How to make a blog vibrant?

June 18, 2012

We would like to engage more students and alumni in our blogs.  We use this blog in some classes.  What would you like to read about in a blog? What would inspire you to contribute?

This is our blog.  How do we make the Antioch University New England the MBA Blog to go to?

 

Polly Chandler

Program Director MBA in Sustainability


That’s Not Dirt, That’s Earth

November 20, 2011

Set the scene: It’s sometime in the middle of the 1970s. We are in a rather well known vegetarian restaurant in a town in Central New York.  There are hanging fern plants, dream catchers and wind chimes.  An irate customer, perhaps an unusually uptight hippie, is complaining to the waitress about something he’s found in his salad.  The waitress, a young woman dressed like Stevie Nicks, feather earrings and all, is not rattled by his tirade.  With eyes wide (she never seems to blink) she tells the customer: “That’s, like, not dirt, man, that’s Earth”.

Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

But seriously, soil does get treated like dirt.

Even in agronomy, soil science not getting the attention it deserves.  In an article entitled “Soil Science in Transition: Soil Awareness and Soil Care Research Strategies”, Dan H. Yaalon notes a decline in soil science in the industrial world, and suggests that shift in academic paradigm from a focus on soil productivity in the context of large-scale agriculture to a focus on soil in an earth systems context.  He describes soil crucial link between the Biogeochemical System and the Physical Climate System. On that foundation he proposes soil care and sustainability as a unifying concept (Yaalon, D., 1996).

Yaalon’s model meshes very nicely with the model proposed by Juma, which describes the Pedosphere as the area of overlap of the Atmosphere, Lithosphere, Hydrosphere, and Biosphere (Juma, N., 1999).  In a very real sense the soil is the living community that emerges from the interactions of the other Earth Systems.

So, how do we get some respect for dirt?  There is a conscious effort underway in Europe to figure that out.  In a presentation in 2008 to the Eurosoil 2008 conference, G. Mielich points out that:

  • Soils are largely ignored by the public because they are basically invisible; all one ever sees is the surface.
  • Soils have no definite shape; they are quasi-continua in time and in space.
  • The complexity of soil formation and structure does not lend itself to easy explanation to the public.
  • In our urban world people simply do not have direct contact with soil. They are not aware of how it looks or feels or smells.
  • There may not even be a sense that soils are the basis of the source of all of our food.
  • Soils don’t move much.  They don’t make interesting nature films on the National Geographic Channel.

In short, soils have no snuggle factor (Meilich, G, 2008).

Meilich stresses the need for specifically tailored information targeting specific groups. We need to get different messages out to farmers, to land developers, to architects, to gardeners, to educators, and to the general public. “Every target group needs specific information on soils and soil protection measures, prepared in a way that reaches and binds the target groups” (Ibid., p. 30).

It is noteworthy that there does not seem to be a similar effort at public education taking place on this side of the Atlantic.  I would argue that for businesses and organizations to become aware that “it’s not dirt, it’s earth” we need to see a cultural change, and this will take a considerable education and marketing program. The time may be right, there is a general sense that green is good.  Now, if soil were only more visible…

References

Juma, N. G. (1999). The Pedosphere and Its Dynamics, In A Systems Approach to Soil Science.  Volume 1: Introduction  to Soil Science and Soil Resources. Salman Productions Inc.

Miehlich, G. (2008) Raising soil awareness – a hard job but worth to “go for it”. Paper presented at EUROSOIL 2008 symposium S22: Education in soil science and raising public awareness.

Yaalon, D. H. (1996) Soil science in transition: Soil awareness and soil care research strategies. Soil Science, (161)1, 3-6.


Aftermath Of The October Snow Storm: Can we afford not to think about soil?

November 19, 2011

The Oct. 29-30 storm downed scores of trees and utility wires, leaving 3 million homes and businesses in the Northeast without power.  Hardest hit was Connecticut, where a state record of 850,000 outages was set only two months after Tropical Storm Irene caused a then-record 830,000 power failures (Collins, Dave and Haigh, 2011).  Both events brought over a week of power outages to residents in central Connecticut, due to downed power lines, trees, and branches.  The unusually early October snowstorm hit trees particularly hard as many were still covered in leaves.  The heavy wet snow broke branches, limbs and took down entire trees.  For the past several weeks there has been a steady stream of trucks offloading piles of brush, which are ground up at the Trout Brook parking lot at the UCONN campus in West Hartford, CT.  A mountain of chipped biomass sits steaming and decomposing as officials try to figure out what to do with the material.

The looming mountain of chipped biomass tells two stories.  The first is a story of the aftermath of two unusually powerful storms that impacted the residets of Connecticut.  The second story is one that is more complex, but equally important.   This story is clearly visible if you choose to look deeper, from the lens of soil and our earth systems.  Natural systems brought the wind, rain, snow, and ice that was ultimately responsible for the devastating and disruptive events.  On the other hand the same complex natural systems also bring positive things like sun, water, and earth which together, sustain life on this planet.

Ironically, the unusual storm event may be as much our own doing as our lack of preparedness and understanding of how connected and reliant we are on the natural world.   If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t spurred to realize the urgency or importance of soil and earth systems then one might have reason to be pessimistic of our future.   If we can see this event as a powerful reminder of our inherent connection to the natural world, and through a broader worldview there is hope and optimism for the future.

Perhaps the importance of realizing the significance of soil can be illustrated through the following question.  How can understanding soil offer creative opportunities that look beyond the immediate challenges and extend to bringing a broader systems approach to addressing our immediate and future needs?   I am of the mind that the answer to this question lies in what I see in the heap of decomposing biomass.  This mountain of energy represents social, ecological and economic opportunities rather than the perceived financial liability in the aftermath of the storm.

The devastation left behind by the storm is awe-inspiring.  The clean up which followed is estimated to cost over $6.8 million dollars.  Ironically, the challenge of what to do with all the downed trees caught local, and regional leaders off guard.  Ill prepared for the emergency at hand, the crisis that unfolded was dealt with as a technical problem.  First, the clean up effort was contracted to out of state contractors, the lowest bidder, rather than coordinating with local businesses who could have benefitted from the work in a sluggish economy and keeping federal and state funds local in the clean up effort.  Secondly, instead of viewing the downed trees as a liability, could understanding of soil and earth systems offer a broader perspective?  Instead, a new paradigm might view downed tree limbs as an incredible energy resource.  The emense biomass accumulated, instead could have been harvested, composted and redistributed to the community as a value add rather than an liability.  The Intervale project in Burlington serves as a good example of how we can turn food scraps and organic matter into vital aspects of making our communities more sustainable, resilient and connected.

In conclusion, broader understanding and complex systems thinking illustrates that we can’t afford not to think about the importance of earth systems and soil.  Soil is our foundation for life, a critical component that affects the energy budget, water exchange, nutrient cycling and ecosystems productivity (Juma, N. G., 1999).  While critically important the challenge in asking organizations to think about soil in this way, risks significant hurdles of acceptance, however it seems a crucial ingredient in order to begin addressing the challenges of climate instability and increasing pressure on our natural environment.  A more tangible solutions is to look at organizational successes like those that have been achieved by organizations like Interval which can successfully illustrate and beauty, fulfillment and vibrant beauty that lies in our natural world through compost, food, and community.  Connecting these elements in this model can offer a powerful example of the value of balancing people, planet and profits.  In this manner, complex systems thinking and a triple bottom line strategy may offer greater value in its benefit to society, the environment, and the economy.

Noah Tuthill

Antioch Organizational Management, MBA 2013

November 16, 2011

References

“Connecticut Snowstorm Highlights Problem With Utility Companies,” Collins, Dave and Haigh, Susan, Available online, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/12/connecticut-snowstorm-utilities_n_1090009.html, Nov 16, 2011.

Juma, N. G. (1999). “The Pedosphere and Its Dynamics.” A Systems Approach to Soil Science. Volume 1: Introduction to Soil Science and Soil Resources. Salman Productions Inc.


Call me a soil supporter!

November 19, 2011

The topic of soil is a funny one for me.  Back in eighth grade, I had a science teacher, Mrs. Johnson, who used to say that soil was what was on her counters but it was called dirt when it hit the floor.  I don’t remember much about that class but for some reason that stuck with me.

I like how in the document, “What is soil?,” scientists “described soil as the skin of the Earth” (Introduction to Soil Science and Soil Resources, n.d.).  I think that soil is taken for granted.  We just assume that it will always be there and that it can’t be harmed.  The pedosphere or soil is really interesting because it interacts with most (if not all) of the other systems.  For example, “soil forms when there is an interaction of the lithosphere (minerals), biosphere (life), atmosphere (air), and hydrosphere (water)” (Introduction to Soil Science and Soil Resources, n.d.).  I know that before this Earth Systems class, I didn’t think of that.  Soil was something that I walked on or tracked into the house.  I never really put much thought into it and I feel that I’m not alone in that.  However, without soil, there would no plants, no where for some creatures to live in which means that they would be susceptible to predators and the whole food chain would be in danger and humans would not exist.  Quite incredible for something that we all take advantage of!

I am encouraged when I read things like the Intervale Community Farm.  At first it is a sad story that talks about  how Intervale was a city dump and was abused for years.  But Will Raap, had a different vision for this land.  In 1985, he leased land from a local farmer and brought the Gardener’s Supply to Intervale.  “In 1989, Intervale Community Farm, Vermont’s first Community Supported Agriculture farm, opened in Intervale.  The next year, the nonprofit The Intervale was formed.  The goals were simple: recycle the city’s waste into compost; use that compost to heal the damage soil; give fledgling organic farmers affordable leases for land and farm equipment to help them get started; and return fresh, healthful produce to the community” (Grogan, J., 2004).

That just warms my heart.  It also gets me thinking about my land.  How do I treat my soil?  Is it damaged?  Should I be concerned about it?  I’m not sure what happened on the land before I purchased it.  Now I’m not going to take my soil for granted!  I have become a soil supporter!  Join me in supporting soil!

Reference:

Grogan, J., (2004). Paradise.  Intervale Compost Products.  Retrieved from: http://www.intervale.org/compost/art/Paradise.htm

What is Soil?  (n.d.).  Retrieved from: http://www.pedosphere.com/volume01/pdf/section_01.pdf

Amanda Gourgue, CMP, LEED AP

MBA Candidate, 2013


November 16, 2011

How do we get organizations to think abut soils? We can present them with similar information contained in the sample websites, but not all at once and only in a selective order. Each site contains useful, important information regarding soil – the science of it and it’s undeniable link to everything in existence. Though as we’ve discussed, the communication style and the content’s degree of complexity will influence who we get to listen and how long we keep their attention. I assume we are speaking to an organization about soil for a very specific reason – either we are concerned with how their organization, or one in their direct network, is utilizing land or plans to utilize land. Knowing our target is key. Are they a large organization that only does the bare minimum to meet environmental regulations just to avoid fines? Does their organization adhere to a responsible mission and business model, but lacks the expertise or resources to reduce less favorable impacts on the soil and environmental? Or are they a small business that does actively monitor the effects their practices have on the surrounding land and that we would like to recruit to join a collaborative advocacy network? Every business owner has a different set of values, both personally and professionally. Therefore, the hooks for engaging each will vary. We will either be speaking to their heart or their wallet, or hopefully a even mix of the two.

To reach the money-minded CEO, we would be wise to discuss the financial benefits of implementing proper land management techniques. Early planning and upfront investments can pay off in large savings that may otherwise go towards fines or costly repairs. When the CEO sees the fattened bottom line, he/she tells us to send the dense soil science literature to their operations manager and his legal team. To reach the good-natured, small-business owner we would discuss the importance of healthy soil and the ways it can affect local wildlife and surrounding communities. They may not realize a certain practice of theirs is contributing to soil or water degradation downstream through non-point pollution runoff. After he recovers from the shock that his small operation is directly harming a neighboring community, he will seek further education about soil science and adjust his finances to meet the required changes.

And if neither of those work, we will muscle each business owner into a van and drive them out to Intervale. It sounds like they could learn a lot from a visit to the “living experiment”. Intervale perfectly demonstrates how mismanaged land, with appropriate care and planning, can be rejuvenated into valuable land – economically, environmentally and socially. The interconnectedness of the three systems is on full display. Even if an organization is not dealing with a soil issue specifically, the extensive initiatives show how holistic systems thinking can be put to use, practically and theoretically. Though an important question to consider is, how scalable is that model and what components are transferrable to any given organization?

Vance
Antioch MBA ’13

————

I came across these interesting soil maps of Africa. If the data doesn’t interest you, they sure are aesthetically pleasing. http://pruned.blogspot.com/2009/08/soil-maps-of-africa.html#


Should soils be a forefront issue? Probably not.

November 15, 2011

My first reaction when reading this blog prompt was one of disagreement. Honestly, when their are so many kids out there that don’t even know that a carrot comes out of the ground- trying to raise awareness about soils seems like to far of a leap from some more pressing issues. As an organic gardener and farmer, I’d be the first among us to argue that soil management is incredibly important- but I have to disagree that it should be a forefront issue for organizations to focus on. I feel like there are so many other more basic and important issues to get people to open their minds too- soils might be too far of a stretch.

With that said, one area that I think has an obligation to address soil issues is that of international development/aid organizations. Brown lays out pretty clearly how our conventional agriculture system has led to depleted topsoils, declining productivity, abandonment of farm land, desertification, and sedimentation of rivers and waterways. Seeing first hand the negative effects of our current systems, I think we need to do more to make sure that developing nations don’t make the same mistakes that we did. Its a similar parallel with developing nations walking in our footsteps as far as fossil fuel reliance is concerned: we can’t export such a unsustainable development paradigm. With hunger and poverty being such a demanding issue- it is hard to argue that the techniques of the Green Revolution should be put on hold to develop a more holistic, and productive in the long term, approach. However I think the trends in ag need to take a 180 and reverse back to smaller, more diversified production.

One organization I’d like to highlight as far as this approach is concerned is Tillers International- based out of Michigan. Their mission is “to preserve, study, and exchange low-capital technologies that increase the productivity of rural communities.” They do hands on training with rural communities to reintroduce lost skills- I first heard of them because a lot of what they do revolves around using animal power. But not only do they educate about the uses of draft power, a huge component of their work involves distributing plans to make yokes, blacksmithing tools/equipment components, and more advanced skills such as wheel making. The work they do is just a drop in the bucket as far as impact is concerned, but slowly they are sowing the seeds of resiliency and agricultural independence in rural, developing nations.


Soil as a Natural Resource

November 13, 2011

To get organizations thinking about and discussing soil, just ask them this simple question:

 How do you feed seven billion people?

The intent of this question is to draw a connection between our food and where it grows from, the soil.  Soil is often forgotten about as a natural resource.  Yet, it is a critical component to agriculture.  Developing fertile soil to support agriculture is a dynamic process.  It is dependent upon the interactions of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere.  Soil is not merely the sum of minerals, organic matter, water and air, but the product of their interactions (Juma, 1999).

In Plan B, Brown calls food security, “the weak link” because the demand side of the food equation is driven by population growth, increased consumption of grain-based animal protein, and the use of gain to fuel cars is far exceeding the supply side.  Food production can not meet these increasing demands because of cropland lost through erosion, desertification, and urban development (Brown, 2009).  Greater emphasis soil conservation is needed to help with the restoration of this resource to support the production of food.  More positive examples are needed, such as the Intervale Community Farm in Burlington, VT.  This is a great example of how an abandoned and forgotten land was reclaimed and turned into productive farm land to serve the greater community.

Brown, L. (2009). Plan B 4.0 Moblilizing to Save Civilization. Earth Policy Institute.

Juma, N. G. (1999). The Pedosphere and Its Dynamics. A Systems Approach to Soil Science. Volume 1: Introduction to Soil Science and Soil Resources. Salman Productions Inc.

 


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