Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. This is an old adage that Peter Skelton takes to heart with his interest in sustainability and how people can minimize their resource footprint.
"My grandma used to tell me that saying when I was young. I could not fully appreciate what she was saying to me at the time, but later I came to understand that she was reminding me not to be wasteful," said the native of El Paso. "Her words still resonate with me today and were a big part of why I began taking classes in sustainability agriculture at the University of Nebraska."
As part of his undergraduate studies, Skelton participated in a farming system internship where he ran a micro-farm, comparing it to other types of farming systems for sustainability using a suite of indicators.
Skelton, an assistant professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences' Department of Agricultural Extension and Education, has a one-of-a-kind position as director of the Memorial Middle School Agricultural Science Center in Las Vegas where he is applying knowledge from life lessons, his educational background and an interest in emerging environmental issues.
The unique partnership between the university and public school district, with the support of the state legislature, is providing hands-on educational opportunities to middle school students in the areas of agriculture, science and sustainability through a fully operating greenhouse and food production systems on the campus landscape.
Skelton believes in adding context to content through participatory learning and experiential education. The mission of the science center is to develop a teaching and learning model of excellence for agriculture and natural resource sciences that complements in-class instruction by providing context through hands-on learning opportunities.
"Now that sustainability has entered the mainstream, young people need to understand what it means and how it applies to their lives," said Skelton of the program that was featured in the Agricultural Education Magazine in March. "At the Memorial Middle School Ag Science Center (MMSASC), the educational focus is on three specific areas of sustainability: renewable energy, water conservation, and food systems. The center's goal is to increase student awareness about sustainability in general and how to apply the concept in a contextual manner to emerging issues affecting sustainability."
Besides doing agricultural projects that include sampling soil for fertility, utilizing appropriate technology to plant crops, monitoring crop quality, examining insect and weed interactions with the crops, students are observing sustainability techniques of water conservation and solar power.
The science center has two photovoltaic panels, one provides 25 percent of the electrical needs of the greenhouse and another smaller panel pumps water from a catchment system, where rainwater is captured from the greenhouse roof. Skelton plans to install a wind turbine in the near future that will supply another 33 percent of the greenhouse electrical needs.
"As well as minimizing the center's energy footprint, we are also interested in minimizing our water footprint and demonstrating how to maintain and enhance our natural resource base," Skelton said.
Using renewable resources plays a big part in the center's function and teaching.
"We try to compost as much on-site material as possible. For example, vegetable waste from the garden is composted by worms to be used in greenhouse plantings. Green waste from the school's football and baseball fields is composted and used to amend soils used for agricultural production," he said. "Composting is essential for teaching about reducing waste and to improve soils used for producing high quality vegetables and fruits on campus. It also gives the students an up close view of the food web and decomposition processes. Additionally, composting campus green waste diverts a usable material from the waste stream that would otherwise end up in the landfill."
Recently, Memorial Middle School Science Center hosted tours during the Synergyfest held in Las Vegas. Visitors observed the many ways Skelton is teaching sustainability to the next generation of leaders.
Written by Jane Moorman.