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AU Sustainability Fund Grants Are Put To Practical Use

By Laura Larrimore

Beekeeping - sustainability project

Last fall, for the first time, the AU Sustainability Fund awarded seven grants to help fund new projects or strengthen existing initiatives that advance sustainability within the AU Community. To qualify for the grant, proposed projects had to show direct, preferably long-term, impact on AU’s campus. According to Director of Sustainability Chris O’Brien, “The Sustainability Fund gives students, faculty, and staff a chance to be creative and get funding for novel campus sustainability projects.”

The grants funded such things as the purchase of a bike repair station for AU commuters, methods to make campus composting easier and more convenient, and the installation of rain barrels to capture rainwater for AU’s green roofs.

The grants have had an outsized impact at AU and in the surrounding community. For example, Jennifer Jones, an environmental studies student and the creator of a grant proposal to increase awareness of AU’s Community Garden noted, “This Friday, 50 kindergarteners are coming to the AU Community Garden to learn a little bit about gardening.”

This spring, when the Community Garden was relocated because of the planned expansion to Nebraska Hall, the grant helped fund improvements for a new garden and increased outreach to the community to promote its new location behind Leonard Hall. “We’re very excited about the garden’s new home,” Jones said, “it’s easier to get to and a more central location. It’s huge. It’s twice what we had at the other spot.”

While Jones’ project encourages the community to get involved in the garden, Kristina Kladis’ grant took her up – way up – to capture aerial footage of factory farms for her documentary Cutting Your Meat: The Environmental Effects of Meat Production. Kladis, a political science and journalism student from Indiana, interviewed farmers in her home state to find out “what it’s like to live really close to a huge farm.” Kladis said, “I did the aerial filming to show people what farms look like today. They don’t look like red barns. They aren’t that small.”

In addition to interviewing farmers and filming factory farms from the air, Kladis’ film also documents how AU sources its meat. The film will premiere during Earth Week on Tuesday, April 17 at 8 p.m. in Ward 2.

A third grant helped strengthen AU’s apiary, which lost the majority of its beehives during Hurricane Irene. The grant enabled Eve Bratman, a School of International Service (SIS) faculty member, to purchase bees to populate three new hives which were then installed on the roof of Mary Graydon Center. “Part of the reason I applied for the grant was to get a new location [for the beehives] that was more public,” said Bratman.

The new bees also came with an unexpected bonus. “There are not three, but four hives now. As we were doing the installation, one of the hives split. We were able to capture the swarm, bringing our total number of hives on campus to five.”

The bees have attracted a lot of attention, and Bratman has been working with a group of students and community members since getting the grant doing beekeeping education. She and other AU beekeepers hope to make the on-campus bees even more visible by offering tours of the Mary Graydon Center apiary during Earth Week and installing a “bee cam” on the roof of the SIS building so people can monitor the fifth beehive. “Bee populations are in decline and beekeeping is one way we can help the honey bees stay strong.”

Other grant-funded projects still in progress will see their final and most visible steps completed this summer or fall. Nihal Krishan, an international studies student, has spent the past six months working with Aramark, the Facilities Office, and the Office of Housing and Dining to determine the logistics and feasibility of installing composting bins in dormitory kitchens. “The proposal is for a pilot program for Centennial Hall to get six compost bins, one for each floor,” says Krishan.

As a resident of Centennial Hall, Krishan noticed that many students generated compostable waste but the only option for disposal was in dorm trash cans. In his pilot project, Krishan says, “The compost bin would be right next to the stove and ovens where the cooking is happening. In essence, it’s diverting the waste from the trash bin to the compost bin, not making anything more complicated for students, but providing a more efficient way of disposing of the waste.”

Krishan has been working with the Office of Housing and Dining to cover the increased labor cost associated with maintaining the additional bins, and he expects the bins to be in place by the fall and hopes the pilot program might pave the way for additional bins in other dormitories.

This year’s awardees will present updates on their projects’ progress and be available to answer questions as part of the AU Earth Week festivities on Monday April 16, from 10 a.m. to noon in the Battelle Atrium. The Sustainability Fund will begin accepting grant proposals for the 2012-2013 academic year in the fall. A synopsis of each of the seven current grant projects is available on the grant webpage.