This summer, 2811 is partnering with the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance (UGWA) to cultivate food system resilience in New Mexico. Together with 5 local schools in the Silver City and Cobre school districts, we will develop innovative food resilience projects that involve composting, healthy soils, and, of course, climate education.
Food resilience is a very important issue for New Mexico. Carol Ann Fugagli, the education director of UGWA who is leading this project, says that “as in many communities in the US, large volumes of food waste currently go into our county landfill, resulting in anaerobic methane production (a particularly harmful greenhouse gas) while, ironically, many children in Grant County, especially in the Mining District, still go hungry.” Grant County is situated in the high desert, a region in the United States where it is already difficult to grow food.
New Mexican agriculturists are on the frontlines of climate change, facing degraded soils, increasing heat, drought and wildfire. New Mexico is also a climate change hotspot in the United States, due to massive oil reserves that fossil fuel companies are eager to unleash. Climate change awareness and resilience education is more important than ever.
To kick off this program, 2811 will lead a Climate Action Academy and a Climathon with the teachers and students from participating schools. The goal is to build capacity for teaching climate action and to spark innovation for sustainable food projects.
Addressing food waste through composting was the challenge for the 2021 Climathon in Silver City that 2811 and UGWA co-hosted together. The challenge at that workshop, with 50 local participants, was to find innovative ways for composting at the community-scale. Watch this video to learn more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xq5vshcyJiU&t=3s
Climathon participants outside the Besse-Forward Global Resource Center at Western New Mexico University in July, 2021.
At the Climathon, participants toured the Commons Center for Food Security and Sustainability to look at community-scale composting and gardening systems.
The Climathon’s winning projects, called the “Grant County Composting Collective” and the “Silver City Carboneers,” developed composting solutions that leverage both community mobilization and innovative technologies. The winning teams who have been working on implementing their solutions for a year will now have the chance to further develop in the school setting.
The plan for composting at the participating schools is to capture the food waste generated in school cafeterias, use the heat generated from a biochar furnace to dry the food waste, and then put the dried food into Johnson-Su style composters, together with yard waste like branches and leaves that can be chipped on-site. The compost created can then be used in school gardens as well as for restoration and tree planting projects.
Two of the technologies that will be integrated into the project include the Biochar Energy System invented by Gordon West (above) and Johnson-Su composters (below).
Education of 3rd – 5th graders in the participating elementary schools will be integrated at every step. For this reason, the project starts with a Climate Action Academy, so that teachers will be equipped to teach youth about sustainability and specific topics like composting, soil as a living ecosystem, permaculture, traditional growing methods, vermiculture, and the circular economy. These same teachers will co-facilitate the student Climathon in September. Local teachers who want to sign up can do so here: https://forms.gle/tnV4X3aFWrJsM9Ah6.
Aldo Leopold Charter School students Morgan Chaney and Hawk Fugagli assist in filling a Johnson-Su composter as a part of a Youth Conservation Corps project.
Johannes Lencer, who works for the Frontier Food Hub based out of Silver City, participated in last year’s Climathon and is excited to be working on this project. He says that “food is connected to everything, from the environment to the economy to social justice issues.” He wants students and teachers participating in this project to learn about how compost brings nutrients back to the soil: “Soil is a living structure - a being itself - that is composed of microorganisms that are a thriving community as long as we help support it. And that’s where our human ability to amass resources can be a great benefit to the entire cycle of life.”
Chris Lemme, the founder of a recycling program for Silver City, was also a participant in the 2021 Climathon and has been actively working on promoting composting in the community for years. He says “we can take our food waste and use it to grow more food. It’s the epitome of a circular system.” His vision involves a local food economy where food waste gets put back into the soil, combined with efforts to repair the environment through more tree planting and ecosystem restoration: “We can turn negative feedback cycles into positive feedback cycles to improve the local climate and reduce stresses from drought.”
Our food systems have huge potential for climate action and innovation. Working with students and teachers to develop skills for local food resilience can help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food production and waste, and better prepare the next generation for climate impacts. The 2811 team is committed to addressing climate change through education and capacity building and we are honored to be working in New Mexico to advance this mission.
The project is funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Commission Environmental Cooperation (CEC) program to address environmental justice and climate resilience in North America. Here you can read about the other projects that were selected for funding: http://www.cec.org/ej4climate/ej4climate-grants/