Nurturing (the) Environment

Nurturing (the) Environment

In the Kitchen: September 2008

Written by Suzanne Guillette MFA ’05
Photography by Andrew Lichtenstein ’88

“Holy crap!” exclaims an undergraduate, her jaw dropped in awe.

Two young women are touring the new home of Sam Lipschultz ’09, ogling an impressive stainless steel refrigerator that takes up nearly an entire wall of the kitchen.

“It’s so big,” comments the second young woman.

“Open it,” Lipschultz says, arms folded across his chest.

“No,” says the first friend, shaking her head. “I’m intimidated. What if it speaks?”

“Yeah,” says the second. “We could practically climb into your refrigerator and blast off into outer space.”

Lipschultz is quick to inform the students that the imposing appliance is actually twice as efficient as the diminutive personal refrigerators of yesterday’s dorms.

The refrigerator is just one of many energy-saving features of Lipschultz’s new home. He lives in Warren Green, the College’s first environmentally friendly student residence. A pilot project of the College’s Sustainability Committee and Sustainable SLC, a student-led activist group, Warren Green was retrofitted over the summer and now features glycol-loop solar panels, a heat-recovery system for used water, low-flow bathroom fixtures, and a side garden that will be planted in the spring.

The 13 students who have just moved in are a diverse bunch, representing all class levels and hailing from every corner of the United States. They study music, biology, chemistry, politics, and geography. Many are vegetarians, and two are vegans. Two are actively campaigning for Barack Obama (hence the bullhorn in the main entryway). But they share one very important thing: a staunch commitment to environmental justice.

Student in kitchen

Justin Butler ’10, the house RA and co-founder of Sustainable SLC, on dinner duty

Lipschultz completes his tour just as a handful of his roommates enter, eager to find out what’s for dinner. Warren Green residents have committed to a lifestyle of cooperative shopping and cooking. Translation: you won’t find ramen noodles in the cupboard, or students inhaling leftover pizza alone in their rooms. Instead, residents of Warren Green pitch in $25 per week for groceries, and rotate shopping duties. Every Saturday morning, two students visit a local farmer’s market to stock up on fresh vegetables and fruit, while another pair goes to the grocery store to replenish other supplies, including dairy products, bread, and grains.

Even a standard shared living arrangement has the potential for conflict. But the Warren Green students are taking the idea of cooperative living to new levels. In addition to sharing space and depending on one another for meals, they have also agreed to a strict code of low-consumption living, following such voluntary measures as limiting the number and length of showers, not flushing the toilet unless absolutely necessary, and unplugging cell phone chargers when not in use—which was the first rule the house agreed upon at the beginning of the semester.

The kitchen is brimming with laughter, music, and the aroma of dinner. The windowsill over the sink is lined with jars of spices, pots and pans overflow from the dish rack, and the energy-efficient dishwasher is adorned with magnetized finger puppets of Che Guevara, Gandhi, Einstein, and Nelson Mandela. On the refrigerator door, a scrap of paper reads: When cooking for 13, use 3 pounds of pasta, 4 cups of rice, 3–4 cups of lentils, 3 cans of whole/diced tomatoes, 4 ½ cups of black beans, 10 potatoes (Yukon gold).

Yesenia Marquetti ’09, a petite pre-med student, is sharing tonight’s cooking duties with Justin Butler ’10, the energetic RA, who has taken a leadership role in the house. With hip hop playing in the background, Butler and Marquetti sail around the kitchen, making couscous with local eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. As they work, they talk about everything—their classes, their friends and families back home—occasionally interrupting themselves to admire each other’s culinary skills.

“Oh my god, that’s so good,” Marquetti sighs, watching Butler cut up an eggplant.

Butler turns his knife on a block of cheddar. “I was thinking about this during my literature lecture,” he says. “My professor was talking about cultural studies, and I was thinking about cheese.”

When the dish is ready, Marquetti rings a bell, and residents wander into the kitchen, picking up plates, ooh-ing and ah-ing over tonight’s feast. The last student in the self-serve line waits next to a post-it on the refrigerator: Remember! Leftovers are delicious.

But judging from the way students are filling their plates, this is one conservation tip that won’t need to be followed tonight.

student studying

Laurie Mittelmann ’10 studies with her friend Sonia de Laforcade ’11

Buying Local: October 2008

The leaves have officially turned color, signaling the dwindling time for the Warren Green residents to shop at local farmer’s markets: Most are closed during winter months. The students are considering one final “big shop” toward the end of the season and freezing the bounty for winter. But for now, the students are still rising early to get the best the local farmers have to offer.

The morning after Halloween is bright and sunny as sleepy-eyed seniors Ida Griesemer and Aaron McMullin walk to the car. Griesemer slips into the driver’s seat, the vestiges of her Halloween makeup lingering around her eyes, and leans over to open the door for the lanky McMullin; the two drive quietly to the Bronxville Farmer’s Market.

It takes a lot of dedication to the environment for a college student to get up this early on a Saturday. But the Warren Green students manage to stay true to their sustainable ideals without coming off like zealots when talking about their ecologically conscious lifestyle with their peers. Warren Green is not greener-than-thou.

As Yesenia Marquetti noted at the beginning of the semester, “We want to make the house super fun and leave the door open so other students can see what we’re all about.”

Educating the SLC community about green living is one of the house’s mandates. Two weeks ago, Warren Green undertook one such educational opportunity by hosting more than 200 students for dinner. All the residents pitched in to serve a vegetable stew—and to make sure that everyone felt welcome, which is one of the main values of the house.

“A lot of people were really psyched,” McMullin says of the successful event. “They wanted to see more.”

Griesemer and McMullin arrive at the farmer’s market armed with canvas bags and one cardboard box. Twenty minutes later, they are hauling this week’s bounty to the

trunk of Griesemer’s car. Comparing what they spent ($80)

to what they received (a boxful of apples; large quantities of potatoes, garlic, onions, kale, squash, and tomatoes; two dozen eggs; a gallon of cider), McMullin is pleased. “Every time we come, I’m amazed—it’s like, we got that much food for that many dollars?”

Student shopping

Lack of sleep doesn’t keep Ida Griesemer ’09 from the farmer’s market

Around the Table: November 2008

The fall semester is officially in full swing. In the Warren Green kitchen, Sam Lipschultz and Michelle Lewin ’09 are cooking a pot of homemade—right down to the vegetable stock—minestrone. As they cook, they prepare for a geography quiz in Joshua Muldavin’s course “Food, Agriculture, and Development.” A number of Warren Green residents are in the class, and their understanding of global food and agriculture practices makes their support of local food systems all the more meaningful.

The refrigerator decorations have changed since the beginning of the semester. In addition to a list of what produce is in season, there is now a “skill sharing list” detailing special talents of the Warren Green residents:

Laurie: I know good hiding places on campus.

Aaron: I know a bit about book binding.

Yesi: Knows how to boogie, in all forms requiring intense hip movement.

Tami: I crochet!

Though this group has lived together for barely three months, their affection for one another is evident. Laurie Mittelmann ’10 walks into the kitchen after hanging up her laundry, which has been cleaned in the energy-efficient washer and is now air-drying in the front entryway (Warren Green residents eschew clothes dryer). Lipschultz looks at the dozens of colorful socks hanging from the pipes and says earnestly, “You know, it’s kind of nice to have your laundry hanging everywhere.”

Lewin agrees, “It’s homey.”

“It’s the first time that I’ve done laundry all semester,” Mittelmann proudly replies.

When dinner is served, Lewin forgoes the bell and grabs the bullhorn. She calls out, “Dinnertime! I love you.”

Later, as the students finish their soup and gear up for their weekly house meeting, the mood is one of momentary respite. Only one month remains until the end of the semester; many are deep into conference work. But living with 13 people takes an effort—and so despite their busy schedules, they take time to discuss logistics.

The students take turns stating how they are doing and whether they have any special items to discuss. One inquires about the maintenance of cast iron skillets. Yesenia Marquetti suggests creating a spreadsheet to record—anonymously—the length of showers and the number of times students flush the toilet.

Next, the subject of equitable sharing of weekly shopping duties arises: Apparently, some members of the house have not been participating as much as other students in the farmer’s market trips. This past Saturday, only one student signed up to go, and since she doesn’t have a car, she could carry only a limited quantity of vegetables. For the first time all semester, the students won’t have enough local produce to make it through the week.

But if anyone is upset, it doesn’t show. Whether because they share a sense of working together towards an important cause or simply because they know they’re being observed, the conversation is strikingly mature. Instead of accusations and heated conflict, the group discusses the issue calmly. Even the student who was stuck alone doesn’t seem to hold a grudge: “I just don’t want the same thing that happened to me to happen to someone else,” she says.

After a few minutes of solution-seeking, the group decides that from now on, you have to find a shopping partner before signing up, and Lewin offers her car to anyone who needs it. Then, they discuss a date for the “big shop,” and the logistics of prepping and freezing vegetables for the winter. Satisfied, the group is ready to move on.

And in fact, the overall atmosphere in the house is solidly progressive. Always looking forward, the group has plans in the works for an overnight camping trip to a local farm in the spring. They are working to increase outreach efforts, to better reach their peers on campus. A house blog is in the works.

Most important, they are already thinking about the students who will follow in their footsteps. Data on energy and water usage is important—not just so this crop of “green” residents can measure their efforts, but so that future student activists will have a point of reference, too.

Over the course of the fall semester, the house used 29 percent less gas and electricity compared to fall semester 2007 (pre-renovation), a result that Vice President of Operations Micheal Rengers ’78 calls “very impressive.” Justin Butler, the RA, notes, “We hope that the success of this project will eventually add the word ‘green’ to every dorm.”

Just as the meeting comes to a close, someone says, “Big clap!” On cue, all 13 students clap together, not one of them missing a beat.