Conversation with Jennifer Herrera

Jennifer was a participant in the summer Experiential Learning program at UHD. She talks about how she came to UHD, her area of study, how courses in sustainability and renewable energy changed her career goals and what new students can do to be successful.  Click here to listen to podcast.

 

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Preparing for fall planting

Today the remainder of the summer weeds were removed from the 3 beds that UHD has adopted at the Willie H. and Gladys R. Goffney Community Garden which is operated by Target Hunger.  Target Hunger was started in Houston in 1989 and it supports numerous food pantries within the city.  Soon the adopted beds will be planted with winter vegetables which will be used to support Houston’s food insecure.  The UHD beds can also be used for undergraduate research experiments such as genetic fingerprinting of plant varieties.  This is just one example of how UHD is connecting with the larger Houston community.  If anyone is interested in learning more about Target Hunger they should visit their website at targethunger.org.

Discussing Climate Change

This year the national Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) meetings are in San Antonio, TX.  The keynote speaker on October 15, 2017 was Katharine Hayhoe who is a climate scientist and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University.  She is the winner of numerous awards for her communication about climate science and has been named TIME’s 100 Most Influential People, among many other distinctions.  Her presentation did not focus on the science of climate change, but on the polarization of the topic of climate change and how we can move forward.  She showed how the polarization of politics has further polarized the topic of climate change.  She argued that the polarization on this topic is fed by the perception that the solutions to climate change will result in dramatic losses, both personal and national (ie. trucks would not be allowed, there would be collapse of the economy, etc.).  Obviously these scenarios are not acceptable so a line is drawn in the sand and each side believes the other does not care about the values of the other.  She contends we need to talk to people that have different views, we must connect with each other about what we have in common and discuss the values we share (family, shared place, community, etc.).  Only then, should we discuss how climate change is already impacting many aspects of animal, plant and human health and how it will continue to impact the the places and people we both value.  The best solutions will then grow from conversations about what we all value – solutions that can bring economic prosperity, environmental stability and protection of our communities.  She discussed numerous examples of such solutions that have been established nationally and internationally.

Resilience

This week we visited the three forty- foot garden beds that the UHD CUAS adopted at Target Hunger’s Willie H. and Gladys R. Goffney Community Garden.  After Hurricane Harvey it was expected that the plants would be wiped out and that our solar-powered electrical system would be non-functional.  There were quite a few weeds, the low to the ground eggplants took a beating but the okra appears to be thriving (see okra flower) and the electronics are still working.  In the book by Leidy Klotz titled Sustainability through Soccer: An Unexpected Approach to Saving Our World (2016) he defines resilience as “resisting damage from an unexpected disturbance and then recovering quickly.”  He argues that resilience is not only seen in the tactics of winning soccer games, but it is an important ingredient in sustainability.  We know what some of the challenges the future will bring.  We will need to feed more people, address water and resource use, work to save the biodiversity most critical for the ecosystems services on which we depend and address the impacts of a warming planet on future industries and health.  Another challenge of planning the sustainable systems of our future will be creating systems that are resilient enough to handle the surprises we don’t see coming.  Houston is built on a coastal prairie ecosystem.  The native plants of this system have evolved a great resiliency to the floods and fires that were frequent here over thousands of years.  The agricultural plant okra also has great resilience to the heat and humidity of Houston’s summers. Okra seeds were most likely brought to North America by Africans who were shipped to the US as slaves and the plant thrived in a summer environment hostile to many plants.  As we recover from this unexpected disturbance and plan for a sustainable future, it can be somewhat comforting and perhaps useful to reflect on the natural models of resilience around us.

Summer 2017 Experiential Learning

Students from the NIFA-USDA funded Experiential Learning through the Center for Urban Agriculture and Sustainability pose at the end of summer I.  Students in the 2017 class designed and built aquaponic systems within the UHD Sustainability Garden.  Students will continue to work with their systems throughout the fall semester as they optimize their systems and run experiments.

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