Crickets and Kale: WB Garden Summer Update

by Diana Ramirez and Moses Viveros

Diana Ramirez harvesting greens, August 2017 (photo: M. Viveros)

Despite the slow start at the beginning of this year’s growing season, the 2017 Wabash Rooftop Summer Gardeners have been working hard to revitalize our outdoor plots to harvest fresh herbs and vegetables that will be used in the Dining Center! So far, we’ve grown a significant amount of kale and chive on the 5th floor rooftop gardens along with some basil and mustard greens. Our first summer harvest included 5 oz. of kale, 3.2 oz of mustard greens, 1 oz of collard greens, 4 oz of chive, and 1 oz each of oregano and basil. Not bad for a couple week’s worth of work!

Photo: D. Ramirez

In addition to our outdoor plants, we have been tending to a couple of baby seedlings in the SUST Lab in the AUD building. With a little more TLC, these plants will soon be enjoying life out on the rooftop along with their other green friends. In the SUST Lab we have oregano, cilantro, sage, more basil, and even more kale.

Earlier in the week we were able to directly sow different vegetable seeds into our outdoor plots in the hope that we can gather an abundant fall harvest. We planted a variety of durable plants that will withstand the change in climate going into fall. Some of these include broccoli, champion collards, basil and, you guessed it — more kale!

Moses Viveros sowing seeds in the rooftop garden, August 2017 (photo: D. Ramirez)

So far this summer, our 5th floor garden herbs and vegetables have encountered the company of a number of critters most of which have been completely harmless. However, others have gotten into the habit of snacking on some of our green friends. We’ve observed some slugs in a couple of plots in which we will experiment with some pest control methods to rid of these unwanted, yet shockingly cute (to some), little critters.

Photo: D. Ramirez

Although crickets may be known to help themselves to a nibble in one’s vegetable gardens, they’re not creating enough damage to be considered a problem for our case. In fact, they make the experience of urban rooftop gardening even more thrilling by popping up spontaneously here and there as we maneuver through the garden plots.

Photo: M. Viveros

In order to keep our rooftop gardens thriving, we need as much help as we can get! In addition to growing vegetables and herbs for the use of our campus’ Dining Center, we’re interested in taking the sustainability initiatives with our work in the rooftop gardens a step further. Beginning this summer we will be working to prepare selective plots for introducing native prairie plant species as well as some very important milkweed to attract some butterflies.

Stay tuned for our next post that will have some updates on how our garden is growing a little greener each day!

Diana Ramirez (BA ’17 SUST and SOC) and Moses Viveros (BA ’17 SUST) both graduated with honors from Roosevelt this past May. This summer they are working part-time as rooftop gardeners at Roosevelt’s downtown Chicago Campus.

Posted in agriculture, alumni, biodiversity, food, Roosevelt, students | Leave a comment

SUST Alumni Tend the WB Rooftop Garden at RU this Summer

SUST grads Moses Viveros and Diana Ramirez (BA, May 2017) are working this summer as Sustainability Student Associates at RU’s Chicago Campus. Among their many and various projects is tending the WB Rooftop Garden on the 5th floor of Roosevelt’s Wabash Building:

The WB Garden has provided opportunities for hands-on learning and stress relief, as well as herbs and greens for the WB Dining Center, the past three years. Glad to see Moses and Diana digging in this summer as they tend our crops the coming weeks!

Diana Ramirez works the garden plots on the WB Rooftop Garden, July 2017 (photo: M. Viveros)

Posted in alumni, food, green design, internships, Roosevelt, students

The Power of Urban Agriculture

by Vicki Gerberich

One of my favorite aspects of teaching the SUST 230 Food course in RU’s Sustainability Studies program is the fact that I have the opportunity to talk about urban agriculture and often introduce students to organizations and people growing their community through food, often in their own backyard. In simple terms, urban agriculture can be viewed as agricultural production within the cores of metropolitan areas, usually for purposes beyond home consumption.

Hoop house at Growing Power’s Iron Street Farm (V. Gerberich)

But, in more complex terms, urban agriculture plays a much bigger and more influential role in a community. Urban agriculture often plays an educational role, which can be found at community and schoolyard gardens throughout the country. Urban agriculture also plays an economic role in communities in the form of community supported agricultural (CSA) production, distribution and marketing of food and other products along with job training and skills development. Urban agriculture also has a social role to play in community development, advocating for food justice, at-risk youth programs and community integration.

Here is a list of the many benefits that urban agriculture offers, as outlined by the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at University of California Davis:

Social Impacts
• Creating Safe Places/Reducing Blight
• Access to Land
• Community Development/Building Social Capital
• Education and Youth Development Opportunities
• Cross-Generational and Cultural Integration

Health Impacts
• Food Access and Security
• Increased Fruit and Vegetable Consumption
• Food and Health Literacy
• General Well-Being (Mental Health and Physical Activity)

Economic Impacts
• Job Creation, Training, and Business Incubation
• Market Expansion for Farmers
• Economic Savings on Food
• Savings for Municipal Agencies
• Increased Home Values

Therefore, considering the plethora of benefits that urban agriculture brings to a community, it is very satisfying knowing that Chicago is among the leaders in sustainable urban agriculture. However, given the many benefits, it can not go unsaid that urban agriculture also has its many challenges, including land use issues – from contamination and blight to ownership and zoning issues.

RU students tour the Iron Street Farm in Chicago (V. Gerberich)

For over four years, I have been organizing field trips for my SUST 230 classes to tour Growing Power’s Iron Street facility. Growing Power is the result of Will Allen’s dedication to providing the cities of Milwaukee and Chicago with safe, healthy and affordable food and thus growing a larger food movement throughout the county.

Located on seven acres of asphalt on the city’s south side, the Iron Street location (3333 S. Iron Street) was a phenomenal example of what a small community of determined individuals can accomplish — turning an abandoned warehouse and its loading areas into highly productive agricultural plots and an education center. Every class that came to tour this site, was amazed at the level and variety of production with everything from aquaponics to vermicomposting (composting with worms) with bees, chickens, goats, heirloom grains, kale in all varieties, mushrooms, strawberries, tilapia, and tomatoes in between.

Mural and picnic area, Iron Street Farm, Chicago (V. Gerberich)

One summer, my class of all female students spent an hour or more sifting through the worm bins. It was one of the more delightful afternoons — a group of individuals ranging in ages, interests and background discussing the ways of the world over bins of discards that now more resembled the gold dirt that will go back to feed the seeds that we will eventually eat. This is the great gift of urban agriculture: bringing together folks from different walks of life for one common mission — safe, healthy and affordable food.

Therefore, it was a shock when I was confirming this semester’s tour at Growing Power and noticed some conflicting information. I was reviewing the website’s tour page with the class when I noticed that the top of the page still mentioned tours at the Iron Street location, but the bottom of the page listed the Chicago South Farm as the location of their public tours. After talking to someone in the Chicago office, I learned that the Iron Street location was abruptly closed and is no longer part of the Growing Power organization.

As I understood it, Growing Power did not own the land they had been working and transforming into an urban agricultural spectacle. And, it was within the last few months that the landowner decided to no longer rent that property to Growing Power. While I do not know the details of the situation, I do know that they had a lot to dismantle and move within a short period of time. I also know that this setback will not keep Growing Power from continuing to do all the good that they do. However, I suspect that the removal of such an institution will be a significant setback for the community.

The closing of this farm also impacted my class, as they were not able to visit this location and see firsthand the awesomeness of this 7-acre site. I believe that after touring this facility, my students realized the power of food, community, and justice. Here are just a few of the insights from previous classes:

Growing Power’s Fresh Moves bus (V. Gerberich)

Simone Dowdell stated: “What impressed me the most about Growing Power is the mobile farmers markets. I think that it’s a great idea to travel with fresh local produce to the people that need it most. I hope that program really takes off and they can do it in cities around the country because it could greatly decrease food deserts.”

Shelby McMasters thought that “the Will Allen’s idea of Growing Power was amazing in that not only does Growing Power grow locally, but gives back to the community also by allowing children to volunteer after school and giving some of them jobs when the graduate.”

Erika Rainey-Willaims describes her key take-aways from the tour: “Sustainability is a creative science that requires outside thinkers. Urban farming is totally unique and in a class of its own. When it comes to urban farming, it’s not about building more, its about using the space you already have. Urban farming is about more than producing healthy, sustainable food. It’s about joining communities and empowering each other.”

Luckily, Growing Power will be offering tours at their South Farm, a 14-acre food and fitness park that is a collaborative project between Growing Power and the Chicago Park District located at 8900 S. Green Bay Avenue.  And also luckily, Chicago has several choices when it comes to urban agriculture, from Growing Home to Windy City Harvest.

​Side note: Fighting eviction is apparently not uncommon, as it even happened to the infamous gangsta guerilla gardener, Ron Finley.

Learn more about:

From the Growing Power website: “Growing Power has served as a ”living museum” or “idea factory” for the young, the elderly, farmers, producers, and other professionals ranging from USDA personnel to urban planners. Training areas include the following: acid-digestion, anaerobic digestion for food waste, bio-phyto remediation and soil health, aquaculture closed-loop systems, vermiculture, small and large scale composting, urban agriculture, permaculture, food distribution, marketing, value-added product development, youth education, community engagement, participatory leadership development, and project planning.”

Vicki Gerberich is Adjunct Professor of Sustainability Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at Roosevelt University. A longtime gardener with expertise in environmental planning, nutrition and wellness, and sustainability education, Gerberich regularly teaches SUST 230 Food and 240 Waste. She also is an active member of the Environmental Sustainability Committee at Roosevelt.


Posted in agriculture, cities, courses, education, faculty, food, Roosevelt, students

Policy Initiatives for Combating Food Waste

By Yessenia Balcazar


Photo: The Guardian

Among the topics that were covered in my most recent courses I have taken as a sustainability studies major at Roosevelt University, I found that the topic of food waste, particularly the sources of food waste, to be simultaneously fascinating and dismaying. I was especially struck by one very specific cause of food waste that often gets overlooked by the public: the relationship between retailers and food supply policies.

More specifically, current retail food supply policies regarding aesthetic standards for foods and the expectation that product displays be consistently stocked both promote inefficiency in the food supply system that leads to food waste. Approximately 1.4 billion tons of food produced globally for human consumption is going to waste annually (Finn, 2014). In developed countries, 40% of this food waste comes from retail and consumption alone (ibid). The estimated value of food loss equates to $680 billion dollars in retail prices (Gosh et al., 2015). Food waste is a social, environmental, and economic crisis.


Source: Just eat it: A food Waste Story

As it stands, current retail policies regarding food supply consist of a multitude of aesthetic standards and the requirement of having fresh, fully stocked perishables sections at all times of the day (Gunders, 2012). Blemished or disfigured food products are deemed unsuitable for supermarket retail and there are specific regulations set in place by supermarket policies that deem what are acceptable aesthetic standards (Ghosh et al, 2015). In order for food products to make it from the farm and into the food retailing system, they must match the specific measurements and coloration the policy requires (ibid). Current supermarket policy also mandates that food displays be fully stocked at all times of the day, from opening to closing.

Fortunately, all is hope is not lost. There are a multitude of retail food policy reforms that can restore efficiency in our food supply. One potential policy that can be implemented to combat the issue of food waste would be a requirement that grocery stores have a separate bin or section for perishables that did not meet cosmetic standards and sell them at a discounted price.Perishables that are overripe or near their expiration date can also be included. Not only does this work to minimize food waste, but it can also result in increased profits. While it has been argued that a possible consequence is that these sections can deter potential customers, research shows that such bins actually increase profits.

A popular grocery store in Berkley, California has implemented this idea. They offer damaged or nearly expired produce on their bargain shelf for 99 cents, and make approximately $1,500 in profits from this shelf every day (Gunders, 2012). As opposed to the typical experience of losing profits from tossing out safe to eat perishables, the implementation of this policy allows supermarkets to not only recover these losses, but actually maximize their profits over time.


An example of a “disfigured” perishables bargain bin at “Pick n Pay” grocery store. Photo source:

A second policy option to consider would be to mandate the donation of the food that is deemed unsalable to those in need. In 2011, more than 50 million Americans lived in food insecure households (Finn, 2014). Not only would this work to diminish the issue of food waste due to current policies, but it would also work toward resolving the issue of hunger and food insecurity.

There is, however, a concern surrounding legal obligations if said donated food ends up being unsafe to the consumer in any way. Donors do not want to run the risk of a lawsuit should this end up being the case. Fortunately, this is not actually possible under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1996 (Ghosh, et. al., 2015). The Good Samaritan Act allows donors to donate food that does not meet qualifications to be sold in supermarkets, but is still otherwise safe for consumption, to various charities while being free from any legal obligations.

A final option to consider would be to eliminate cosmetic standards and focus more heavily on the implementation of standards that truly correspond to food safety. This option would also incorporate a policy that mandates less full displays and overstocking. This works to remediate both pathways by which supermarkets are losing a great amount of profits and contributing to food waste. Similar to the evidence that supports that consumers are willing to buy cosmetically imperfect perishables, they are also typically unperturbed by shelves and displays that are not heavily stocked.

A grocery chain called Stop and Shop/Giant Landover conducted a thorough analysis of freshness and customer purchases in all of their perishable departments (cited in Gunders, 2012). In their analysis they found that current overstocking practices led to spoilage on the shelf, and thus, increased customer dissatisfaction. The results showed that customers did not even notice a reduction in choice or the less full displays, and customer satisfaction actually increased seeing as there was a reduction in spoilage on the displays, and produce was, on average, actually three days fresher than before (Gunders, 2012). Stop and Shop/Giant Landover was able to save an estimated annual $100 million by removing full stock displays and unnecessary whole-stock keeping units. Given this information, it would be a very efficient decision to implement this sort of policy into supermarkets to not only divert food waste from landfills, but also to save profits and increase consumer satisfaction.

The implementation of each of these policies promotes an increase in profits through the implementation of bargain bins, the highest possible decrease in economic loss, food loss, and food waste by eliminating cosmetic standards and overstocking, and combating the issue of hunger through the donation of perishables.

Yessenia Balcazar is a senior Sustainability Studies major at Roosevelt University, which she is also president of the student environmental organization, RU Green.

Posted in agriculture, economics, food, policy, Roosevelt, students, waste

We Are Still In: Roosevelt U President Ali Affirms Paris Agreement

by Dr. Ali Malekzadeh, President of Roosevelt University

Roosevelt University recognizes our responsibility to the environment. Despite President Trump’s withdrawal . . . [on 1 June 2017] of the U.S. from the Paris Agreements, we reaffirm our commitment to national and global cooperation for a sustainable future [emphasis added]. Today I joined nearly 200 presidents of colleges and universities – and over a thousand more political and business leaders – in the endorsement of continued climate action and the effort to reduce carbon emissions, despite the absence of leadership from Washington.

In 2015 I wrote that “The task of envisioning and creating a truly sustainable world is immense and complex. Colleges and universities are not only well suited to engage in this important work through innovation, education, and community engagement, they are obliged to do so.”

RU President Ali harvests greens from the WB Rooftop Garden during the #AmDreamConf service day, 15 Sept 2016 (photo: RU)

At Roosevelt today we have an award-winning sustainability plan that includes the use of renewable energy resources, green roof gardens, recycling, efficient cooling and heating, and much more.  — President Ali Malekzadeh

We Are Still In: Open Letter to the International Community and Parties to the Paris Agreement from U.S. State, Local, and Business Leaders

We, the undersigned mayors, governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors are joining forces for the first time to declare that we will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement.

In December 2015 in Paris, world leaders signed the first global commitment to fight climate change. The landmark agreement succeeded where past attempts failed because it allowed each country to set its own emission reduction targets and adopt its own strategies for reaching them. In addition, nations – inspired by the actions of local and regional governments, along with businesses – came to recognize that fighting climate change brings significant economic and public health benefits.

The Trump administration’s announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change and damages the world’s ability to avoid the most dangerous and costly effects of climate change. Importantly, it is also out of step with what is happening in the United States.

In the U.S., it is local and state governments, along with businesses, that are primarily responsible for the dramatic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in recent years. Actions by each group will multiply and accelerate in the years ahead, no matter what policies Washington may adopt.

In the absence of leadership from Washington, states, cities, colleges and universities, businesses and investors, representing a sizeable percentage of the U.S. economy will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emissions.

It is imperative that the world know that in the U.S., the actors that will provide the leadership necessary to meet our Paris commitment are found in city halls, state capitals, colleges and universities, investors and businesses.

Together, we will remain actively engaged with the international community as part of the global effort to hold warming to well below 2°C and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit our security, prosperity, and health.

Editor’s note: The above is reblogged from the original press release of this statement on 9 June 2017 from the Roosevelt website.

Posted in climate change, ecology, education, ethics, news, policy, Roosevelt, social justice

US Abdicates Global Climate Leadership by Rejecting Paris Agreement

Editorial: On Thursday, 1 June 2017, President Trump announced that the US would reverse course on the historic 2015 Paris Agreement on mitigating climate change that united 195 nations with the goal of reducing global carbon emissions. In doing so, America joins only two other countries — Syria and Nicaragua — in rejecting the terms of the non-binding Paris Accord, which ironically was designed, in part, to placate US demands for flexibility and lack of true accountability.

This unwise and even reckless decision by the Trump administration, while hardly surprisingly from the warped standpoint of domestic politics, doesn’t just ignore ecological reality; it is an ethical failing as well as an economic blunder of epic proportions. The remaining 194 countries will now proceed with their greenhouse gas reduction strategies, per the terms of the Agreement, without the global leadership of the US, the world’s largest polluter historically and currently the second-leading GHG emitter behind China. Environmental ethics dictate that the US has the moral responsibility to do something about the problem it has played (and continues to play) a large role in creating, especially since the Earth’s atmosphere, water, and soil are a global commons.

The decision also undermines the prospects of American innovation and leadership in the growing clean energy economy, as it simultaneously evokes a nostalgia for polluting fossil fuel extraction (the long-declining coal industry) while ignoring the exploding green economy and the potential for the US to claim and profit from leadership in clean energy innovation. Forbes magazine reports that right now, over 373,000 people are employed in the solar industry, compared to 86,000 in coal — and the gulf between these two numbers is likely to grow in coming years due to inexorable market forces that began decades before the Paris Agreement.

In short, the White House and its Congressional supporters are yearning for an economic past that cannot (and should not) be revived, while ignoring the short- and long-term future potential of growing our already accelerating green/clean economy. Why they are doing so is a noxious admixture of climate change denial, extensive and longstanding ties to the fossil fuel industry (read: Scott Pruitt, now head of the EPA), and sheer political spite.

While the June 1 announcement undoubtedly appeals to the President’s core supporters, the majority of Americans — even a slim majority of Republicans — think climate change is a real problem, and that we should remain part of the Paris Agreement. Cities and states have already declared their intentions to continue reducing GHG emissions within and beyond the previously stated US reduction goals; and corporations will continue to acknowledge the reality of climate change and plan for it accordingly, because not to do so will only hurt their bottom line in the long run.

This, in short, is the lesson of sustainability: we cannot simply make ill-informed decisions based on wishful thinking rather than facts, rooted in the present moment, and willfully ignorant of the future. Combating climate change is necessarily a global effort that requires cooperation and collaboration, not a winner-and-loser(s) mentality. The Earth is an ecological commons that all countries share, and thus all nations bear responsibility for its good stewardship.

Our children understand this; just ask them. Why can’t our President?


Posted in climate change, ecology, economics, energy, ethics, green jobs, news, policy

Chicago’s City Buildings to be Powered by 100% Renewable Energy by 2025

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Housing Authority, Fleet and Facility Management Commissioner David Reynolds, and City Colleges of Chicago announced this past April their commitment to move their buildings’ electricity use to 100 percent renewable energy by 2025.


Green Roof at City Hall Source:

When implemented, Chicago will be the largest major city in the country to have a 100 percent renewable energy supply for its public buildings.

“As the Trump administration pulls back on building a clean energy economy, Chicago is doubling down,” Mayor Emanuel said. “By committing the energy used to power our public buildings to wind and solar energy, we are sending a clear signal that we remain committed to building a 21st century economy here in Chicago.”

The commitment will be met through a combination of purchased energy credits, utility-supplied energy renewable energy provided by Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, and on-site generation.

Rooftop solar panels on the Shedd Aquarium, Chgo IL

Organizations like the Shedd Aquarium have already committed to powering their facilities with renewable energy. The Shedd has installed over 900 solar panels in an effort to reduce energy use by 50% by 2020. The Shedd has also retrofitted its facilities with 1,000 LED light bulbs and has installed a One-megawatt battery on its property.

The city has already made significant steps towards greening up its energy supply. In 2013, the City eliminated coal from over 1 billion kilowatt hours in electricity that is purchased on an annual basis. Since 2009, over a dozen CPS schools have had solar panels installed. And the Chicago Park District and City Colleges currently procure large portions of their energy use from renewable sources.

Editor’s Note: This post is adapted from this City of Chicago’s press release on 9 Apr 2017.

Posted in cities, conservation, economics, energy, news