Even during the Coronavirus crisis, Slippery Rock University’s Macoskey Center is supporting sustainability initiatives that benefit the environment.

Through workshops, programs, activities and tours, the center works as a place of learning or for integration into classes. With solar panels, composting systems, gardens and the production of its own bath and body products, it shows the community how to live a sustainable lifestyle.

Similarly to the conversion to online classes that students and faculty have had to adjust to, the center’s manager, Sami Laurence, and others involved had to cancel typical scheduling and figure out how to celebrate Earth Month in a digital way.

“As you can imagine, it’s a little different when we can only connect with people remotely,” Laurence said.

Led by a student intern and faculty member Dr. Becky Thomas, “Birds and Bagels,” a citizen-science birdwatching program, has been programmed into an online format through Zoom.

“We’re still observing birds in a live feeder cam setting, talking about bird identification, behavior, [and] all the different types of bird feeders you can have,” Laurence said.

Laurence estimates that 16 people participated in the last call to keep an eye on live feeder cams in New York and Alabama. The program has participated in the Project Feeder Watch through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, helping to record the different bird species they see for the venture’s data.

The center has also fostered more engagement on social media through photo contests that encourage activity outdoors.

Most notably, however, was the decision to make an Earth Month sustainability video series. Each of the center’s programming staff were asked to produce a short video on how they choose to live sustainably. They created a YouTube channel and posted videos on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout April.

“Each of those videos just demonstrates something people can learn from and actually apply into their own life,” Laurence said.

Reminiscent of high school history class and the gardens that would show patriotism during World Wars, a “Resiliency Gardening” series is being led by grad student Corie Eckman.

“The idea is that everyone should be equipped with these skills to grow their own food and to be resilient in times of uncertainty,” Laurence said. “Not only is it scientifically shown that we’re going to have to deal with climate change issues, but also increases in pandemic issues and different things that are going to disrupt society on a larger scale.”

As a side note, she assures the safety of the center’s hens.

“I will say, in case anyone’s worried, our chickens are okay, they are well,” Laurence said. “They’re actually being taken care of by our friends and colleagues at the equestrian center right now.”

She recognizes the irony of the current reliance on technology to uphold the education of practices involving nature. Yet, she still stresses the importance of getting outside, especially in a time such as this where many feel cooped up. She encourages students to force themselves to at least go on a walk each day.

“If you have access to green spaces and hiking trails, great,” Laurence said. “I know a lot of our students are from Pittsburgh. I’ve actually tried to get in some natural outdoor spaces in Pittsburgh and it’s really crowded and packed. Obviously with abiding by social distancing, not just throwing that out the window because you’re outside.”

Other than daily strolls, she suggests taking up new hobbies such as upcycling or crafting, using the center’s video posts as a basis. Recently, Laurence demonstrated how to make beeswax bowl covers with just cotton, cloth, and beeswax. She also listed the reduction of plastic use, the hesitation of cranking up the air conditioning this summer, eating less meat, and voting for candidates committed to climate change policies.

Along with being part of the Macoskey Center, Laurence is part of the Slippery Rock farmer’s market’s management team. She says that May is around the time that the growing and production season comes into focus.

“This is the time that we should be relying on our local farmers and our local food system, especially when there’s so much uncertainty with the larger food system,” Laurence said, adding that fresh food is available locally.

Even with little to no gardening space, students can plant in pots on the back porch of an apartment or rental house. The whole practice of sustainability, Laurence said, is adjustable.

“I really see sustainability as being really adaptable depending on our new context,” she said. “Being sustainable right now, for a lot of people especially mentally and emotionally, is just to get more time outside and get more time where you feel like you’re connected to a community.”

Those interested in practicing sustainability can visit the Macoskey Center’s Instagram page (@macoskeycenter), Twitter (@SRU.Macoskey), and Facebook and YouTube (The Macoskey Center.)


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