On Friday, September 16th, the Office of Environmental Policy and UConn Athletics co-hosted Green Game Day, an environmental awareness campaign that encourages fans to do their part in reducing the footprint of UConn Athletic events. Thirty volunteers collected recyclables from tailgaters and educated fans about the importance of recycling. As much of the estimated eight tons of garbage produced at each Husky home game is recyclable, this event significantly contributes to reducing UConn’s environmental impact. Additionally, a student-run booth featuring a green initiatives display further enthused fans by providing them with recycling bags of their own.
I have heard from a lot from my fellow Huskies that they feel as though they are unable to cause change here at the University. They feel as though they are a small fish in the giant ocean that is UConn and so they cannot do much to make a difference on campus. I did, however, witness one of my fellow students do what others thought was impossible. In only four years, I watched a friend of mine turn a club into a small scale business that even led to the creation of UConn’s latest living and learning community.
During my freshman year, I began attending meetings of the UConn ecoGarden Club, which was a student run organization focused on growing food organically and sustainably. We were a young club (only three years old at the time) and only had one-third an acre of land, a shed, and a hoop house. Even though the main members of the club included numerous upperclassmen and graduate students who had been at the club’s founding, the president was a sophomore named Matt Oricchio.
In a year, Matt helped grow the club to include a second hoop house and numerous cold frames. In the summer concluding his first year as president, the club began selling produce at local farmers’ markets. In another year, it became a summer community supported agriculture (CSA) program that sold twenty shares to local community members. The CSA was successful enough to run the final summer of Matt’s stay at UConn. He also developed a working relationship with the Local Routes program and Dining Services, which allowed the club to sell produce to Chuck and Augie’s Restaurant as well as to the campus dining halls.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pdi8Uq3gTE&noredirect=1]Dedicated to organic farming, Matt worked with a number of individuals from the Department of Dining Services, Office of Environmental Policy, Department of Residential Life, and numerous faculty members to create a living and learning community focused on organic farming. Thanks to the persistence of Matt and some other key individuals, Spring Valley Farm opened in the spring of 2010 and housed Matt as its first resident. He graduated and spent his summer taking care of the farm and training EcoHouse students to take over for him when he finally left in December. Spring Valley Farm now houses ten students and sells produce to Chuck and Augie’s and the dining halls. Matt currently is president of an organic farm in Westport, CT.
Matt’s time at UConn showed me that it is possible to change the university, even without ever working for it. Spring Valley Farm is but one example of a change on campus brought about by a student because of his perseverance. The biggest inertia facing students wanting change is not that of the large institution, but rather an attitude that preventing them from acting in the first place.
Were you worried about fitting in when you came to college? I was. I mean for most of us, moving to college means leaving home for the first time, it’s intimidating. How will you meet people? How will you make friends? How will you know what the heck is going on around campus? One way I found to get involved right away was to enroll in a living and learning community. During orientation they told us a little bit about living and learning communities (LLCs) as an option to get involved on campus and be a part of a community. LLCs are interest based communities so hopefully you’ll have something in common with your fellow residents before you even move in! I figured joining one was worth a shot because what did I have to lose? Not only would being in a LLC give you a community of your peers with similar interests, but it can also give you a chance to participate in activities you might find enjoyable. For example in EcoHouse, I am constantly getting notifications about any green events taking place around campus or informational sessions that are relevant to sustainability.
For me living in EcoHouse has been such a great experience thus far. We kick off each year with an EcoHouse camping trip which is not only a fun way to enjoy nature and get off campus for a couple of days, but camping also creates the perfect environment for getting to know new people. We get to do hands on volunteer work which can sometimes be hard to come by on campus, and one of Goodwin State Forest’s naturalists brings us on a guided nature walk which I personally find fascinating. When we aren’t doing planned activities we get to hang around the camp site and get to know each other a little better by playing cards, sitting by the fire, star gazing, or just chilling out. Throughout the year EcoHouse also sponsors other activities such as an alternative spring break trip and in the past we have even gone white water rafting! Once you get involved in EcoHouse you can propose your own trip or even something simple like going on a hike in the UConn Forest and inviting anyone who wants to come. I made a ton of friends living in EcoHouse last year which is why I’m in EcoHouse again as a sophomore and still loving it! So if you’re an incoming freshman, a transfer, or even just someone who hasn’t found the right place on campus yet, consider joining a Living and Learning Community.