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Cobbler Cure – Doctor’s Orders

2014 July 1

By Thomas O’Donnell It might seem odd to get excited over apple or strawberry cobbler, but this batch touched a special chord. I work in EPA’s Philadelphia office on sustainability and food waste issues. I’ve been trying to find new ways to avoid throwing good food into landfills as part of the agency’s Food Recovery Challenge.  The National Resources Defense Council reported that fruits and vegetables make up the largest type of food going to waste from retail stores, 22 percent, in fact.  That could easily be more than 14 million pounds of fresh fruit in Philadelphia alone.

Picture of two chefs working in the kitchen

I brought one of the challenge participants, the produce team from Brown’s Parkside Shop-Rite supermarket in Philadelphia, together with Drexel University’s Culinary School. The school’s culinary director and a student were anxious to help and try something new.  The school’s mantra in situations where food is heading out the back door is to transform it into healthy, delicious meals. After we got to the store and talked about food recovery options, the folks from Shop-Rite took us to the produce section where they pulled some fruit that had minor imperfections that shoppers were not likely to purchase. A couple of cartons of strawberries and apples went back to the culinary school where the students worked on the challenge of turning what might have been trash into treasure. The next morning, I had six recipes in my email inbox, with the pictures of the cobbler you see included in this blog.  (The Shop-Rite folks were the lucky ones who got to enjoy this special treat.)

Picture of a cobbler in a pan.

It’s just cobbler, right?  True, but Drexel and Shop-Rite launched a successful experiment in food research that took slightly bruised or not perfectly shaped fruit that was destined for a compost pile, or a trash compactor and transformed it into delicious cobblers. They also created half-a-dozen recipes for things like applesauce and jam. How many times could this be done by someone who wants to make fresh meals for local food pantries or shelters?  Could this be a new opportunity for a local business?  The experiment has social and environmental benefits – great food for those in need and less food-waste sent to landfills where it becomes methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change. Fruits and vegetables are among the most difficult foods to repurpose to feeding needy people – a goal near the top of EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy.  This small experiment showed how to create delicious alternatives to disposal, and it was quick and fun. Being part of this little experiment was a blast. And, be assured that we’re going to do more research. Stay tuned!

Cooked cobbler on a plate.

About the author:  Thomas O’Donnell (NAHE) is a Sustainability Coordinator with the Mid-Atlantic Region of the USEPA specializing in the Food Recovery Challenge Program.  He received a PhD in environmental sciences from the University of Virginia. Tom was one of the originators of the Urban Model for Surplus Food recovery, which is piloting in west Philadelphia. He also teaches at Philadelphia University while developing open, online courses on food systems and sustainability.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Promoting Sustainability through Community Engagement in Jamaica: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

2014 June 30

By Kevin Fath

My experience while serving as a Peace Corps agribusiness adviser in Jamaica provided me with unique opportunities to learn, engage, and research at the community level. I served in Bluefields, a small coastal farming and fishing village in Westmoreland parish in southwest Jamaica. I worked primarily with a group of organic farmers, promoting sustainable agriculture and introducing climate change adaptation strategies through community engagement. As a participant in the Peace Corps Master’s International program through Texas A&M University, I also conducted research on the vulnerability of local agricultural livelihoods to climate change.

As part of the community integration and learning process, I facilitated an assessment with the Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society, a local organization engaged in production agriculture and home economics. The results of the assessment helped us to better understand factors affecting the economic and environmental sustainability of their livelihoods. Through informal discussions with farmers, I also gained awareness of how changing weather patterns, such as variable rainfall, increased risk for these small-scale farm families.

In October 2012, Bluefields community organizations were given the opportunity to apply for small grants to support the development of livelihood opportunities more resilient to climate change. Designing a project and submitting a successful proposal was easier because we had already collectively identified and prioritized the needs and interests of the organization.

 

Kevin Fath working with two members of the farmers group (Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society Ltd) to set up the main irrigation lines during the development of the organic demonstration farm.

Kevin Fath working with two members of the farmers group (Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society Ltd) to set up the main irrigation lines during the development of the organic demonstration farm.

 

Among other things, the funds we received went toward establishing an organic demonstration farm, where the group erected a structure to catch and store rainwater for a drip irrigation system. The farm was also used to host a Farmer Field School where community members learned about organic farming practices, the potential impacts of climate change, and possible adaptation and mitigation strategies. The group was also able to purchase improved processing equipment and received food safety training, important steps toward establishing a formal agribusiness.

 

Brian (Kevin’s Rastafarian supervisor left, in blue hat) teaching how to make compost at one of the Farmer Field School sessions held at the demonstration farm.

Brian (Kevin’s Rastafarian supervisor left, in blue hat) teaching how to make compost at one of the Farmer Field School sessions held at the demonstration farm.

The group continues to develop and improve the farm, as well as their processing capacity. More importantly, they are increasing resiliency by adapting new technology to their own cultural norms and practices. Working side-by-side with my Jamaican friends to establish the demonstration farm was not only one of the joys of my life, but also showed me how difficult it is to cultivate marginal lands with simple hand tools; a reality for millions of men and women around the world.

During my service, I also designed a study to assess the vulnerability of local agricultural livelihoods to climate change. My hope is that the results will illuminate areas where targeted programs can improve farmers’ resiliency and increase incomes. The data I collected can also be used to measure changes in vulnerability over time. I hope the change we’ll see in Bluefields will be that of more sustainable livelihoods through environmental stewardship and human empowerment. This is a very possible outcome if the Jamaican men and women I worked with in the farmers group are any indication.

 About the author: Kevin Fath of West Salem, Ohio served as an environment volunteer in Jamaica from 2012 – 2014. During his service, Kevin worked with Jamaican farmers on sustainable agricultural practices. A participant in the Peace Corps Master’s International program, Kevin will receive his master’s degree in International Agricultural Development from Texas A & M University later this year. Kevin is also a veteran who deployed twice during his 8-year enlistment in the Army Reserve prior to joining the Peace Corps.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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College Students + EPA = a Win for Local Communities

2014 June 27

By Michael Burns

The College/Underserved Partnership Program (CUPP) develops long term partnerships between local colleges and universities and underserved cities and communities. Through the program, the schools provide technical support to communities at no cost to them. I’ve had the opportunity to work on this program for several years, and to help expand it in the southeastern region of the U.S. With my coworkers, I’ve travelled through this area of the country and found that small, underserved communities are in need of resources to improve their environment and quality of life. However, they often lack the required technical expertise in engineering, transportation, and infrastructure planning to pursue these initiatives in a progressive and sustainable manner. We use our CUPP program to provide the support they need. Then communities are able to address these important issues – like energy savings projects, land reuse, and economic development – that will support their long-term viability.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve developed partnerships with nine colleges and 16 communities. Two new colleges will be joining this fall. (And, eight of these nine schools were already providing these services with no federal funding for support!) It’s been great to see our academic institutions place such a high value on the need to help others, and work to make a visible difference in communities that really need the help.

The schools have already done great work. Here’s some of the completed and planned projects in my region:

  •  A completed project between Darien, Georgia and Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia involved using solar stills to dewater sewage sludge. The dewatered sewage sludge was reduced by 30 percent, making the waste easier to handle and less costly to dispose of at a permitted facility.
  •  A pilot agricultural project between Shorter, Alabama and Tuskegee University will provide economic opportunities for underserved and underdeveloped lands.
  • Tuskegee University is also working to create solar panels to power sewage lift stations, thereby reducing operation costs to the city and reducing electrical usage.
  • Tennessee State University is providing Pleasant View, Tennessee an engineering analysis of their stormwater system so the city can address problems with the system.
  • In the fall, Clark Atlanta University will help Lithonia, Georgia develop a proposed private/public partnership for a brownfield site in this town.
  • Savannah State University will develop a coastal sustainability plan to anticipate and address potential issues caused by climate change for two cities in Georgia, Midway and Riceboro. This plan is required by the Regional Coastal Commission of Georgia.
  • Tuskegee University and Alabama State University are developing an alternate transportation project which will reuse brownfield sites, and address issues of lack of access to healthy food and lack of access to medical care in Alabama.
  • And, we’re also asking our federal partners, such as the National Park Service and USDA Rural Development, to expand this collaborative effort.

About the author: Michael Burns works on the College/Underserved Partnership Program (CUPP). Previously he worked for, where he served as the Acting Superintendent of the Tuskegee Institute Park and worked with communities in Alabama

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Community Engagement in the Philippines: A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

2014 June 26

By Leah Ettema

Like almost any other coastal community in the Philippines, my Peace Corps site (Laoang, Northern Samar) is primarily composed of fishermen and farmers who report that their fish catch has drastically decreased over the past 20 years. This threatens their food security, income, and way of life.  During my service, I worked with my municipal counterparts to visit all 28 coastal communities in Laoang, where we held community meetings. We talked, listened, and worked with the fishermen to help identify the resources they still have, explore their problems, and come up with ideas for the future.  During these visits, I was able to briefly participate in the everyday life of coastal communities. I learned that even in the poorest of areas, someone will always have a generator to sing videoke, the fear of Aswang (witches) is very real, simple ingredients make delicious snacks, and basic street fair games are highly entertaining. Despite having an increasingly difficult livelihood, the residents’ sense of humor, joy, and resiliency is unwavering.

We compiled the results of our discussions into an environmental profile, which serves as the basis for future coastal resource management programs. We formed plans to enact a Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Council that would work closely with the local government to re-establish marine protected areas and to monitor the health of the coral reefs, sea grass, and mangroves. These plans also called for the enactment of a Bantay Dagat (coast guard) that would aggressively apprehend illegal fishers, as well as to encourage schools and households to segregate their waste for recycling.

What we, as Peace Corps Volunteers, worked toward was to develop the Filipinos’ abilities to effectively manage their resources to improve their standard of life. My Filipino co-workers (and friends) are inspiring, hard-working community developers, and will continue working to improve fishing resources and livelihoods long after I’m gone.

 

RPCV Ettema working with the women in Langob

RPCV Ettema working with the women in Langob

About the author: Originally from Frankenmuth, MI, Leah Ettema, RPCV Philippines, 2009-2011, currently works for EPA’s Region 4, (Atlanta, GA) for the Water Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Working with Communities to Combat Climate Change: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

2014 June 25

By Courtney Columbus

Three times a day, my neighbor in the Dominican Republic (DR) balances pieces of locally found firewood on top of three stones in her backyard. She cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner for her family on this slow-cooking fire. Although her pots of fire-cooked rice and beans nourish her and her family, the smoke that spirals up from this fire and into her lungs poses serious health risks.

My neighbor’s cooking technique is common practice in the DR, and in other developing nations. However, this isn’t the only practice that is harmful to health and the environment. In my region, near the Haitian border, many families also make their own charcoal, which requires cutting down trees. This region is hot and arid, making it difficult for deforested areas to ever fully recover. Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in the DR often dedicate part of their service to finding ways to improve this situation.

To help address the environmental and health problems caused by cooking on firewood and charcoal, a group of dedicated doñas (this is a respectful reference to older women) and I decided to build improved cookstoves in my community. These stoves have an enclosed cooking chamber that burns firewood more efficiently than cooking out in the open. The fire inside the stove heats up two hot plates, so Dominican women can still cook their daily pots of rice and beans, but unlike an open fire, these stoves have chimneys that take smoke away from the cook. Also, the improved cookstoves reduce the use of charcoal by rural families, because the stoves work best when dry firewood is used. Less charcoal use means that more trees in my community can remain standing!

There are inconveniences being a PCV: a broken-down bus never shows up to take me to a meeting; a grant application gets delayed; I lose the finer meaning of a project partner’s speech in Spanish at a community meeting. But, on the opposite side are moments that make it all worth it. Those mornings when I stop by my neighbors’ wood-slat-and-rusty-tin-roof homes and see them contentedly boiling a pot of coffee on their improved cookstove gives me the motivation to keep working.

Although the 70 stoves that we built in my site are a microscopic drop in the bucket of global efforts to combat climate change, many PCVs throughout the DR have also been building stoves. Several PCVs in northern DR have built over 100 stoves each with their community members. We hope to see the project continue in the future. Improved cookstoves have changed the way that women in our sites cook, changed the air that they breathe, and changed the way they treat their environment.

About the author: Courtney Columbus is from Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania has been serving as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in the Dominican Republic since 2012. A graduate of Allegheny College, she is currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Synthetic female hormones in sewage are toxic to male fish over generations

2014 June 23

By Kristen Keteles

I’m a toxicologist at EPA in Denver, Colorado, and I study how pollutants can affect ecological and human health. I work with a team of scientists from academia (Colorado State University, University of Colorado Denver) and U.S. Geological Society to understand the potential effects of hormones and medications that are discharged into the environment. Did you know a very potent synthetic female hormone used in prescription drugs can be found in water and could be harming fish? We’re finding in our study that it can wipe out fish populations over several generations, and it’s the male fish that are most affected. Some studies have found that male fish below waste water treatment plants, and exposed to female hormones, can lose their masculine characteristics and become indistinguishable from females. Our new study found that a potent form of the female hormone estrogen used in prescription drugs not only causes the males to look female, it also appears to be toxic to male fish and these effects may impact future generations of fish.

Where do these hormones and medications come from? All of us. Humans excrete hormones and medications, which often end up in our rivers and streams from sewage. Disposing of medications by flushing can also contribute to pharmaceuticals in the environment. A growing human population, combined with effects of climate change like decreasing precipitation, has resulted in many streams containing higher concentrations of waste water. In fact, some streams in the west are 90% waste water. Not a nice thought if you like to kayak and fish, like I do. The water IS treated, but many hormones and pharmaceuticals are not completely removed by the waste water treatment plants. So, more people and less water equals more hormones and drugs in the water. My team is trying to determine what this means for fish, and ultimately for people, too. Although, currently, EPA does not have water quality standards for these types of chemicals, our study may help determine if such water quality standards are needed.

We looked at effects of exposure to a synthetic estrogen used in prescription drugs to fathead minnows over multiple generations by conducting experiments, both in the laboratory and in outdoor water tanks that mimic natural conditions.

Chemical exposure to female hormones in prescription drugs was found to increase the chances of death in male fish, but not females. And, fish exposed when they were young, but not as adults, were not able to reproduce later on in life. In addition, fish that weren’t even exposed to the prescription drugs, but were born to parents who were exposed, were less likely to reproduce. It could be that synthetic estrogen in prescription drugs, combined with other natural and synthetic hormones in the water, are reducing male fish fertility and could affect fish populations.

This is why it’s important to do what we can to protect fish breeding habitats in unpolluted areas. What are some things that your community can do to protect fish habitat? Read our information on how to dispose of unused medications to reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals that end up in water.

About the author: Kristen Keteles is a toxicologist in the Support Program of the Office of Ecosystems Protection and Remediation in EPA Region 8 in Denver. She has been with EPA for six years.

Fish A is a normal male fathead minnow. Fish C is a normal female fathead minnow. Fish B is a male that was exposed to female hormones in prescription drugs and looks more like a female than a male.

Fish A is a normal male fathead minnow. Fish C is a normal female fathead minnow. Fish B is a male that was exposed to female hormones in prescription drugs and looks more like a female than a male.

 

EPA Fish Team scientists: Al Garcia, Kristen Keteles, Elaine Lai, and Adrian Krawczeniuk.

EPA Fish Team scientists: Al Garcia, Kristen Keteles, Elaine Lai, and Adrian Krawczeniuk.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Pedaling to a Sustainable Future During Bike-to-Work Month

2014 June 20

By Marco Evert

If you peeked into the EPA Seattle bike locker in May, you’d find a tidy corridor lined wall to wall with bikes, helmets, and child carriers. Our participation in Bike-to-Work Month extended to Alaska, Idaho and Oregon, with staff across EPA Pacific Northwest Region waking up and strapping on helmets for the morning bike ride to the office, some with kids in tow to drop off at daycare.

When we participated in Bike-to-Work Month, we joined a community of people committed to sustainability and we wanted to give our support. How do you show appreciation to a Seattle bike commuter? With coffee and healthy snacks, of course! We celebrated Bike-to-Work Day on May 16 by hosting a commute station with coffee, fruit, and treats in Seattle’s Centennial Park along Puget Sound. This has been a tradition of ours since 2003.

That day, ten EPA employees showed up bright and early before work to cheer on about 520 riders who stopped by on their morning commute. The station is a growing partnership between EPA, the neighborhood Whole Foods, the Seattle Art Museum, and its café, and Nuun Hydration. In addition to feeding and caffeinating the cyclists who stopped by, we highlight the efforts of Cascade Bicycle Club to make bike commuting accessible and safe in the Pacific Northwest. This organization hosts Bike-to-Work Day in Seattle and rallies organizations and businesses to sponsor commute stations.

 

Seattle area commuters show off their rides at EPA’s Bike-to-Work Day station.

Seattle area commuters show off their rides at EPA’s Bike-to-Work Day station.

 

Seattle area commuters show off their rides at EPA’s Bike-to-Work Day station.

Jonathan Freedman, an ecologist who has worked in the EPA Seattle office for 13 years, has spearheaded EPA’s sponsorship of a bike station since its inaugural year. “It gives EPA employees a chance to serve our community together as volunteers, and as bike commuters we can make friends with other workers who bike downtown,” Freedman said. “That’s part of the fun of it – we see some people year after year.” Since the first EPA commute station in 2003, Freedman estimates EPA has seen 6,000 bikers pass by our station, double or triple the number we would get in the early years.

EPA Pacific Northwest Region bike commute station volunteers (left to right): Annie Christopher, Hanady Kader, Jonathan Freedman, John Keenan, Rob Elleman, and Erik Peterson.

EPA Pacific Northwest Region bike commute station volunteers (left to right): Annie Christopher, Hanady Kader, Jonathan Freedman, John Keenan, Rob Elleman, and Erik Peterson.

When cyclists stopped by, we asked them to put pins on a map showing points of departure and destination, and we pinned our own routes as well. At the end of the morning, we had a colorful splash of pins covering Seattle.

A rider pins his trip on EPA’s commute map.

A rider pins his trip on EPA’s commute map.

Biking to work puts into practice our professional and personal commitment to sustainability. We thank all bike commuters, including EPA’s own, for pedaling during Bike-to-Work Month and throughout the year.

About the author: Marco Evert is a 2014 Federal Bike-To-Work Challenge intern. He is a junior at Seattle University in Washington State working towards a Public Affairs degree.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Promoting Redevelopment in Communities

2014 June 19

By Rafael DeLeon

As coach of my son’s youth soccer, baseball, and basketball teams, I not only get to spend time with my son, but I also get to give back to my community. When the teams gather on the courts and fields, I know that I’m providing a meaningful service for my community.
Watching my son, I also remember my own childhood growing up in New York City. While my son plays on grassy fields, my neighborhood playgrounds lacked adequate green space. My friends and I would play baseball on asphalt fields and scrape our jeans as we slid into home.

As the Deputy Office Director of the EPA’s Office of Site Remediation Enforcement, part of my job is to help communities clean up and redevelop contaminated lands by addressing liability concerns associated with redevelopment projects. Contaminated land shouldn’t be neglected or ignored. In fact, by putting land back into productive use, it can revitalize a community by adding jobs, renewing resources, supporting economic growth, and creating green space for recreational activities.

To assist parties involved in revitalizing a property, my office recently issued the Revitalizing Contaminated Lands: Addressing Liability Concerns (The Revitalization Handbook). This handbook is a great way to understand how the cleanup enforcement program can help facilitate and support revitalization.

The Revitalization Handbook discusses how formerly contaminated lands may be turned into recreational spaces for the whole neighborhood to enjoy. For example, in downtown Orlando, Florida, the Former Spellman Engineering Site was once largely vacant due to groundwater contamination. Through the use of an innovative property owner agreement, EPA and the City of Orlando were able to facilitate the cleanup and redevelopment of the site, on which much-needed sports fields and other community facilities were built.

The Former Spellman Engineering Site in downtown Orlando, Florida is now home to a sports fields and other community facilities.

 

The Former Spellman Engineering Site in downtown Orlando, Florida is now home to a sports fields and other community facilities.

The Former Spellman Engineering Site in downtown Orlando, Florida is now home to a sports fields and other community facilities.

The Revitalization Handbook also highlights our work with the Arlington Blending and Packaging Site in Arlington, Tennessee. In that case, EPA worked with the city to make sure the site had been cleaned up to a standard that would permit recreational use. Where there was once a Superfund site, there is now Mary Alice Park where children can play.

As a parent and coach, I know just how important these parks are and the role they play in a community. I’m proud of the Agency’s work to take blighted areas and make them into places neighborhoods and communities can enjoy.

About the author: Rafael DeLeon grew up in the Bronx and now is the  Deputy Office Director of the Office of Site Remediation Enforcement.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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From the Philippines to the Pacific Northwest – Working with Communities for Environmental Protection: A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

2014 June 18

By Gina Bonifacino

My Peace Corps site assignment was not what I would have conjured in my mind as a kid, dreaming about a future adventure as a Peace Corps Volunteer in some isolated corner of the world. San Jose de Buenavista, Antique was a busy, medium-sized provincial capital in the Philippines.

I was assigned to the Provincial Planning Office to work on coastal management. With a very general assignment, and being new to the country and the community, my first challenge was figuring out how a fresh college graduate, new to the language and culture of the Philippines, could help.

A co-worker at the Provincial Planning Office was very excited about piloting a new method of gathering planning data, Participatory Resource Assessment (PCRA). As I learned more about this tool, I became interested in exploring it as a means to connect with communities and better understand coastal issues in the province.

After consulting with provincial colleagues and getting support from local officials, we planned and held a series of assessments with five coastal communities. These assessments brought community members and officials together to map and document issues in their communities.

The biggest issues that the communities identified – health concerns, livelihood and environmental degradation – were all closely linked. Many homes didn’t have access to clean water or sanitation. Women had to spend nearly an hour per day just to collect clean water. Without proper sanitation, waterways were polluted and children became sick. Most of these families subsisted on local fisheries, but had in recent years seen numbers declining due to encroachment from illegal fishing boats within municipal waters.

I’d have never been able to understand these issues without direct community engagement. And, I knew that solutions, like establishing a local fisheries policing force, required community involvement. It was incredibly rewarding to work and make friends with the community members.

It’s been more than 15 years since I’ve worked with the communities in the Philippines through the Peace Corps; however, that experience continues to serve me as an EPA employee in our Seattle office. After data showed that poor burning practices and burning in old, dirty woodstoves and fireplaces contributed to unhealthy particulate levels in many Pacific Northwest and Alaskan communities, I drew on my Peace Corps experience, and worked with local agencies, EPA’s Headquarters Office of Air and Radiation, and local communities on a campaign to reduce particulate matter from wood smoke.

The campaign grew and is now known as Burn Wise. As a result of EPA’s work with communities, many households have been able to help reduce particulate pollution from woodsmoke, increase heating efficiency, and improve the air they breathe inside of their homes.

About the author: Gina Bonifacino is with Region 10’s Puget Sound Program.

Provincial Planning office shows off its coastal management map.

Provincial Planning office shows off its coastal management map.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Te·sito: the gathering of many to work for a common cause, A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story in the Gambia

2014 June 16
Woman in rice farming field in Kiang Jali, The Gambia.

Woman in rice farming field in Kiang Jali, The Gambia.

By Maggie Rudick

Growing up, I remember volunteering for park cleanup projects and school fundraisers, and hearing the phrase, “many hands make light work.”  I understood it, at a superficial level.  But, as I began my Peace Corps service as an environmental and natural resource volunteer in Gambia, “many hands make light work” took on a whole new meaning.

When rice yields from the previous season were low, community leaders in my host village of Kiang Jali got together and brainstormed solutions to avoid the same problem in the future. To grow a sustainable amount of rice to feed the whole village, a new dike needed to be constructed on the outskirts of the village.

This was a daunting task of digging up dirt from one section of the rice fields and creating a 3-foot dirt “wall” for an entire mile.

Kiang Jali women dig to build a dike.

“Who is going to do this work?  There is no equipment or tools!” I exclaimed in Mandinka (the local dialect), to the women’s group president, Daranging.  She gave me a grin and, in her raspy voice, said bluntly, “It’s okay, we’ll finish tomorrow.  Tesito; people will come.”

In the time it took me to walk across the village to my host family’s house, word had spread. Tomorrow.  Tesito. Right after breakfast. 

Kiang Jali  women demonstrate testito while building a dike to ensure higher yield of the village’s rice crop

Kiang Jali women demonstrate testito while building a dike to ensure higher yield of the village’s rice crop

Sitting around the food bowl at dinner, I asked the meaning of ’”tesito.”  My host father explained that tesito is when everyone joins together and works towards one task.

He said they had a week-long tesito to build a road and a day-long tesito to clear the peanut fields. I asked him what would happen if someone didn’t go. He laughed, “Why would they stay home? Everyone else is working. It is our duty as members of the village to take care of our land.”

The next day, everyone trekked out to the rice fields. Shovels, picks, hand hoes, buckets, lunch bowls, and water in tow; ready for a day of hard work. The community worked hard, digging and transporting dirt around the rice fields as they laughed, gossiped, and complained about the hot sun. The camaraderie and teamwork of the community was refreshing. The culture of working together for a common goal, and accomplishing a task was rewarding for all.

Even now, I’m reminded of the importance of joining forces and doing what is best for my community and environment, even if I don’t see immediate results. It’s not always possible to show the direct benefits of environmental education, regulation, and outreach; similar to the direct benefit of digging a trench around a rice field for a potential flood. All we can really do is join together and work to be good stewards of the earth. Tesito.

Kiang Jali women get water from a village well.

Kiang Jali women get water from a village well.

About the author: Maggie Rudick is an Environmental Protection Specialist in EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety Pollution and Protection.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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