Woolman Semester Email Update – April 6, 2009

Dear Friends,

The last time I sent out an update, I was sitting at home in Philadelphia. That was three weeks ago, and I apologize for not getting this one out sooner. We have been incredibly busy here at Woolman. Major projects were due last week and the one before, and the academic pressure continues to intensify. We now are looking forward to a week of service trips – which I will describe later – followed by a five-day Easter break. This weekend, I finally had time to bring you up to speed again. (The train is moving faster and faster, so jump back on!)

I will begin with the Commodity Chain Analysis (CCA) project that we just completed. For those of you who are familiar with the Woolman curriculum, the CCA has replaced the COW (Citizens of the World) project. It is the major project for the World Issues class. The goal of a CCA is to trace the ingredients/components of a Value Added Product – such as a Starbucks cup of coffee or an iPod – back through its chain of production. We also looked at the social and environmental impacts the production of our product has on society. I chose to analyze my adapted water bottle – the Drink-Aide. The Drink-Aide was invented and is assembled at Inglis House – a nursing home and rehabilitation center for people with disabilities in Philadelphia. After much research, I was able to trace the plastic in one component of the Drink-Aide back to natural gas at a production facility in either Bishop, Texas or Kelsterbach, Germany.

Many of us students were very surprised to see how hard it is to obtain this kind of information from companies. One distributor told me that I would have to engage in a confidentiality agreement before they would tell me where they bought their products from. At first, Inglis House was unwilling to disclose any information – which made the project that much harder. On the day that the CCA was due, I spoke to somebody at Inglis House, and I learned that they try hard to get parts that are manufactured in the United States. They also value the fact that people with disabilities are assembling and packaging the Drink-Aides themselves. We each presented our CCAs to the wider Quaker community here on Friday night. One of the challenges of this project was figuring out what to say in a seven-minute presentation because we had acquired so much information. We also presented our findings in written form. Click here to read my Commodity Chain Analysis.

When we got back from Spring Break, we started a unit on human population in our Environmental Science class. We looked at population growth from a mathematical viewpoint and the definition of carrying capacity. Our project for this unit was very self-guided and individualized. I looked at the difference between the population control policies of the Chinese and French governments. China is famous for enforcing its One-Child Policy, whereas the French taxation system is such that families are rewarded for having children. I wanted to see a correlation between the governmental policies and population growth, but my research was not conclusive.

Our major project in Peace Studies is the creation of a video documentary about a social justice issue. I am in a small group that is looking at how eating locally benefits communities and the environment. We already interviewed one person who founded an organization that provides fresh, organic produce to low-income neighborhoods in Oakland, CA. We are in touch with local farmers who we plan to interview.

I am actually writing the second part of this update as I sit in what will soon be when a flourishing community garden in downtown Nevada City. This is our Service Trip. My group is working to turn this overgrown tract of land into a garden and gathering place. We are not just preparing the land; we are designing the layout and the features. There will be solar ovens and places where people can garden from wheelchairs. This morning, I sketched where the ramp will be. Tomorrow, the city will come and bulldoze the spot. Then local masonry students will build the ramp and the accessible plots. The soon-to-be Mayor of Nevada City is organizing the project. There are two other groups on other Service Trips. One is in nearby Grass Valley ane are working with Habitat for Humanity to develop permaculture gardens around low-income housing. The third group is working on urban gardens in Sacramento and Oakland.

We are about to call it a day, pack up, and head back to campus. The organizer of the garden project just told me that she will take my diagram of the entire garden to the City Planners tomorrow for them to review. I am going to take all of the dimensions back with me tonight and make a professional-looking model.

When we get back to Woolman, I will send out this update. We will return to this garden tomorrow, Wednesday, and Thursday. Easter Break begins on Friday, and I am going to visit friends in Berkeley. I probably will not send out another update for another three weeks because I will not have classes again until April 16. Time is really flying by here. Before I know it, I will graduate and return to Philadelphia.