Friday, October 2, 2015

Sustainable Localism: Sages, Prophets, and Jesters

SUNY Geneseo is hosting a one-day conference tomorrow for Front Porch Republic.  Engage in conversation and panels about Sustainable Localism in the Macvittie College Union.  Lunch and snacks are provided throughout the day.  General admission is $50; Student admission is $20.

Here's a link to the Livingston County News article.

Here's a link to the ticket page.

For more information about Front Porch Republic, check out their website where there are a number of interesting articles and discussions around those articles.

A quote from the article, "A Republic of Front Porches" by Patrick Deneen:
           The porch, as a physical bridge between the private realm of the house and public domain of the street and sidewalk, was the literal intermediate space between two worlds that have been increasingly separate in our time...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September Commission Meeting

We had our first Sustainability Commission meeting on September 11th.  It was great to finally get (almost) everyone at the table together to see what we can accomplish this year.  Each member of the Commission brings a unique perspective and a passion for Geneseo and sustainability.  Since accepting my role as co-chair of the Commission in the spring, I had two conflicting feelings that battled back and forth: First, an incredible sense of hope, possibility, and excitement thinking about the impacts we can and will have on this campus and the broader community.  This feeling was quickly followed by the realization that I didn't know enough about sustainability on campus to know where to start and the sense of hopelessness that goes along with that.  I am an analytical person: I defer to those who have more knowledge and I am hesitant to weigh in on decisions unless I have a lot of information and data.  I knew I needed to obtain more information to help guide the Commission, but how could I get it and disseminate it to the group?

Luckily for me, the anxiety around gathering the information and data about campus sustainability initiatives was greatly alleviated in mid-July, when Barb and I met with Geneseo's new President, Dr. Denise Battles, and we were given a new direction for the fall semester: Help gather data for the AASHE STARS Report.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) runs a global program for documenting sustainability on college and university campuses called the "Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System" (STARS) Report.  Geneseo received a Silver Rating in 2013 and we are up for re-evaluation this spring.  Our results from 2013 and the new format for 2016 can be found in the "Important Links" tab on the blog.

I find it incredibly serendipitous that our first meeting and the need to collect data coincided this semester.  The 13 of us will have a clear picture of what is happening on campus, we will know Geneseo's sustainability strengths and weaknesses, and we will learn who the leverage points are across campus to enact and sustain change.  There may be some radio silence regarding Commission activities as we delve into collecting this data, but our individual efforts in promoting sustainability on campus will continue and we will post about those as often as we can.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Promoting native plants for pollinators and monarchs in the Arboretum

Work in the Spencer J. Roemer Arboretum this summer has been aimed at improving its value for native pollinators like bees, butterflies, and other insects – as well as for showing off the beauty of native plants. Native pollinators have suffered population declines because of habitat loss and fragmentation, habitat degradation through the spread of invasive species, and pesticide use. Three-quarters of flowering plants require animal pollinators to some degree to reproduce, and animal pollinators aid in production of 35% of the world’s crops.

This spring we planted a variety of native species in the garden surrounding the gazebo, selected to provide nectar throughout the growing season. Plants like wild columbine and golden groundsel flower early in the summer, beebalm and butterfly milkweed show up in mid-summer, and joe-pye weed, boneset, and ironweed add color in late summer and into the fall. 
Student Arboretum assistants planting gazebo garden in May.

Some native plants added to the gazebo garden this year (clockwise from top left):  wild colombine, heartleaf golden alexanders, scarlet bee-balm, joe-pye weed, anise hyssop, boneset.
The gazebo garden serves as a showcase for native plants that are both aesthetically pleasing and valuable to insect visitors. In the south end of the Arboretum we have started a project to restore the former site of a community garden to native meadow habitat that will provide both food and shelter to native insect pollinators. 

The restoration project began with mowing the existing vegetation in the site, largely non-native weedy species, thanks to volunteer effort of ’72 alumnus John Wolf who brought his 50-year old Gravely mower to do the job. Our arboretum assistants accumulated and distributed cardboard to smother the ground and suppress growth and seed germination of existing plants. 

Site before preparation (top left), John Wolf mowing down existing vegetation (top right), site after mowing (bottom left), Arboretum assistants spreading cardboard to smother vegetation (bottom right).

Then through the generosity of Jon and Priscilla Titus (who have a thriving yard in Fredonia full of native plants to spare), we obtained a variety of species to plant in the cracks between the cardboard pieces to get the meadow started. (Jon is Associate Professor of Biology at SUNY Fredonia, and Priscilla is an environmental consultant.) Our first plantings were done on June 28, and another batch were added on August 24. This fall we will try to cover the site with leaf mulch. The hope is that the cardboard will break down over winter and our summer plantings will have a head start on non-native weeds that might return to the site. We will also be gathering seeds from natives to sow in the site and to start as seedlings to plant in the spring. The development of a native-dominated meadow will take time, but should enhance the diversity of the Arboretum and its quality as habitat for wildlife. (And I would love to expand this flora into no-mow zones around the Arboretum.)
Plantings in the native plant meadow restoration project. Clockwise from top left: student assistants weeding and planting, Jerusalem artichoke, New York ironweed, cutleaf coneflower.

In addition to adding natives for insect pollinators in general, we are also planting milkweeds, the host plant for monarch butterflies that have recently experienced population declines. Our four swamp milkweeds planted this year in the gazebo garden are supporting many monarch larvae, and the existing large butterfly milkweeds at the Arboretum entrance also fed caterpillars. We planted milkweed seeds at the beginning of the summer and recently planted these seedlings in several locations in the Arboretum, including the native plant meadow. With the success of these plantings and more to come, we hope the Arboretum can contribute to restoring habitat for this iconic animal.
Monarch adult investigating a milkweed plant (left); egg laid on swamp milkweed flower buds (right).
Top: monarch larvae on swamp milkweed in gazebo garden; Bottom:  monarch larvae on butterfly milkweed in Arboretum entrance garden.
Arboretum assistants planting milkweed seedlings. From left:  Emma Witherwax, Julian Koob, Josh Backhaus.

More information about Arboretum activities and natural history can be seen at our Facebook page: