SMC Takes Sustainability Efforts to Conference at San Francisco State University

Sitting in a classroom and learning about farming in South America is one thing -- but getting out into the field and participating with campesinos brings an all-new level of consciousness to the learning process. Beaming in a crisp-white shirt, Alfonso Castillo-Dzul of the Yucatan sat at a conference table while his student translator, Madeleine Moore, 19, delivered his message of inter-cultural understanding with farming. "I re-evaluate and re-honor their traditional ways of farming and see how to combine the scientific meaning of their study to their practice," he said. Castillo-Dzul works with the Community Agroecology Network, a program that partners with North American universities. Workshops designed to create a dialogue and share ideas about sustainability were among presentations from various non-profits on a three-day sustainability conference in the northern part of the state.

The Associated Students of Santa Monica College invited two Corsair cohorts to join them at the statewide-sustainability conference. Hosted by students from San Francisco State University, the event saw arrivals from schools across California -- from Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley and dozens more. Put on and run entirely by the California Student Sustainability Coalition, the conference saw a sleepy kick-off day but a bustling second. A.S Director of Activities Raphael Sisa, 24, who helped coordinate SMC's presence at SFSU, joined A.S. Director of Budget Management Khalid Namoos, 20, for rounds of enthusiastically held workshops. "It was a great and unique opportunity for students from SMC students to meet, get together with and learn from students from all across California who are participating and pioneering sustainable efforts on their campuses," said A.S. Director of Sustainability, Wendy Hermosillo, 31, who put in a considerable amount of effort with organizing. Professor Eileen Rabach graciously chaperoned SMC students in attendance.

Attendees were treated to a rally that kicked off Saturday, Oct. 25, and all-vegan meals. Not only that, but edibles were served sans utensils or napkins while speakers representing various organizations reached out. Among the most popular was a group of earthly-dressed "mushroom warriors," who traveled across the country to extol the fungi for, among other traits, their effectiveness as sponges.

Grace Voorheis, 23, of the Community Agroecology Network led one of the more popular workshops featuring Castillo-Dzul. Sheets of paper and markers were handed out and groups were assigned to brainstorm on topics like social location and cultural identity. On the latter subject, Chela Vasquez of Ecuador discussed her disbelief over coming to North America to hear the commonly-held sentiment that Americans were only from the northern continent. "We don't grow up like that in South America and I would like us to be aware of that," said Vasquez. When her nephew came to the U.S., she said he was shocked by it. "He said he had to take out a dictionary and explain what that means."

Castillo-Dzul's presentations stirred emotions. "I don't think it's conscious, but for me it's very emotional," said Laura Valdez, 29. "It's sad. We don't get to experience it. We're told that farming is gross and you should be ashamed of it." Valdez, a Chicana representing a pesticide-awareness company, shared her disdain for how South American-study abroad programs focusing on farming seem open for white students only. "It's a really interesting evolution, but it's very complex," she said of the dominant presence of whites in these programs. "I'm worried that when people from the U.S. go abroad, they're only seeing that."

Hanging out in the student union was a kiwi chatting with a pea. Alright, they were two students donning costumes, but their presence exuded a tangible enthusiasm about efforts across California such as the "Real Food Challenge." The kiwi, Maggie Lickter, 23, of the University of California, Davis led a panel discussing on-campus food. Whitney Bell, 20, of Cabrillo Community College spoke about her school's efforts with getting locally-grown, organic produce on campus. "I would like it to be the lovechild of culinary arts and horticulture," she said. On challenges with getting sustainable food choices on-campus from an idea to reality, Bell said, "The biggest challenge is that with a community college, students don't live there. There's not sort of a consistent community. So that's been my first hurdle." Though Cabrillo possesses an active group of sustainable students, the rest of the campus has yet to catch the contagious enthusiasm students from U.C.s currently possess. "Attitudes I've encountered is that community students see it as a stepping stone to a university, so don't care about community college's reputation."

Hailing from Stanford University, Theo Gibbs, 19, discussed unique efforts her campus is making. 40 percent of food on-campus is organic and locally grown. "Love Food, Hate Waste," is Stanford's new campaign. In their dining hall, a rotating-tray collector has been replaced with a giant bin. "So students have to scrape off their food and it's pretty confrontational," she said. On top of that, fact cards are on each table, listing how much methane waste produces in the atmosphere. Unlike SMC, Stanford does not yet have a composting program. Problems include the mindset behind it. Gibbs said students simply just didn't understand how to get it to work. "If a little bit is contaminated, Stanford could face a huge fine." Said Gibbs, "Challenge isn't just getting those programs in place, but conceptualizing how the network of programs can work." She did point out that with sustainable efforts and working with an on-campus farm, Stanford has reached out to organizations in the community for volunteers as well as local farmers.

When Lickter spoke, she discussed how she has gone from simply studying sustainability at U.C. Davis to helping them develop new curriculum. Shocking moments for her included visiting farms in the state and seeing the people who owned them using food stamps, signifying symptoms of huge problems with the farming industry as it is. She said, "Hey, they're on food stamps and they grow food! How messed up is that?!"

At Monday's A.S. Board of Directors' meeting, Sisa excitedly reported on the whirlwind of a weekend. "We came back with a lot of internship opportunities and a renewed inspiration towards sustainability on campus." Said Namoos, "The city of San Francisco will make you want to be more sustainable." Despite exhaustion after attending a multitude of workshops and volunteering to assist with the event, both Sisa and Namoos were eager to share all they had learned at the conference. As for dining sans forks or napkins on only vegan food, they have yet to cheerily make that commitment.