
To expand the ... To start to think about how to increase the income capacity of the community, the organization worked with partners to actually expand the gardens in to urban agriculture and farming, and so through partners again building collaborations, building partnerships, a local convent. The sisters of Providence donated 26 Acres of riverside farmland to the organization, so the organization now has a 30 acre urban farm. Where they actually grow, up here on the right side you see Jesus holding a basket of [Spanish 00:24:23] dulces, which means sweet peppers. [Spanish 00:24:27] dulces actually many of the Puerto Rican gardeners in Holyoke are seed savers, and so many of them brought seeds from Puerto Rico of some of their favorite crops including [Spanish 00:24:40] dulces.
Puerto Rico and Western Massachusetts have a different climate and soil system, as you can imagine, the [Spanish 00:24:50] didn't grow that well, so one of the partnerships that was developed was between the local gardeners and the plant biologist at University of Massachusetts-Amherst. That partnership led to developing [Spanish 00:25:06] dulces cultivars that actually do grow well in Western Massachusetts climate. So now farmers like Jesus and some of the others here Kevin, and Alberto actually say that they have the best [Spanish 00:25:22] dulces crop around. And in fact, they do.
Here you can see on the farm one of the activities that happens on the farm is the annual Harvest Festival, and the Harvest Festival attracts up to 3,000 people from the Northeast every single year. Largely Latino residents who come to buy these [Spanish 00:25:55] dulces because they are so renowned. There are some of the other crops that farmers grow and sell. Again, the music dancing, Puerto Rican dancing music, and also traditional barbecue or lechonera.
Another thing the organization has done working with federal agencies such as USDA, the Department of Agriculture, is getting funding to actually start farmers training programs. Beginning farmers training programs. Also helping farmers get access to local farmer's markets and starting new farmers markets in the intercity. Starting to work with local schools to have schools commit to buying a certain percentage of their produce every year. As of a couple years ago the local school system agreed to purchase it was something on the order 19% of their product from Nuestras Raíces farmers.
The organization very much focuses, again, on intergenerational issues, and so the youth programs are very important. Here are some of the young people, and also some of my men. Holyoke students who were working together with some elders clearing the land once it was donated, and a lot of the land needed to be cleared to start to put down farms. The youth have been involved in a lot of the organization's environmental work, and environmental just programs, they've been at the center. My students from Mount Holyoke in environmental studies courses worked in with the organization to develop bilingual environmental education materials for the community around local asthma rates, how to address asthma, and how to address the air quality issues in Holyoke. So asthma awareness teachings.
Using technology and research from the college, including GIS mapping, to help people to understand what some of their risks are. One of the partners that we were able to bring in was the EPA, and I mentioned earlier. EPA in the early 2000's started an interesting community-based program where it started to build this notion of how do we build partnerships at the federal level with local communities? So the EPA started what was known as the Community Action for Renewed Environment Program, and that was funding that was given directly to communities to actually build their capacity to understand better what some of their environmental health risks were, and how to take action to solve problems.
As a writer, as a grant writer, I was able to use those academic skills along with my students to help write grants for these EPA, these large EPA grants that started to come down the pike. So we did that and started to fund environmental health, and environmental sustainability initiatives in the community. I just have to say unfortunately that while Nuestras Raíces last year was getting a Champions of Change award from the EPA. Lisa Jackson was resigning from the EPA, and the Community Action for Renewed Environment grant, the community-based capacity-building grants around environmental sustainability were zeroed in the U.S. Congress, so we don't have those grants anymore that focus directly on supporting communities for that kind of capacity building for that kind of environmental community-based research capacity building, which is a shame. I'm hoping to, as a member of this federal advisory committee, to convince Gina McCarthy that that's something she really needs to prioritize as the new leader. One as the new leader of the EPA.
One of the things I wanted to demonstrate was how ... Here were some EPA scientists who were working with us that brought the tools of science and technology. This is a 24/7 air quality monitor called an [inaudible 00:30:39] that we actually put in a member's house to demonstrate the baseline low quality of the air in Holyoke. This research that young people from the community, and also my students used, helped to convince the local Board of Health to not give a permit to a waste developer who wanted to come from Boston to cite a 752 ton per acre waste transfer station or per day, waste transfer station in downtown Holyoke. So this information was actually helpful in saying, "No, that's not a good place to cite such a hazardous facility."
We also worked with the EPA and other partners to help people understand about the risks of eating fish from the Connecticut River. The Connecticut River fish are highly contaminated with mercury as well as other toxic pollutants, Puerto Rican residents in Holyoke like to fish. Fish is something that ... Fishing is something that people do with their families and their communities. And fish is also an affordable food and affordable protein. Another thing that we did, again all in the interest linking the idea of environmental justice and local sustainability.
Working with local industries on best practices in auto collision repair. We discovered, by looking at those GIS map of the smaller businesses, they're actually not regulated or permitted by the EPA. The smaller businesses in the area like auto body shops, there are upwards of 100 auto body shops in the city of Holyoke, and none of them are regulated officially. So bringing to the local shop owners better approaches, best practices in auto collision repair that helped people to actually protect their workers in the auto body shops as well as the communities that lived around them. Another thing that this increased awareness of environmental health issues, and environmental sustainability did was actually to build a language of environmentalism in the community, and in the largely Latino and Puerto Rican residents of the community.
So people started then to deploy, to use the language of sustainability to even do direct action in the community around ... Again, this was focused on that the community wants to have a sustainable development, good healthy jobs, green jobs. Not dirty industry such as a waste transfer station right on Main Street, Main Street U.S.A. Another result of this linking of sustainability and environmental justice was looking at the educational opportunities of local largely Latino youth in the region, and as many of you know that there is many youth of color in the United States that there is a pipeline between the community rather than a pipeline from the schools to wonderful colleges like Swarthmore College or Mount Holyoke, that's there's a pipeline from dropping out of schools to the prisons and the jails. And this is what you see in Holyoke as well.
One of the things that we did was to apply for Pathways out of Poverty funding to organize a green jobs training program in the city of Holyoke, which we called the Roots Up program. And here young people who were actually incarcerated were able to do GED training, and then also get training in green jobs such as weatherization, insulation, solar hot water, system installation, and then be placed in local green industries that actually do that. So it was a different set of opportunities now that many of these young people from the community had available to them. The young people then started to like this idea and they still do about moving into the green economy, and we were obviously unable to place all of them so we decided that to start our own company, and we started a company called [Energía 00:35:44], which means energy in Spanish. And it's an energy services company that is owned by three nonprofits.
It's a for-profit company that is owned by three nonprofits including Nuestras Raíces, and it's based upon the business model called the triple bottom line. The triple bottom-line mimics that three pillars of sustainability concept that I talked about earlier. So the triple bottom line business model is that you want to focus on economic stability or making a profit. You want to focus on social justice and community sustainability. So you want to, in our case, train and hire local young people in the jobs that become available, and you want to focus on environmental benefits, and ecological sustainability.
So Energía now has trained, or now has hired 20 of the green jobs graduates from the Roots Up training program. It was launched in 2010, it's now beginning to turn a profit. Ultimately some of those profits will go back into the nonprofits to fund the programs rather than relying on these government grants that are not happening especially now, now that our government is shut down, but rather than relying on those government grants, how do you build resiliency and self-reliance, and a future? Which is again, what sustainability is about. A future of the kinds of jobs, and activities that promote community sustainability, and promote health, and promote a healthy environment.
You ca see our two trucks here, the Energía trucks. Here are two of the green jobs graduates who are leading a workshop. The company now has really captured an academic niche market in Weston Massachusetts. All of these wonderful colleges Mount Holyoke, William, Smith all have 19 century buildings that are very leaky, and so now Energía is one of the main energy services company that's insulating the dorms in these colleges. And I've just heard that there are some others that they've now got a contract with as well. The thing that I was just really amazed at was, this young man here is [Jamil Brieto 00:38:39], and he was one of the young men who had been went from the streets to jail, and then went to the green jobs training program, got his GED, and now he's a crew leader. And one of things I may not have mentioned is this company is also 24% worker owned, so he's also a worker owner of this company, and that kind sense of possibility you can see in this quote that he has here. This was in 2010 when we launched the company and this was a press conference and he said, "Energía is good for young people because we can get goods, support our community, and protect the Earth or as my mom says our madre Tierra." Mother Earth. "I'm part of the Green Revolution."
And you can see that in this sentence he actually brings together those three pillars of sustainability that we're talking about and links that social justice focus, community focus, environmental focus, and the focus on economic security. So I just want to, in the next few minutes tell you about this next phase or this next approach to just sustainability in action, that I'm engaging with now here that I'm at Swarthmore College. Again, through the community-based learning approach, through the curriculum, and this is a course that started last semester with a group of students who wanted to, again, bring these ideas together in their Environmental Studies curriculum. So they did a directed reading with me that they called Sustainable Community Action, and we worked together with a partner or a community leader in North Philadelphia. And this is [Oh 00:40:49] here. She's from the community organization Serenity House in North Philadelphia.
And she's standing in the backyard of the building that the organization is ... Where there offices are. And these are some of the students. Some of them are seniors and they've graduated. And two of them are right here. There's Nora and [Leckie 00:41:22] who actually were first year students last year, and now they're second-year students, and so you know this is another element of sustainability is that our courses and the work that we do here at Swarthmore in our curriculum are actually sustainable and maintain partnerships overtime. Maintain relationships, maintain partnerships, so one thing that the seniors did brilliantly was that they actually recruited these two first year students who are now second-year students and who are now right now in the process of recruiting other students to make sure that this partnership is sustained and also grows.
So this is last year when we started to work with Oh in Philadelphia, and Oh and other community leaders at Serenity House wanted to reach out to the people at Swarthmore and one of the reasons that the focus was on Swarthmore and not, for example, a more local universities like Temple was because of the quaker connection. So Oh actually is from Philadelphia and grew up as a quaker, and so had the opportunity to take a course here at Swarthmore. She took a course from Scott Gilbert in the biology department. Scott Gilbert is a longtime colleague of mine from years ago and brought me together with Oh, and so these relationship building and connections that we started doing brought Oh and me together to then start thinking about what might be ways of working together that in fact express the quaker values of social justice and sustainability.
So Oh and other community leaders at Serenity House were interested in saying, "How can sustainability actually help with community building here in this devastated environmental justice community, impoverished community in North Philly?" So Oh and Wilhelmina were asking questions to us about, "How come sustainability speak to us in meaningful ways?" And so they said, "What about these ideas of community gardens and green roofs that everyone gets to do when they're focusing on sustainability? How can that be meaningful for us?" So we started with that conversation. So one of the first steps was to do some site visit, so we went to Philadelphia, and you can see these are some before pictures. These are some of the students walking around surveying the area. There is a species called Japanese knotweed that actually was growing all over the backyard. I don't know if there are gardeners here who know about Japanese knotweed, but it's very hard to eradicate and makes growing a garden very difficult.
This is the garage in the back where the community leaders are interested in putting a green roof. So the students climbed up precariously on the ladder to look at the roof, see what the possibilities are for a green roof. Walked around the neighborhood and then we organized with the community leaders our first community meeting in February of this year, which included wonderful food, and also community residents coming and talking to us. And we can talk a little bit later if people are interested that this was a challenging meeting. This was a challenging meeting. Why are we here? What good are things like gardens? We have economic problems, people are homeless. People will just tear up the gardens. What are you students coming out here from Swarthmore for? There were a lot of discussions about how you actually work together across these kinds of boundaries, across these kinds of divisions and differences.
We kept talking. We kept working together, and the hope was to imagine, and also embody a just sustainability at 1209 West Lehigh Avenue. This was in May after the students went through the entire semester working with the community, doing research on the gardener, working with local horticulturalists and community members, organic gardener's to think about what's needed to get this garden up and going. There's a lot of smiling with working together. These are some of the seniors working with local residents. There's a lot of manual labor, there's a lot of work, hands-on work to get a garden in place. Cleaning and clearing the lot and the garage. I get to take pictures. Digging up the Japanese knotweed roots. So the students did a lot of research working with the local gardeners and horticulturalists around what do you do to get rid of knotweed if you want to put in a garden? A lot of it is literally getting rid of the roots.
This is Japanese knotweed, for those of you who don't know it, and it's classified as an invasive species in North America and Europe. It's actually originally from Japan, and China, and Korea. So one of the system's was to actually dig up some of the soil, lay heavy-gauge plastic tarp. Eventually get rid of the soil and bring in new soil, so students helped the community to actually identify affordable places where they could bring in good soil and dump the soil, and then work days to help actually transfer the soil from the garage into the gardens. So there was a ... What was it six cubic yards? Six cubic yards later of soil.
So one way to celebrate this as we're about to plant the garden was to have a community gathering. This was in May of this year. Inviting community residents, young people, and one of the ways that the seniors decided, and other students involved Leckie and Nora, were to have young people to plant ... To come and plant flower pots to get the sense of imagining what planting would be like in this community garden. It was also the day before Mother's Day and so the kids really were interested in painting the pots and giving it to their mothers. We were planting marigolds and petunias, and as it turns out, which I didn't know until I started learning more about green roofs is that wild petunias are actually one of the plants that grow well on green roofs, on extensive green roofs. So green roofs that have a thinner layer of planting material.
Community coming together, one of the neighbors who has a lot of background in horticulture said, "You came to work with us and plant a garden with us, now you're a part of our community." That's a big responsibility. The students actually put together this backyard grill. That now that there's a garden to put a backyard grill in. This is Leroy, who actually was originally from the South, so he was the expert BBQ chef. Collard greens, and then planting, so the day was ended with actually planting a variety of plants. Primarily flowers, but also some plants like raspberries, tomatoes. This is now the Serenity House garden. One of the things the students did was to actually document their process and they produced ... They have video footage. There's a video that's online that I can give you the link to. And interviewing some of the local leaders in the community.
And of course everyone is very happy and you can see here that this was one of the major knotweed roots that they actually dug up and got rid of. This is one of the products that the last year's course delivered to the community. It was a one page of green roof guide about why green roof might be useful and beneficial for Serenity House. I actually have a copy, a badly printed out copy of the whole guide somewhere that ... Oh, here it is. That you can take a look at if you'd like to. This is now the feedstock for this semester's course. Three students are, which Laura who I don't think is here is also working with Nora and Leckie in the next version of sustainable community action, and the first step was meeting with Professor Carr Everbach who was an engineering professor, doing a tour with gardener Sheila McGee, who is a gardener from Facilities Management here at Swarthmore of the residency hall green roof. This is the next step of our partnership. We'll see where it goes and all of you are invited, but thank you I'm happy to have a conversation, take questions, and thank you for coming.