J500 Media and the Environment


Cordley students whet their appetites for local food by jmuselmann

Excitement was in the air today at Cordley Elementary. It was the familiar, childlike vigor the comes from trying something new, and it was shared by both adults and kids alike as they filed into the gymnasium — not the cafeteria — for their first-ever locally sourced lunch. The term is “farm-to-school,” and judging from the content faces forking up the lasagna, it hit the spot.

The lunch was the culmination of a week of learning for the students, which spanned teaching about the benefits to local and organic foods to fields trips picking strawberries and gathering eggs from local farms (both of which were popular in the salad bar). In surveying the participants of the grand experiment about the typical lunch fare in the cafeteria, I got a sea of downward thumbs and “baaaad.” Fourth-grader Ainsley Agnew said it was just “grossness,” while on my other side was Pria Jean-Baptiste, also a fourth-grader, giving me a minutely detailed lesson about how to make the pasta from scratch. I should have taken better notes.

But the satisfaction didn’t come just from the good food, which included vegetarian and beef lasagna, bread sticks, salad, Iwig Family Dairy milk and a strawberry rhubarb confection, but also in the hard work to plan for it. Linda Cottin, the event’s organizer, said the meal had been in the works since November.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of community support, and I am happy that there’s a way to do this without all the work and make this an everyday function in the schools,” she said.

Rick Martin, head chef for the event (and at Free State Brewing Co.), agreed, saying that “After having this model, it will be easier” to accomplish in other schools and on a more permanent basis. That indeed was the consensus in the organizers’ post-lunch discussion, noting that Lawrence has the nearby farms and public interest to achieve it.

In a sense, the setting was typical: rambunctious kids at lunchtime, cracking jokes and playing with their food before politely running outside for recess. But it wasn’t. For the grown-ups — smiling volunteers and paparazzi abuzz to capture the moment — it was an accomplishment in the face of convention. Lindsey Kellenbarger, a teacher, also brought her camera for the momentous occasion, knowing the potential impact this seemingly ordinary lunch could have on the students.

“I got a kid to eat a turnip that I didn’t think would. That’s exciting,” she said.

—Jacob M.



Discerning service learning by jmuselmann

Sula Teller, food manager at The Merc, just after our interview.

Up until recently, it was difficult to put the scope of my involvement with the Douglas County Food Policy Council in perspective. Our class, Media & the Environment, has been a fusion of journalism and environmental studies departments, and each week we have been blogging about food as a way of getting our feet wet  with both these issues.

But a big part of our class was also to work for the newly formed food council as an interlocutor, surveying different stakeholders in the community as well as Lawrence residents to report back our findings — along with some research — to the council. The goal was to the “What,” the “Why” and the “How” of a local food system for Lawrence. Our group tackled the “Why” aspect.

In going out and interviewing local stakeholders as well as residents, I really started to realize how much of an impact the DCFPC could have, and how important these issues are to everyone, whether they take the time to think about it or not. Simply the act of putting everything else on hold and sitting down to talk about everyday things that most people don’t pay much attention to made me realize the pervasiveness of food attitudes that permeate other aspects of life. Calling attention to these seemingly mundane details about their work, food, and sustainability helped me see the importance of the DCFPC, and also why I had initially written it off as something bureaucratic whose goals I already had the gist of.

Wrong! It’s now apparent to me that the DCFPC is striving to be as vital as the issues it is fighting for. It really hit home when I spent a day in the Section 8 affordable housing district in north Lawrence. There I got to see and hear about how food accessibility (or rather the lack thereof) is directly affecting the lives of entire families. Hearing about families’ struggles made abstract goals of the DCFPC become very real, pertinent and necessary.

All in all, I’ve loved working for the Douglas County Food Policy Council. Working in small groups with a specific goal was rewarding. It felt good to know that we were making a difference and doing work for a task force that really needed our help. That kind of learning and satisfaction transcends earning grades in a grade book — it is immersive, substantial and can meaningfully affect the lives of many people for the better.

—Jacob Muselmann



School House Rap by KaylaReg
April 30, 2010, 5:25 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 14, Society + Media

A very long time ago, I read an article in Rolling Stone about Liberia and thought to myself “I have to do something.” That was when I first realized the true power of words and decided I wanted to be a journalist. `Now, despite all of the issues facing the world and criticism of mainstream media, I still think journalism can help, but we have to be creative. This is something media and the environment made me realize.

No longer can we get the public concerned by simply writing an article about the pork industry. We have to interact with the issue and see it from all sides. We have to collaborate with the public, not just preach to it. Working with the Douglas County Food Policy Council was a great opportunity, in that we were able to discuss the needs of the community with a diverse group of people who really cared, not just talk about the various issues affecting our society in the classroom. This allowed us to see how various solutions can be applied and put human faces behind the issue of food justice.

While doing research for my weekly blog posts, I’d come across fact after fact telling me the world is going to hell and taking us with it.

When so many things seem to be working against us, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, fatalistic and cynical. I know I can get that way sometimes, as there’s always a little voice in my head asking “what’s the point if our doom is already set in place?” While this class certainly opened my eyes to the severity of the issues facing food justice, it was also a source of hope. Every Tuesday, a group of students would meet to talk about the problems with food and how we can face them. We were only one small part of a much bigger discussion, and that makes me so optimistic. As my favorite late night talk show host said on his last night of the Tonight Show, “I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere… But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

Now, nearly two months away from receiving my bachelors of science in journalism and mass communications, I think this sentiment reflects the most important thing I learned in class. As a journalist, I cannot stoop to cynicism. I have to continue to work hard for causes I believe in and I have to do my best to involve everyone in this fight.

Finally, whenever someone says “be creative,” my first response is to write a poem/rap. So, here’s a rap about the class. Recite to the tune of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Now this is a poem all about how

My food got flipped, turned upside down

It’s posted on this blog so read if you care

And I’ll tell you bout how I learned our food just isn’t fair

In Wichita Kansas, born and raised

Now the newsrooms where I spend most of my days

Stauffer Flint had me actin’ like a fool

But j500 was my favorite part of school

Learning bout media what they shouldn’t do and should

and workin’ with the food in our neighborhood

we posted blogs each week and sometimes I got scared

cuz the environment is something that I really do care

But the class taught me that there’s no need to fear

and working with the DCFP made that crystal clear

If anything I could say that this class is rare

Try buyin local, organic, food traded fair

You know there’s more to food than the price or it’s taste?

We can preach it in every home, Christmas, and Seder

media, environment, a crucial pair

affecting us all, from Lawrence to Bel-Air.

-Kayla R.



Satisfaction Through Learning by jackiemcc

What I expected to learn, and what I did learn in this course, couldn’t have been more different. I came into this course expecting to learn about ways in which we can be more environmentally responsible, like recycling. In fact, we didn’t learn much about that at all. We discussed how food impacts the environment. Not only did we learn about general knowledge of environmental food issues, like the difference between “local” and “organic,” but we contributed to the community as well.

This semester we were able to work the newly-formed Douglas County Food Policy Council for our service learning project. For me, this was the best part of the class. I am in another service learning course this semester, and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone in the community while learning, is tremendous. When you are able to have a hands-on experience, you learn so much more than you could by reading a book. Hands-on experiences help you connect and see how things work and impact your life.

Through this experience, I was able to learn about the impact of local foods to many local farmers and KU students. I didn’t realize its impact on so many people. Before this class, local foods didn’t really cross my mind. I knew they existed, but I didn’t realize they were that big of an issue. I thought eating them was something people did nonchalantly. From this experience, I realize it’s larger than that; for some people, it is their life.

Through my interviews, I also learned about and toured a hoop house. A hoop house is a plastic-roofed greenhouse. Photo Courtesy of: http://www.growingformarket.com.

This experience impacted me the most because of our involvement with the community though. After all is said and done, I feel satisfied knowing that I contributed to the community, and that all my hard work will pay off for someone else too, not just me (as compared to a non-service learning course where I’m just earning a grade for myself). It makes me feel good that I am helping someone else out.

-Jackie McClellan



Reflections on the semester: The whole enchilada by jmuselmann

Food is at the fiber of our very being. It is passed around piping hot with potholders, it is handed to us, self-contained, through the car door in paper sacks and divvied accordingly. It’s what we eat because our family does, our friends have tried, our mothers can afford. We throw it away, and we raise it high above our heads for to honor a friend or deity as an intentional sacrifice. Boxed up, it is heaved and flown across the world, passing some to bless others.

One way or another, people get their hands on food. And then we all have the decision of what to do with it. Some have the luxury of waiting to eat it, others use it as currency or a positioning of power, while for many others, who have not been able to make the decision in quite some time, it is always this: Put it into the holes in our faces in time to prolong death.

Of course by this point, we know we aren’t just talking about food. But rather, how food passes and intersects with our needs for a healthy environment and body whole. The need for change is dire and yet lingers on. The idea of going green is gaining unprecedented momentum, and yet, in many ways, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. People can easily eat their organic cake and not recycle, and we let them. But even within the green universe, there lies a wad of inconsistencies and tradeoffs to be sifted through and decided upon. It’s a voyage that has caused more than one breakdown in the grocery store, where I’m stunned into inaction, clutching my wallet in front of the onions, biting my lip at the global repercussions. Often I leave almost empty-handed. Pressure too great.

People say, “the choice is up to us” as consumers, but it sure is hard. Without good legislative infrastructure to guide food ways, it shouldn’t be surprising that it veers toward the same reckless trajectory as other things in this country, trailing irreversible damage in the wake of progress and profit.

Take me, for example: At least in some point in my life, I have recycled. I have also littered. Oh, and I have been the one calling into report the tags of those I see throw things out of their cars while driving: approximate time of infringement, rough location, type of violation, what kind of model and the company make. I guess this class has shown me that maybe I don’t need a number in my glove box to bring about change, I need only open my fridge instead.

—Jacob Muselmann



Food, Service and Industry by Sean T.

Farms are magical places. No matter what season it is, something is happening. In winter, you plan; in spring, you plant; in summer, you grow; in fall, you harvest. Through working with Douglas County Food Policy Council I learned how busy farmers stay keeping up with nature’s cycles. We can’t control the elements, but we can help them out keeping our soil and water clean.

For the most part, Douglas County has great soil. This (and a local market) encourages farmers to start new operations or continue with old ones.  After I interviewed farmers I learned that soil is a resource that can be easily tainted. Chemical runoff from neighbors and erosion from heavy wind and rain constantly irritate farmers. If we want our rich soil to stay valuable we–as a community–need to have a no-nonsense approach to chemical pollution of our soil and streams.

Through my interviews I learned that water is another vital resource. Every farm I visited had a different water source. One had a spring-fed well. Two farmers got county water from Clinton Lake. The last one I talked to had no choice but to collect rainwater for plants (her well water was too salty and her land was not near a water line).

Preserving this water and soil is essential to a local food system. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides decrease our farmers’ ability to succeed. Without water nothing can grow (including ourselves). We have to protect water sources as the wells of our livelihood.

Development is another issue. As the City Commission approves farmland for business parks they must think of consequences. Charlie Novogradac’s chestnut grove, near the Lawrence airport, is at risk of flooding if development continues. It’s because he has low-lying land; his neighbors are at higher elevations. If the areas above him don’t have open ground to soak in rain it will rush downhill and drown his trees. This is hardly the thank you note he deserves for providing the Lawrence area with organic nuts for over 10 years.

Community support is something that all farmers appreciated. It is what they need to sell their product. To grow community support, we should start an education mission for local foods. We need to get into grade schools, high schools and college campuses in the area. Big farms spend millions of dollars in advertising every year; we need our local government to step up and spend to promote our local growers.

The parking lot for the Farmers’ Market is an example of support. But a small one. We need to see gardens in abandoned city lots. Get the commissioners to tend to a garden. We need to get local food visible. If every citizen is a small-scale producer then we will be more apt to buy local when we can’t grow it ourselves. We have to start spoiling ourselves when it comes to local, organic food.

Farmers work hard enough to maintain resources. Through working with the DCFPC I learned most of all that local food needs all of our help. We have to contribute to reap its delicious rewards.

We need to start serving those who serve us.

The Wakarusa River (via Clinton Lake) provides most county farm water. We need to protect our water and soil to ensure a local food system for Douglas County. SOURCE-flickr.com

Sean T.



After all’s said and done by bendcohen

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when beginning a class on Media and the Environment.  Those are two very broad things that obviously have a relationship, but finding an interesting way to discuss that relationship in a semester-long college course could be difficult.  In order to really understand the way that mass media  and the environment are connected, the right way to do it in such a time frame is to focus on a specific area, and as I quickly discovered, that is what we were doing.  Admittedly, it is not one which I considered myself well-versed in.

I always hear about the importance of buying local, for the economic reasons if nothing else.  Buy local food, and you support people in your community, while reducing the power and influence of corporate giants like Wal-Mart.  Having once won $50 for making a poster making fun of Wal-Mart (their smiley-face logo had dollar signs for eyes, and the slogan became “Everyday Low Morals”), I’m obviously quite enthusiastic about this.  What I got a grasp on from reading about the various aspects of local foods was that there are many more affects to take pride in, beyond simply malicious joy at harming a chain store.

Local food systems provide the potential for work, community bonding, and healthy diets in places they otherwise would not be.  Food producers with a smaller market to worry about do not need to take such a concern with mass-production, and thus have less problems with animal cruelty, overuse of pesticides and antibiotics, and disruption of nearby communities.  I found it strangely appropriate that the Pitch, a Kansas City-based free magazine, published a story about  a major pork-producer in Missouri losing a court case regarding how the smell from its plant disrupted the lives of the people living nearby right after we discussed major meat producers in class.

That brings us to the “Media” aspect of this class.  While the focus of in-class discussions was often on local food itself, everything was prompted by an article either on a blog or a major media outlet.  Having briefly flirted with becoming a Journalism major early in my college career (I happily went with Political Science instead), the role the media plays as a gatekeeper in any subject interests me.  The semester previous to this one, I took a class on Media and Politics, and got to examine how media outlets, both big and small, portray people and issues.  I started this class curious about the kinds of rhetoric I’d hear regarding the environment within mass media, though my attention sort of shifted to simply WHO was covering food systems.  I mentioned the Pitch, a decidedly alternative publication before, and have noticed that most places which give food the time of day are also smaller, “alternative” sources.  When a major outlet like NPR or the New York Times pays attention, it is in the form of a special interest story, or a response to something else (like a critical NPR review of “Food, Inc.”, from somebody who soon learned had yet to actually see that film).

The sole promotional image from my short-lived campaign for Governor of Kansas.

As a small player in the news media myself, I’m going to be looking with more interest having taken this class at how food is portrayed from here on.  And as a wannabe politician, maybe I’ll get to have a say in the things that make the news someday.  Time will tell.

~Ben C.




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