Diversity. Inclusion. Justice. Equity. These are hot topics in our cultural dialogue, including within the spheres of environmentalism, where environmental justice has for some time been an area of focus. However, as noted by Dr. Sue Ebanks, Associate Professor of Marine and Environmental Science at Savannah State University, “It is rare that a project is able to address equity. Many students that come to Savannah State (SSU) have minimal or no knowledge of food sources and are dependent upon complicated and long public transportation routes or personal vehicles to access fresh fruits and vegetables. Consequentially, they can easily fall prey to food insecurity. For many of them, the same is true of their places of origin. Many only know life in these food deserts.”
It occurred to Dr. Ebanks that students’ four years at SSU can and should be a pivotal time when they learn about the nexus between food, energy, and water, and explore opportunities for sustainably meeting their nutritional requirements individually, as household members, and through their purchasing decisions. She conceived of the Go Green Tigers program to use culturally relevant, place-based (site-specific) approaches to spark student interest in environmental issues. Aided by a grant from the Thoreau Foundation, the program launches with two primary initiatives. First, Ebanks and her colleagues will develop a new course on environmentally sustainable opportunities in food growing and culturing, which will include interactions with regional farmers and others involved in urban growing. Second, they will develop an outdoor learning laboratory space to offer undergraduate research and training in aquaponics, growing with soil, soil-less geological agriculture, and growing honeybees and culturing apiary-sourced products such as honey.
Ebanks has observed firsthand the shift in SSU’s campus-wide sustainability engagement over the past decade, and is encouraged. “A view into green initiatives on our campus five to ten years ago would reveal some tree plantings, interest in recycling with little to no action, interest in community gardening and no clear path forward, failing riparian buffers, major stormwater issues for the marsh adjacent to the university, and a highly productive group of faculty members growing African American Geoscientists yet having no common place to call home. Through providence, grit, and pooling of resources, as well as external and internal funding, nearly all of the aforementioned items have been resolved or are on the course to resolution.” It is on this momentum that the Go Green Tigers program will seize.
“If we are to truly achieve equity,” notes Dr. Ebanks, “we must build a diverse community gathered around shared goals. This will provide an opportunity to erode barriers and begin to understand each other better by recognizing differences, while not using them as excuses against progress.”
The food-energy-water nexus was an attractive place for Ebanks to make inroads in the movement for equity, because it is at the core of socioeconomic engagement for sustainability. As she notes, “Through engagement with community members and growers as well as having hands-on experiences with different agricultural approaches, students will be in a strong position to integrate their scientific learning back into society, which is critical for true environmental recovery and sustainability.”
Header photo credit: Meaghan Gerard/Ogeechee Riverkeeper