J500 Media and the Environment

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

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

Learning Through Service by micolea
April 30, 2010, 1:53 am
Filed under: J500 Week 14, Society + Media | Tags: , ,

I am astounded by the vast amount of knowledge I have acquired from this course. When I enrolled in this class, I expected to come away having learned about various ways to be environmentally conscious and knowing definitions of environmental terms. What I didn’t expect to happen was to gain valuable insight on issues ranging from factory farms to food labels to the cleanliness of water.    

From day one of this class, I discovered that environmental issues are also human issues. Before, I thought of it as completely separate concerns-one having nothing to do with the other. I was under the impression that environmental issues didn’t affect me; which made me, in part, disconnected from my surroundings. I assumed that my daily routines and practices were too minuscule to have an effect on others or the world around me.  

I was mistaken.  

Throughout the course I started to see and understand the importance of the connection between people and the planet. My point of view began to change. By using food and agriculture as our lenses through which we viewed environmental matters, it brought about the realization that environmental issues are also day-to-day concerns such as, purchasing produce sprayed with pesticides, pumping gasoline into our cars and discovering the by products in drinking water.   

Photo by Only Sequel/Courtesy Flickr


This class was made all the more rewarding by getting the opportunity to give back to our community through service learning with the Douglas County Food Policy Council. The aim of the DCFPC is to attain a local, sustainable food system for Douglas County. To me, the best way to learn is through active learning. Getting the chance to speak with people in our community and to be an influential part of creating a local food system for our county, for this generation and future generations, took learning to an extraordinary level.  

All in all, this class gave me a new-found respect for the world which I inhabit. I learned life lessons that I will carry with my throughout my existence. This four-month journey has taught me that even though change takes time, it is forthcoming. To be a part of that change towards a more sustainable environment is breathtaking. 

Micole Aronowitz

Learning by Serving by monicadela

Who’s on my list of heroes? The staff and volunteers of the Lawrence Community Shelter. Day after day they give the very best of themselves to those who are out of options. Working with LCS reminded me how rewarding it is to help those who have so little. It also reminded me that life doesn’t play favorites.  Anyone can be out of a job, out of money and out of luck. There’s so much need right under our noses in Johnson and Douglas counties. There are so many who are invisible and so few people who see and help them. It was a great feeling to put not only my mind, but also my heart into helping LCS.

David Pirtle really hit my conscience when he said, “you are what society names you.” In his case it was “trash,” “bum” and “homeless.” He hadn’t been called by his own name in two years. I can’t imagine going through life completely disregarded. There’s no greater feeling of hopelessness than loneliness.

Every morning I pass at least three homeless men on my way to work. They stand on the corner of I-35 and West Pennway.  I always felt guilty as I passed by, avoiding eye contact. I pretended they didn’t exist.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, courtesy of www. uweb.ucsb.edu

I sit here reflecting on Mother Teresa and her selfless leadership in helping the “untouchables” of Calcutta. She said, “being unwanted, unloved, uncared for and forgotten by everybody is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

I now make eye contact with the homeless men on my way to work, throwing in a little grin now and then. I’m working my way up to a “hello.” I want to offer them a sign of acknowledgement, an affirmation that they exist. We all deserve that dignity.

-Monica D.-

Sustaining Hope by jasonmer

My sophomore year in college had an inauspicious start—a bicycle, a backpack full of clothes, and fifty dollars to my name.  A father’s disdain for his son’s summer of excess provides the backdrop on a difficult lesson.  I spent a few weeks sleeping in parks, dodging police cars at night, and eating “dumpster burgers” when my money ran out.  It was strangely trivial at the time because I knew there was a quick and definite end in sight.  School would start soon, my tutoring job would begin, the work study in the metal/woods shop would be waiting for me, and everything would be O.K.  I had hope.

My Service-Learning experience shows that the Lawrence Community Shelter provides hope.

Through my own observations, hope comes in many forms at LCS.  Staff and volunteers provide hope by treating the homeless with compassion and sensitivity.  Hope comes in the form of successful case management; taking the “less” out of homeless.  Hope comes from community donations and volunteerism—they sustain LCS.

My Service-Learning experience also taught that volunteering is good for the volunteer.  Research consistently points to the benefits of volunteering on both physical and mental well being.

My Service-Learning experience demonstrates the impact of undertaking the small and seemingly insignificant.  For example, during a visit to the shelter I brought in a surplus of toiletries (i.e. shampoo, razors, soap, toothpaste, etc.).  Within the first few minutes of my visit the razors became the most valuable donation.  I almost left the razors at home because I thought of them as…inconsequential.

Social sustainability issues such as homelessness need an advocate.  Advocacy journalism serves many purposes but few more important than the social responsibility to humankind and the need for shelter.

The week of my college graduation I told my teacher thanks for bestowing an education to me.  My teacher replied, “Thank me in five years.  My success is defined by your inspiration to learn more.”  I haven’t forgotten that talk.  

Today, on the broader subject of sustainability (people, planet, profit), I have inspiration to learn more.

Jason Merckling

Is Our Society Sustainable? by IanN
July 26, 2009, 10:39 am
Filed under: J840 Week 6, Justice + Outreach | Tags: , ,

Service learning is a great concept because everybody wins. It allows us students to tackle real-world challenges while lending a hand to organization’s that can use the free professional help (which can be quite an investment if contracted out). Plus, it also exposes students to social welfare causes that make a business-geared education something more than just about making money. An article in a recent Harvard Business Review states that “it’s hard to top the sense of satisfaction you get from using your vocational strengths to make a difference to a worthy cause” (“Leadership in the New World”). It also teaches us about building a better community as well.

When we first discussed our service learning projects, I wondered how homelessness was related to the environment and sustainability. It seems that with our unemployment rate currently around 10 percent, a sustainable life is not possible for many Americans. “Homelessness: Old and New” by Kim Hopper points out that homelessness is a function of poverty — which is essentially a lack of material resources. Is our country sustainable if we cannot feed, house, provide jobs, and healthcare (the basic necessities of modern life) to all of our citizens that want to participate in our society? Does a society that is not sustainable eventually collapse like one that is not environmentally sustainable. Many scientists believe that the ancient Maya caused the destruction of their civilization through the unsustainable use of resources. Could have the Roman Empire collapsed because it was socially unsustainable?

Learning more about homelessness has helped me to recognize my own prejudices and fears in this regard. Is my fear or ignoring of a homeless person I run into in the street a primordial or social instinct? The settler’s fear of the nomad?

After completing this project, I have a more compassionate view of the plight of homeless people. Homelessness is a social welfare issue that is largely ignored in our county. There is much more sympathy in this country for homeless pets than homeless people. Sadly, in addition to rough living conditions, homelessness leads to the isolation from society and even humanity.

–Ian N.

A Lasting Connection by alyv

At The University of Arizona, I learned journalism basics:

What I'd lost.

What I'd lost.

•    keep intros short
•    lead with the news
•    get the names right
•    And, most importantly, always pick a personal interview over a voice on the phone.

After jumping head-first into a new school, new city, new job, I lost that golden rule of journalism. I lost what it meant to talk to someone face to face, and what that could do for the story.

This class and the service-learning project helped me find it again.

When I first learned about the farmer project, I thought it was just another crazy thing I had to add to my already overloaded schedule.

No way, I thought, would I have time to interview this farmer in Kansas City. No way could this man have anything to say that I couldn’t get over the phone.

No way would I visit his farm not once, but twice, and leave the second time promising to return this summer to help with the harvest.

Now I know better.

The personal connection I was able to make with Pov Huns stretched beyond reporting his story into coming to terms with the life I, and so many like me, are living.

People like me let their schedule rule their life. They’re always running late, always sacrificing quality of work, and life, in the crunch of time. They’re watching their life pass without having a chance to see it, afraid that pausing for too long will prevent them from moving forward.

Connect with farmers, connect with food.

Connect with farmers, connect with food.

But that’s not what happens. When you pause, when you take time to connect with people, you get to meet immigrants from Zambia and urban farmers in Kansas City. You get to see people, really see them. And you get to learn more about yourself and your world than you ever did from inside your hourglass.

This project helped me see that I shouldn’t be disconnected from anything, so I’m starting with my food. No longer will I buy green beans from the frozen section when they’re in season and grown by people I can meet and connect with.

I want to know the name of the woman who grew the tomatoes in my lasagna; I want to be able to describe the man who harvested the lemongrass in my tea. I want to connect to food, to people, to my life in ways I couldn’t see before.

Life is about connections; it has to be. And this service-learning project helped me see that.

Without the service-learning project, I would have continued chasing after that last hour, last minute, last second. But now I see there’s more to life than making deadlines, and that there’s a physical person behind the voice who has more to say than words can tell.

No way will I ever lose that again.

By AlyV