What if you started early?
What would the results be if you started teaching recycling and sustainability early in a child’s life? What if activities at the school focused on daily sustainable living? Things like recycling paper, plastics and food. Reducing consumption at every point of the school day. What if the students had their own community garden and spent time each day helping take care of that garden? What if food from the garden were a part of the daily school lunch or snacks? What if you taught the kids more about nutrition in a way they could see in concrete terms from dirt to plate? Would it be a way to change the behaviors of generations to come? Could it be a way to make sustainable living a natural part of that child’s life for years to come?
Those were the questions I had after chatting with Lisa Libby, the Director of Sustainability for Mayor Sam Adams of Portland. The meeting was one of several meetings the Fiesta team had with folks here in Portland, billed as the greenest festival in the nation.
While Fiesta staff and a representative of the Fiesta Flambeau Parade met with the Rose Festival staff, I met with the mayor’s staff to see how they did things in Portland. With everyone’s schedule so busy in the final days of the Portland Rose Festival, we had to tag team meetings to make sure we were as respectful of everyone’s time.
The meeting with Libby was arranged by Lynne McIntyre of the Royal Rosarians, Portland’s team of civic ambassadors who have built a strong relationship with Fiesta San Antonio and some of the PMOs of Fiesta. McIntyre met me at Portland’s City Hall just as Mayor Adams rushed past us waiting in lobby of his office suite. Shortly afterwards, Libby came rushing into the suite with the rest of staff, fresh from Adams’ weekly staff meeting.
Sitting down with Libby I found out Portland is where San Antonio is targeting. Boasting waste diversion rates of 67% with targets of 75%, they have already met our 2020 goal, in terms of keeping waste out of the precious landfills every city has to maintain as the final resting place of its waste. Every city has controversial issues and Portland is no different. Their issue is shifting compost pickup to weekly and garbage to bi-weekly, a change some residents find inconvenient, to the point of purposefully cross-contaminating their compost bin with garbage.
Single use bags are already banned in Portland after council approved a measure a year ago targeting stores with gross annual sales of $2 million or more. Portland’s ban follows a similar statewide initiative that had failed. The ban imposed no fees and was a simple ban to eliminate the use of the single use bags except for produce, meat, bulk food, and pharmacy privacy bags. Most likely San Antonio will be on track in several years similar to Portland’s move. So it’s good to see how things were handled in Portland in the wake of this ban.
But probably the most interesting thing that came from the meeting was the development of an environmental K-8 school called the Sunnyside Environmental School, a special school of the Portland school system focused on sustainable living. The school has its own community garden and integrates cooking and preparation of the output of that garden into the curriculum. Rotating curriculums focus on River, Mountain, and Forest. Physical education is maintained through hiking, kayaking, and sports. It’s a unique school of sorts, but the ideas fostered by the school could be easily integrated into any standard school day.
My thoughts immediately went to the newly built Barkley/Ruiz Elementary School of the SAISD, sitting a block away from the city’s Mission Verde facility. What if you integrated a community garden into the school and taught kids how to grow their own vegetables? How about teaching sustainability to a set of kids in an area where sustainable living may not be emphasized as much? I mean, there’s so many opportunities that could be realized through a partnership between Mission Verde and the school.
During the Fred Meyer Junior Parade, the largest and oldest kids parade in the nation, parade volunteers teach the kids about helping keeping Portland clean by handing out bags along the route for waste collection. After the parade, it’s amazing how clean the street is all along the route. I’ll see more about that on Saturday when I help during the Grand Floral Parade, Portland’s version of the Battle of Flowers Parade. I think you all remember my photo of the brother and sister who were recycling on their own after the Battle of Flowers Parade. If kids can get into the act at such an early age then we know we can help build ideas for generations to come. As the mayor has said before, these are teachable moments we should take advantage of.
It’s something I’m going to explore when I get back to San Antonio. Friends beware!