The Environment

NRE Major? What’s is that, exactly?

by Hannah Desrochers

Every holiday that I spend with my family, I find myself explaining exactly what a Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) major is, and what I plan to do with it in the future. Many of my friends at UConn think that I am in Environmental or Animal Science. How did I get involved in such a little known major? 

The author with Loki at Honeyguide Ranger Camp, South Africa.

Truth be told, I was drawn in after a discussion with Dr. Ortega, one of the NRE faculty members. After just one semester within NRE, I had the opportunity to study ecology abroad in South Africa, and I knew that my future was within this field. I was able to learn about elephants, rhinos, lions, and much more within their natural setting, while also getting some hands-on animal care experience with the camp caracal, Loki. The learning experiences that occurred during my three weeks on the game reserve felt vastly different from any other type of learning I had experienced before, and I was eager to continue those experiences back home at UConn. It was fascinating to see just a small example of the opportunities that are available across the globe to study wildlife.  

I underestimated the height of the waders I would need!

Since then, I have found myself outside for nearly all of my labs, and for a fair share of my lectures as well. Every semester I have been in classes that have allowed me to do everything from taking water samples in waist deep water, to setting up trail cams to test a hypothesis on what animals inhabit certain areas of campus. It baffles me when I speak to friends in other colleges, who spend all day stuck inside a traditional classroom. Going into college, I was undecided, but I knew that I wanted to go into a profession where I wouldn’t necessarily be stuck behind a desk all day. The College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources  as a whole, and specifically Natural Resources, has made that goal a reality. 

Just the other day, I visited the Bronx Zoo as part of one of my classes to study mammals. I learned more than I ever could in a classroom, and got to do so out in the fresh air, face to face with amazing animals. Through this experience, I learned about the role of zoos in conservation, while also learning about feeding habits, social structures and many other biological facts. For example, did you know that rhinos are odd-toed ungulates, meaning they are actually related to horses, zebras and tapirs? As a student within the Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation concentration of NRE, it was fascinating to see how conservation is woven into the mission of the zoo. Since my primary interest within NRE is wildlife, I have helped widen my experience and knowledge with a minor in animal science. My interest in animals is purely wildlife, not livestock, which is why I chose NRE over Animal Science, but my minor has helped fill out my understanding in topics such as genetics and reproduction. My experience within the Animal Science minor has also allowed me to work with my dairy heifer, Leah, for a semester and show her in the Little I show! 

As a NRE student, I view my major as one that allows me to get hands-on with everything I am learning in a classroom, while preparing me for a future in wildlife research. I am interested in both animal behavior and human impacts on wildlife, and hope to educate the public on how to better improve the world for humanity and the species that coexist with us. The experiences I have gained have helped to shape my goals for the future, and have helped me expand my worldview. 

 

This Fairytale House

by Moises Hernandez-Rivera

View from Spring Valley Farm

Disbelief, that is the first thing that I think of on most mornings. As I face the rising sun, I am reminded that I live in a fairytale. Everything is scenic here, from the fall foliage framed perfectly by my window, to the rolling hills beside the farm fields. This place has it all, trails, thickets, pine stands, spring and rivers. Spring Valley Student Farm is my home.

We are a great community, eleven-strong, we work here, we play here, and most importantly, we live here. When it’s hot and sunny, cool or muggy, snowing or raining, it is always perfect here. This place grows on you.

I moved here in January of 2018; that spring I saw my very first chipmunk, first owl and spent the rest of that year with a group of amazing people. Each of us was brought here for a different reason, some could set up solar panels, some were expert gardeners, and some were community healers–all of us tied up in a perfect union. My job was fish. I studied at a vocational high school for four years training on aquaponics, the fusion of growing plants and fish for consumption.

Greenhouse at Spring Valley Farm

Everyone here wears many hats: neighbor, roommate, housemate, workmate, we all do our part. The system of weights, however, works different here. Our tasks and weeks are very fluid; one day you’re leading tours; sometimes you’re mulching, weeding, or picking. We’re often manning the farm stand selling our produce on Fairfield Way, giving away plants, or delivering food to the Bistro, Towers, or Whitney. We run a very productive and demanding agricultural operation. We count and pick our next year’s seeds, we plant and weed our fields and tend to our own farm projects. Even the harsh Storrs winters are no trouble, with hundreds of thirsty little plants in our greenhouses, seed planning meetings and plenty of snow and ice to clear from our solar panels; we’re busy all year long.

The primary focus of the farm is education. You don’t need to be from a major in the College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources to be here. You don’t even have to know how to water a plant. The farm is a self-selected team of very different people. What one does not know can be taught by another, and what no one knows can be taught by our farm manager, Julia Cartabiano; she’s our queen bee! Everyone comes in with different skills, and the farm finds a way to weave those skills into a perfect blanket.

Our population is always changing, from semester to semester. Sometimes one person graduates; sometimes six people graduate. Spring or Fall, we’re ready. Everyone helps and teaches and ensures that when it’s our turn to go WOOF, join the Peace Corps or graduate, the farm keeps chugging.

As students we maintain our growth through interaction with the greater UConn community, from EcoHouse to the many clubs and cohorts, our different majors and approaches keep our gates open to any and all. From Farm Fridays to Summer Bug Week, we make sure to tap into the fabric of the community and pull from all sides: campus students, parents, transfers and commuters, that’s what makes our community so resilient and strong. Around these parts, be it through the Dean or freshmen, local farmers and residents, we make ourselves known.

Finding Myself in Landscape Architecture: Tuning into Myself

By Ely-Anna Becerril

Storyboarding/Presentation Project! Sketched drawings of different areas in Versailles garden. Scanned and laid out on a big poster.

I had everything planned out before I would set foot at UConn. I knew I would work in the environmental science field, measuring water quality in water bodies all over the world and conserving our forests. I was so set on my plans and knew exactly what I wanted to do, and I found absolute comfort in that. It wasn’t too far into my freshman year that I decided to rethink everything and tune in to things I’ve always been drawn to. The environment, of course, but art and storytelling as well.

Growing up, I loved drawing, painting, and writing my own little books. I dream’t I’d be an author someday. However those beloved interests of mine slowly dissipated over the years. I hardly ever painted, drew, or read for fun  anymore. A big factor was that I lacked confidence in my skills, and lacked time to dedicate to creative pursuits; therefore, they were abandoned.

However, my artistic side demanded attention again. I missed my creativity and was sad, ultimately, that my science-filled schedule had no room for art. I desperately wondered if I could ever have a career that involves both of my dearest passions, art and the environment. After hours of researching majors, courses, and careers, one title caught my eye: Landscape Architecture. At first I was terrified of the word architecture, since I never imagined myself as an “architect.” But I discovered this field was a perfect combination of everything I wanted to study: art, beauty, environmental conservation, and science. As a natural resource major, I found myself very pessimistic about the role of humans in this world, considering all the damage we’ve done to the environment. As a result, I wanted to focus solely on the environment for the environment and not for humans. However, I started to realize that we humans play an integral part in conservation, and we need to factor ourselves into the topic if we want to make real change.

Revitalized High Line in NYC

It is possible for us to coexist in harmony with the environment and that is exactly what landscape architecture strives to do. I knew this major would allow me to affect the world and make real change for the environment and for people.  It will give me the opportunity to create meaningful spaces for communities, places that will make people happy and relaxed.

After visiting the tight knit and supportive studio they have, taking classes towards that major, and growing closer with the landscape architecture faculty, not only did I find the perfect major for me, but I also found my little niche in this enormous college. Tuning into my longtime interests has led me to a place that I am so grateful to be in. It feels good to revisit old hobbies that made me happy as a child.

It’s always important to do things that have always made you happy. It’s no wonder that many people base their career choices off of longtime interests or things that have always had a special place in their heart.  I think if you ever find yourself in a career crisis, or re-thinking your major, tune into yourself and remembers the joys of childhood pursuits. Lastly, always set time aside for things you enjoy doing, have confidence in your abilities and give your passions a try.

Recent project/may desk!

Why is Agriculture Education Important?

By Sarah Ammirato

Why is Agricultural Education important?

To answer that question, let me tell you a little bit about my experience.

I went to Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield, CT where I was enrolled in the Agriculture Education program. This program, and 8,630 others across the United States focus on teaching students about all aspects of agriculture, food, natural resources and leadership.

An Ag Ed experience is nothing like the traditional high school experience. One of my favorite memories was during peak maple syrup season. It was February and there was about a foot of snow on the ground. That did not stop our class from getting bundled up and heading out into the woods to collect sap and repair lines. We then boiled the sap into syrup, bottled it and enjoyed it over pancakes on the last day of class.

My senior year, we traveled to Yellowstone National Park in Montana/Wyoming over Spring Break. We hiked the Yellowstone Canyon, visited the famous Old Faithful geyser and saw wildlife at every turn. We were immersed in nature in its purest form. It was truly a life changing experience, and I cannot wait to go back there one day.

Moreover, my experience at Wamogo would not have been what it was without my advisors. They are the reason I chose to pursue Agriculture Education.

I decided to continue my agriculture education at the University of Connecticut where my major is Agriculture and Natural Resources. Through the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, I have been given so many hands-on experiences both in and outside of class. Hands-on education remains a large part of the courses I have taken, from halter breaking an Angus heifer to touring local vegetable farms, there is no lack of agricultural experience here. As for leadership opportunities, I serve on the executive board for UConn Block and Bridle and as a College Ambassador, where I have been able to build my skills as a leader.

It is my dream to be a high school Ag teacher, so I can bring my students incredible experiences and give them an appreciation for the agriculture industry.

So back to the question, why is this so important?

To start, everyone relies on agriculture. Food, fiber and natural resources are things we need every day. Agriculture education programs not only teach students how to be farmers, but also train tomorrow’s scientists, nutritionists, teachers and so much more. A combination of classroom instruction and applied agriculture experiences outside of the classroom build the foundation for educated consumers and agriculturists.

Leadership is the final aspect of these programs, and the most universal. Public speaking, job interview techniques, professional skills and knowledge of parliamentary procedure. Students in agriculture education programs have the opportunity to serve as student leaders at the school, district, state and national level. High school students have the opportunity to attend leadership conferences, meet and converse with legislatures at the State Capitol, and achieve awards based on involvement.

So what does it look like in Connecticut? There are twenty high school programs, with about 3,350 students enrolled in agriculture education courses. The student to teacher ratio is one of the lowest in the country at 30:1 across the state. There are four post-secondary schools in the state that offer programs/certifications related to agriculture with undergraduate majors including all areas of agriculture except for education.

The opportunities within these programs, both secondary and post-secondary, are endless. Students who participate in agricultural education programs graduate with the skills necessary to become productive citizens who will succeed in postsecondary education or the workforce.

Backyard Biodiversity and Sustainability

UConn Heron
A heron standing at the edge of UConn’s Swan Lake

As we walk around campus we seldom think about the ecological diversity that surrounds us. Each structure, flowerbed, and field at UConn has a different biodiversity than that of neighboring communities, suburban areas, and the planet as a whole. All of these ecosystems are interdependent and affect our health and livelihood, but it is no secret that we are consuming more natural resources than the earth can sustain. As an Animal Science major with a minor in Wildlife Conservation, I have been able to explore how all species adapt to physical and environmental changes. The biggest threat to biodiversity is habitat loss due to the effects of natural and human-induced factors such as agriculture, over exploitation, and industrial pollution. After taking a course in wildlife management, I learned a lot about the different techniques used to influence the plant and animal species that progress in a given territory. I began to develop a passion for sustainable living and actions that can increase earth’s biodiversity.

The perfect place to begin creating a stronger ecosystem is your very own backyard. It is not crucial to distinguish the specific biological needs of all plants and animals, but there are essential elements for most species. The four basic needs for wildlife include food, water, shelter, and nesting. The first step is making a plan that suits each asset of the yard. Consider potential habitats and water sources for different species. Target species may include animals that are endangered or of special concern. The second step is implementing suitable horticulture practices. Get rid of invasive species and cultivate plants native to the area. Planting trees and shrubs provides sources of food and shelter for wildlife. Allowing them to grow up to different sizes will attract a plethora of species that can Continue reading

Cooking Up A Sustainable Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Day is only two weeks away; a day where families all over the U.S. celebrate all that there is to be thankful for by having a nourishing Thanksgiving feast. Although some families have their own traditions, we all know the staples of this yearly event: dishes like mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and of course, turkey.

If you have you ever thought about the impact of these millions of turkey dinners on the environment, you would be right to feel concerned. Like any other day of the year, a massive amount of carbon is used to transport food to your grocery store from factory farms. At those farms, millions of acres of land are used to raise beef, chicken and turkey. These millions of acres include not only the land where the animals graze, but also the land used to grow food to feed to our livestock. Additionally, billions of gallons of water are used to raise these animals.

Thanksgiving is a meal on a large enough scale that significant planning is required for most families. If you are already putting extra effort into this meal, why not also incorporate sustainability into your meals? There are many things you can do Continue reading

Food Waste – Moving Toward Greater Sustainability by Recovering Perfectly Good Food

One of the greatest challenges facing the world will be how to feed the 9 billion people anticipated to be on Earth by 2050.  There are essentially 3 major approaches that can be used to improve the likelihood that we will be able to meet the most basic of human rights, the right to food:

  1. Increase the productivity per unit of land on a global scale (science has helped accomplish this over the past century but by 2050, this challenge will be too great for this approach).
  2. Increase the quantity of land/space on which agriculture practices can take place (this essentially means deforestation, which has significant negative environmental ramifications).
  3. Reduce the level of food that is currently and unnecessarily wasted (recent awareness of just how much food is wasted nationally and worldwide makes this an option through which significant progress can be made).

Food Recovery HierarchyWithin the United States, 40% of the food produced becomes waste.  This amounts to more than 133 billion pounds of food annually and 97% of this amount ends up in landfills.  This can occur because of over-production, cancelled contracts, poor cold chain management, non-ideal sizes and shapes of fruits/vegetables, failed quality control goals, over-shopping by consumers, confusion resulting from inconsistent date label messages, lack of portion control, and/or lack of creativity in the kitchen. The environmental impact of wasted food is significant as well.  Every item of food that is discarded requires farmland, water, and fertilizer for its production; these resources are lost each time food is wasted.

What Can Be Done?

A significant amount of food that is currently wasted can be recovered to feed hungry people, supplement livestock diets, produce bioenergy, or compost as a soil amendment.  The US Environmental Protection Agency has Continue reading

UConn, Sustainability and the Environment

Environmental GroupsAs a senior, I am constantly looking back at my undergraduate career here at the University of Connecticut. One of the most influential factors was my love for the environment. I had the privilege of being able to serve as the Academic Senator for the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources in the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) here at UConn for the past three years. Along with being a CAHNR College Ambassador, I have always enjoyed interacting with members of my academic college, having the ability to represent my college in a variety of settings and advocating on behalf of my constituency in USG.

Being a representative of CAHNR in a senate body that had little idea or knowledge about the students that were in the college was one of the most interesting experiences I have had. CAHNR is stocked full of students that are environmentally friendly and go through their lives in a way to promote those ideas. CAHNR has majors such as Allied Health, Natural Resources, Resource Economics and Environmental Sciences. With those majors come coursework that emphasize the environment and the movement towards sustainability. Having majors in Resource Economics and Environmental Studies and representing an environmentally minded college lead to my involvement in USG being centered on environmental initiatives and sustainability.

We, as students here at UConn, are extremely fortunate to attend a large university that is devoted to being more environmentally friendly. Our administration has an Office of Environmental Policy (OEP) which is tasked with Continue reading

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Into Your Environment

Pick Your Own StrawberriesIf you had told 10-year-old me that I would spend three summers of my college career working on farms, I wouldn’t have believed you for a second. There would be no way to convince me that I would be feeding pumpkins to pigs while rubbing their bellies or teaching little kids which strawberries are the ripe ones and how to pick them, or that I would be identifying weeds for fun. To most, spending hours weeding thousand foot strawberry fields in 90 degree weather in July doesn’t sound like the perfect summer day, but to me it does. Despite the hard work that comes with working on farms, the experiences and knowledge that come from the day-to-day work is expansive and has impacted my life and helped guide the career path I am pursuing.

For the past two summers I have been an Agriculture and Retail Intern at Jones Family Farms in Shelton, CT, a farm that specializes in “Pick Your Own” strawberries, blueberries, pumpkins and Christmas trees. Day in and day out, the work done by interns on the farm is essential to maintain the plants being cultivated throughout the year. This includes mulching baby Christmas trees, weeding strawberry fields, blossom clipping baby strawberry plants, trimming Christmas trees, and harvesting different types of veggies for customers to enjoy. On top of this hard work, interns spend a large amount of time Continue reading

Discovering the American South

Land Between The LakesUsually, my spring breaks are uneventful, involving a lot of sitting around at my house and relaxing by the television. This year, however, I participated in an Alternative Spring Break, in which I went to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Land Between the Lakes is a park managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and it straddles the line between Kentucky and Tennessee. I had chosen this particular trip among the many that UConn offers because it was environmental themed, an interest of mine.

When I left on the trip, I was hoping to make new friends, spend some time in the sun after a long winter, and see the beautiful Appalachian region of our country. I got all of this and more. There were only twelve students on the trip, plus one student trip leader and a staff member from Community Outreach. This meant that we became very close over the course of spending the week together. As we drove down to Kentucky, I got to know each person, their different personalities, interests, and quirks. We had a wide variety of majors on the trip- from chemical engineering, allied health sciences, and environmental sciences to anthropology and human development and family studies. This variety of people meant that everyone I met was new to me- there was no one I already knew Continue reading