by Ben Hastings
Earlier this month, the Burns & Hammond team had the opportunity to spend the weekend with 22 13 to 18 year olds from East Harlem, to conduct a Sustainability Base Camp field trip to various different sites in Boston! This was a truly fascinating experience, not only for the newly crowned Eco-Champions, but for myself and the organizers as well.
Our day began at The Food Project in Roxbury, MA, where we all got the opportunity to explore their multitude of lush, community gardens. This is where the kids could see a real revitalization that was made in a low income neighborhood. It was incredible to observe the high level of interest in some of their eyes as we walked through the neighborhood that had plentiful green gardens full of delicious vegetables scattered throughout a concrete jungle. Thanks to our gracious hosts at The Food Project, all of the burning questions asked were answered thoroughly, along with ideas for instituting similar projects in their own East Harlem community.
The next stop was a much needed lunch at Haley House, a non-profit, community based organization. Not only is Haley House a great spot to pick up a fresh, local meal, but the cafe strives to have a positive community impact by helping employees build new skills and safer neighborhoods. That being said, the food was secondary to the story we heard from the catering manager Jeremy, who is a significant part of the Haley House’s success. He spoke to the Eco-Champions about how his life on the street got him into jail, but he was able to turn his life around by helping his community any way he could. I think that this was important for the students to tune into because it was a real life example of a person who has a similar background, that ended up making it in the “green industry.”
Finally before we trekked back to the hotel for the night, we made a stop at the largest wind turbine testing facility in the nation! Thanks to Executive Director Rahul Yarala, the tour of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Wind Technology Testing Center included an overview of wind energy as a whole, the process by which wind turbines are constructed and an in depth look at the rigorous testing of the turbines they do in order to make sure they will be able to withstand any outdoor conditions. As someone who has always been interested in and studied alternative energy, being in the heart of a facility that is striving to be a leader in wind was amazing. It also seemed like an eye-opening experience for the students because it was a concrete example of what people are doing on a larger scale to become energy independent and sustainable.
The next day consisted of strolling through the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts' Local Food Festival, where hundreds of vendors lined the streets of Boston selling bread, veggies, ice cream and so much more. The local food movement has really been taking off over the past few years, and this was a perfect example of how it has. These farms and stores of the Boston area graciously gave out delicious samples of their products, allowing everyone to try just about everything!
Unfortunately, this was the last stop on our trip. As the Burns & Hammond team said goodbyes to the Eco-Champions, I had expected to feel a bit of sadness as our time together was over. Instead, I felt a sense of relief that these students had the opportunity to go on a trip like this, and knew that this had really hit home for many of them. It might be wishful thinking to expect all 22 students to go on and eventually become green collared professionals, but hearing the questions they asked, and inspired thoughts about careers that came out of many were enough to make me to believe that this was a positive experience for all. This Sustainability Base Camp was just a building block that added to their environmental awareness, but one that provided a solid foundation due to its real life relatability for these Eco-Champions.