Thursday, December 6, 2007

Final Reflection Assignment

With the readings, films, and discussion, this class painted a picture to me of a world that was completely new to me. For reasons I’m not quite sure of, my idea of healthy communities was simply eating healthy food and just making a conscious thought to what one is putting in their mouth. This class opened my eyes to an even better idea of healthy communities, one that encompasses the wider social and political implications of eating. Healthy communities should contain organizations dedicated to their improvement, constantly giving back, in new, creative ways. People’s brings something new to the table, in my world in any case, in that they bring ‘eating local’ and ‘community sustainability’ to the definition of healthy community.

This group project helped me develop not only skills to be successful and work well in a group setting, but also in a professional setting as I was conducting research and connecting with other business as a consultant for People’s. The ball was very much in our court as the project underway. I say this because in previous classes we either were given tools or information sets that would give us a boost in a project. Although we were given an optimal end goal by Sarah Cline, it was totally up to us to design the path to get them there. Our end goal was to find the feasibility of implementing solar technology at People’s. We definitely hit some obstacles along the way. Right off the bat, I wanted to set up energy audits with nonprofit organizations who conducted them for free. I found two organizations that did this: PGE and Energy Trust of Oregon. I set up the audit with PGE pretty quickly, but it turned out to be a sit-down discussion of the energy efficient aspects of People’s and the services that PGE provides. Verleah with PGE was a little helpful in pointing us in the right direction for solar technology. I then went to a class sponsored by Ecotrust called “Solar Basics.” It was very informative as they went over the type of solar energy technology and the incentives to do so. Although it was mostly directed at residential installations,  it was very beneficial to take this class near the beginning of the project to get a solid overview of installing a solar energy system. There were even solar contractors there that helped to explain things and get rid of common misconceptions. I wasn’t able to schedule an audit performed by Energy Trust until the week before finals due to a long lead time of paper processing that they have (you have to submit an application for audit). This audit actually involved an in-depth walk-through of People’s. The auditor identified not only areas that People’s could improve, but areas that they were above average in terms of energy efficiency. Although there were a couple things that the auditor recommended People’s adopt, they were fairly insignificant and the audit was not complex enough, nor did the auditor have enough experience with newer systems like the ground source heat pump, for the audit to really amount to much. An example of one of the recommendations was for People’s to replace their incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents (there were about 8 throughout the store) and also to replace the rubber door sealers of the refrigerated food cases.

I was also able to schedule a site visit for a solar contractor, Solar Energy Solutions. This contractor was exciting to work with because the owner (Andrew Koyaanisqatsi) had been involved with People’s since the 1980s and he was very motivated to work with them again potentially. I believe he was in the running in 2003 when People’s was constructing the building now as a solar contractor. During the course of the site visit, Andrew had the opinion that implementing a solar thermal system instead of a photovoltaic system would be more beneficial. After a lengthy discussion regarding it, Andrew gave a rough estimate of $12,000 to $18,000 for a solar thermal system. Steve and I realized how infeasible the system really was after we saw that People’s gas bill (they use gas to heat their water) was only $50 a month, so the savings would be minimal. The ground source heat system is not only very sustainable, its also very efficient.

Steve Theiss also scheduled a site visit with the solar contractor O’Neill Electric, who gave us a bid on implementing photovoltaic panels. It was with this bid that we began to analyze the costs and benefits of implementing a PV system. Steve did a wonderful job in taking the information from the bid and other information from me and Scott’s research and creating an Excel spreadsheet summarizing in a concise way what we found. He listed the benefits and drawbacks of each system by manufacturer. He also did a complete cost analysis of implementing a PV system. My first thought when we got the bid back from O’Neill Electric was that the system would cost too much money, especially because the system would only offset People’s electric bill by about 3% monthly. However, with Steve’s Excel tool, we saw that over 25 years People’s would save $1500. Although this isn’t very much monetarily, the marketing impact as well as the impact on the community has a high dollar value and should be considered as it makes the investment more worthwhile.

Scott did a great job researching all the incentives People’s could enjoy if it implemented a solar electric system. He also took the reigns for presenting our findings.

I would give Scott an A for his research and availability. I would also give Steve an A for his work organizing all of our research and bringing to the table a great amount of expertise.

Introduce students to the complexities and challenges of healthy communities, related to urban design, society and food issues.

I felt that this class did a thorough and eye-opening job of showing the complexities and challenges of healthy communities, especially with the difficulties I saw  at People’s. As was noted by the group who spear-headed the food drive, most of the donations were canned, not the most healthy of food.

Communities today still have a narrow focus in what is healthy. For example, for me, healthy is just eating healthier foods. However, healthy communities are at its prime when every member takes responsibility for its footprint, and reducing it as much as possible.

Orient students to the particular history and culture of cooperative businesses and the natural food industry.

This class showed the current state of cooperatives and the natural food industry. The three field trips to local natural food cooperatives demonstrated the impact each coop had on its community and also the impact of the community on the coop. The book by Michael Pollan Omnivore’s Dilemma gave a thorough and interesting point of view on the history of the natural food industry and the coops that participated in it. It was interesting to read about the roots and obstacles the natural food industry and its members have been through.

Provide students with ethnographic tools to successfully interact with individuals, groups, and cultural landscapes, and be able to document and analyze their observations and communicate them to others.

I felt that as a class, most point of views were communicated and welcomed. I felt it was a little one-sided at times, but I especially learned a great deal about how my classmates view our culture. This was refreshing as it gets a little frustrating at times to be exposed to one way of thinking for awhile.

Gain a cultural sensitivity to be able to work with and understand the experiences of a diverse community of people.

I felt like I already had the tools of cultural sensitivity. My previous classes equipped me with these tools, but more importantly my workplace. Learning to understand through cultures, ages, sexes, etc. This class definitely provided an atmosphere of learning and new experiences. I loved how Professor Ferbel would always ask “What are your new food experiences this week?” Also, I felt that all my classmates came from a variety of backgrounds, and it was fun to learn in that atmosphere.

Learn environmental and social ethics related to taking initiative to sustainable agriculture, land use, and food issues.

Omnivore’s Dilemma as well as the guest speaker (he used to work for Apple) did a great job in presenting the political and social issues in agriculture and land use issues. It was assumed at one point that organic is the preferred (and ethical) way to farm if one was farmer interested in sustainability. However, the rules and regulations surrounding the term organic now has gotten away from its original intent, it is generally agreed.

People’s Coop was a wonderful community partner to work with. They are eager to learn how to improve their business and eager to learn from us students. The relationship that has been cultivated between PSU and People’s adds great value to both institutions. I believe that People’s has a strong competitive advantage because of its flexibility and willingness to change, and to network among many organizations, like PSU. I wouldn’t change things for future students. I loved my experience with them!

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