Nature Up North: Sustainability Through The Use of Technology

By Imman Merdanovic

St. Lawrence University has long been known for promoting sustainability and environmental understanding. One of the newest additions to team sustainability is Nature Up North, a community-based organization that uses technology to encourage and enhance outdoor experiential learning. Through the use of popular social media tools and by organizing a variety activities in the area, Nature Up North seeks to foster connections between the North Country and its residents.

Nature Up North Encounter Photo Challenge. Photo Credits, Jacob Malcomb via natureupnorth.org
Nature Up North Encounter Photo Challenge. Photo Credits, Jacob Malcomb via natureupnorth.org

“I think a lot of people have a real desire to connect with the environment in the place where they live,” said Jacob Malcomb, the project manager. “Nature Up North has hosted a wide variety of public events since its founding in 2013, including guided hikes, canoeing and kayaking, introductory fishing, natural tie-dye, orienteering, and wild edible/medicinal plants,” added Malcomb. Nature Up North has so far built its brand on one premise— its online presence and the website that fosters citizen science in the North Country.

Nature Up North 7K Run. Photo Credits, Justin Dalaba
Nature Up North 7K Run. Photo Credits, Justin Dalaba

“One goal of Nature Up North is to make our website a virtual nature center for the North Country where users can share nature photos, download trail maps, participate in citizen science projects, learn about local species, and find local outdoor events,” said Malcomb.

Erika Barthelmess, founder of Nature Up North and Biology professor, believes their biggest asset is citizen science. “Doing something like an encounter has a broader purpose than just connecting people to nature and that is a citizen science initiative that helps us document the world that we live in,” said Barthelmess.

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However, using technology to foster environmental understanding is not particularly easy in the North Country, as Malcomb discovered. “People are busy, and there are lots of ways to get outside and engage with nature that don’t involve Nature Up North. There are an infinite number of media outlets competing for their time and attention. In an online space, it’s hard for Nature Up North to compete with Buzzfeed listicles and cat videos,” said Malcomb.

Besides offering a variety of resources for North Country residents, Nature Up North also attracts St. Lawrence students who seek to deep their environmental understanding. “We’re a small organization, so a student who is passionate about environmental communication, outdoor leadership, or digital media production can make a real impact and gain valuable experience learning what it’s like to work for a small environmental nonprofit,” said Malcomb.

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Anna Hughes, a junior Environmental Studies major interned with Nature Up North this fall. “This internship connected me to the North Country because it forced me to step out of my very small SLU bubble, and actually look at and interact with the community around me more,” said Hughes. “Through talking with these people and hearing their stories, I felt more connected to the North Country and this tight-knit community than ever before,” added Hughes.

Justin Dalaba, senior Conservation Biology major interned with Nature Up North twice. “Spending more time up here throughout the past two semesters, I’ve had the opportunity to explore new places that I did not know existed and meet a lot of  new people with interesting that I would not have heard otherwise,” said Dalaba.

It is important for us students to truly get to know the place that we all call home for four years. Only by breaking out of our SLU bubble and by engaging in conversations about environment with the North County residents, will we really promote sustainability.

SLU Musical: The Decameron Blues

By Imman Merdanovic

While theatre productions have been rather popular among diverse audiences on campus, it has been a while since St. Lawrence University hosted a musical. After a long time, sixteen aspiring actors and signers  are getting ready to present Hokum Poke ‘em Cabaret, or The Decameron Blues, adapted for the stage by Kirk W. Fuoss from a variety of blues songs and selected tales from Boccaccio’s Decameron.

 

Actors in the scene"The Oblivious Go Between." Photo Credits, Lizz Formann
Actors in the scene”The Oblivious Go Between.” Photo Credits, Lizz Formann

“The show introduces audiences to some wonderfully comedic stories that are decidedly bawdy and some great songs from a relatively obscure genre of the blues known as “hokum,”  said Kirk Fuoss, the director. “One of the hallmark of songs belonging to this genre is the use of metaphors and euphemisms to explore sexual content,” added Fuoss.

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Despite the sexual references, “the show essentially talks about culture, gender and society through humor,” said performer Christopher Lule.

While the cast believes that the music part is what makes the show, Randy Hill, the technical director, knows that incorporating music into the show was probably the hardest part. “The biggest challenge for the director was making a script and using songs for which there was no sheet music,” explained Hill.

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But music is not the only unusual part of the show. All of the props and costumes used in the production are stored in trunks onstage. “There is no backstage to this show.  And like the props and costumes, all sixteen of the show’s performers remain onstage throughout the entire performance,” said Fuoss.

Tess Lagor, a performer, likes the simplicity used in the show. “This show is definitely a simpler, more stripped down kind of show. The costuming and set invite the audience to use their imagination,” said Lagor.

Another very special thing about the show is that the entire music part was directed by the fellow students, Emily Goulet and Taylor Sudolak. “My favorite part is the one-on-one music rehearsals and seeing how much progress we’ve made,” said Emily Goulet. “It has been fantastic to work with talented singers and experiment with the blues genre,” added Goulet, who is also the accompanist in the show.

Those involved that the show is one of a kind, with something for everyone.“One of the things I most like about this production is its variety and its pacing,” said Fuoss. “It features 9 stories, 10 songs.  Most of the songs are about three minutes long.  Most of the stories are blasters, too, that last around six minutes.  If the story or song audience members are seeing right now isn’t to their liking or doesn’t suit the mood their in today, there’s another one just around the corner that probably does,” added Fuoss. 

As for expectations, “The audience can expect a good laugh and great entertainment for the evening.  Everyone has worked incredibly hard on this show, and we’re excited to show our hard work,” said Goulet. Taylor Sukdolak, co-vocal director is particularly excited, “expect to find some sort of enjoyment from a performance you have never seen in your life.”

The show will take place at Edson R. Miles Black Box between April 27-30,  from 8 p.m.-9:45 p.m.

News Travels: Homelessness in New York City

By Imman Merdanovic

Despite being a prominent issue in the United States, homelessness has been largely ignored by media outlets across the country. As a former student of the New York City off-campus program, I have had a chance to observe homelessness in, what is known as, the greatest city in the world. This article aims to uncover the city’s dark side— that which 60, 410 homeless New Yorkers know best. Addressing the issue of homelessness in New York City is important as the most vulnerable ones, that we now see in increasing numbers, have very few advocates and are offered limited resources in world’s most resourceful city.

Homelessness in New York City goes back to The Great Depression (1929-39), which, according to this website, was “the longest-lasting economic downturn in the history of the Western world.” As noted on the website, “In the United States, the Great Depression began soon after the stock market crash of October 1929, which sent Wall Street into a panic and wiped out millions of investors.” One of the factors that contributed to the rise of homelessness in New York City is deinstitutialization— the process of moving mentally ill people out of public hospitals.

“The number of homeless families in city shelters each night has nearly doubled from an average of 3,947 families in the 1980’s to a mid-decade average of 7,640 families in 2005 to 14,699 families in 2014.”

 PBS reports, “The ideology rested on the objective of maintaining the greatest degree of freedom and integrity of body, mind, and spirit for the individual while he or she participates in treatment or receives services.” Deinstitutialization, as reported on PBS, “started in 1955 with the introduction of chlorpromazine, the first effective antipsychotic medication.” As stated on Salon, “One month before elections, President Carter signed the Mental Health Systems Act, which promised to continue the federal community mental health centers program.” However, Reagan soon abolished the act, giving all funds to the states. The New York Times even labeled deinstitutionalization “a cruel embarrassment, a reform gone terribly wrong.” 

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Additionally, lack of federal funding for homeless shelters across the United States, which began in 1981 under Ronald Reagan, caused homeless to now be greater than ever. According to Coalition For Homeless, “The number of homeless families in city shelters each night has nearly doubled from an average of 3,947 families in the 1980’s to a mid-decade average of 7,640 families in 2005 to 14,699 families in 2014.” The worst cut in spending was for low-income housing subsidies.

According to the  National Housing Institute, “In his first year in office Reagan halved the budget for public housing and Section 8 to about $17.5 billion, then sought to eliminate federal housing assistance to the poor altogether.” Moreover, the blog states, “ In 1970 there were 300,000 more low-cost rental units than low-income renter households. By 1985 the number of low-cost units had fallen to 5.6 million, and the number of low-income renter households had grown to 8.9 million.” Similarly, National Housing Institute reports in the same article, “The number of homeless people had swollen to 600,000  by the late 1980s, with a yearly increase of 1.2 million.”

“At 10 homeless shelters, conditions were so bad building inspectors issued vacate or partial vacate orders.”

There are currently 11 homeless shelters in NYC, most located in the Bronx, that are neither safe nor resourceful enough to accommodate the homeless. In fact, as explained here, “At 10 sites, conditions were so bad building inspectors issued vacate or partial vacate orders.” The above reports further state, “Fifty-three percent of the shelter units we sampled were infested with rodents, roaches or other vermin, and 87% had serious safety violations like broken smoke detectors, blocked fire escapes or walls with holes.” Homeless shelters are mainly run by the volunteers and do not provide long-term help, which the city administration is yet to realize. They might offer emergency shelter, but will not reduce the number of the homeless and this is certainly something to worry about.

While The Huffington Post reports that 55% of interviewed New Yorkers think about homelessness in their city at least once a week, American media outlets continue to suppress this issue by overemphasizing the glories of the greatest city in the world instead. Raquel Rolnik, a United Nations special investigator, accuses the US in The Guardian of “shameful neglect of homeless.” In fact, Steve Rendall, senior analysts at FAIR, reported on Bill Moyers that this year “on average, just .2 percent of campaign stories discussed poverty in any substantive way. ABC World News, NBC Nightly News, NPR’s All Things Considered, and Newsweek ran no campaign stories substantively discussing poverty.”

“On average, just .2 percent of campaign stories discussed poverty in any substantive way.”

This filtered and mediated news coverage is a typical example of selective articulation and the way the news is mediated to fit “our needs” and our “desired perspectives”, and reveals interesting limitations of cross-cultural understanding of homelessness as a societal threat. To illustrate this, a website called News Map groups news from around the world into different categories. When filtered to only show NYC-related articles, it displays a great number of articles on Donald Trump, Ariana Grande, St. Patrick’s Day, the Brussels attacks and iPhone 7, with not a single coverage of homelessness, thus selectively articulating the news.

In addition, news coverage of poverty and homelessness in the United States vs. abroad is significantly different, with media outlets around the world speaking of the death of American dream because of poverty and homelessness. A Serbian news outlet reported  that with huge income disparities and four out of five Americans who face poverty at some point in their lives, “the American Dream is dead.” On the contrary, an article from The New York Times claims, “The American Dream exists all across the country, from the small businesses in every town to the energy entrepreneurs that have created so many jobs and driven down oil and gas prices.”

While the US media outlets focus on what is being done to reduce poverty and homelessness, foreign media focuses more on the issue of homelessness at its core, its causes and consequences. An Italian news outlet, which sarcastically titled the article “Paradise without homeless”, accused Americans of being “mean” and further reported, “The problem of the homeless is probably the biggest scandal in the United States. Nobody knows the exact number of the homeless in America, because they are basically invisible and embarrassed in their poverty, in their lack of success and in the society which has no mercy for losers.”

Furthermore, a popular Croatian portal notes, “In the city with so much money circulating around at all times, the fact that half of its residents live in poverty or near poverty is devastating, yet representative of a continuous trend in increase of economical disparities in the US.” Moreover, they report that poor people in NYC “work but are unable to survive off of that income” and that disparities in opportunities and resource distribution across the country is key factor that evokes poverty. In fact, as reported here, “The richest 20 Americans own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the country.”

You can enjoy yourself comfortably on the Upper East Side, but just a subway stop away, some of the poorest people in NYC are begging on the streets of East Harlem and you alone are unable to help. It is enough to spend a few minutes browsing foreign media outlets to see how heavily  filtered, that is selectively articulated, the news that is served to us is. Media glorifies the wonders of the city and sugarcoats even some of the most shocking issues, such as homelessness, promising that something is being done to solve it.

“The richest 20 Americans own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the country.”

Homelessness in New York City and the United States as a whole has gotten attention from international organizations such as the UN and Amnesty International. On their website, Amnesty International reports, “Housing is a basic human need and a fundamental human right. Yet every day in the United States, banks are foreclosing on more than 10,000 mortgages and ordering evictions of individuals and families residing in foreclosed homes,” while at the same time criticizing the government for its lack of efficiency in addressing this issue.

According to Our World, “Criminalization of homelessness in the US has been criticized by the United Nations.” As stated on the blog, “US homelessness has increased after the financial downturn, and with a disproportionate impact on minorities.” In fact, as written on City Limits, “Black persons in families make up 12.1 percent of the U.S. family population, but represented 38.8 percent of sheltered persons in families in 2010. In comparison, 65.8 percent of persons in families in the general population are white, while white family members only occupied 28.6 percent of family shelter beds in 2010.” These numbers are shocking.

Similarly, the blog reports UN’s position on the issue, “The Committee is concerned at the high number of homeless persons, who are disproportionately from racial and ethnic minorities and at the criminalization of homelessness through laws that prohibit activities such as loitering, camping, begging, and lying in public spaces.” Sadly, I have to agree with the UN. We have become as segregated of a nation as we could possibly be.

We live in, what we think is, the greatest country in the world, yet remain oblivious to some of the most prominent issues in our society. After all, would you really bother thinking about a homeless stranger sitting on Times Square, while graciously sipping your fresh Starbucks Vanilla Frapuccino? I think it is time that you do. In fact, it is time that we all look beyond what media is telling us and start acting today. Only that way will our world become a better, safer place for everyone.

Bibliography

Biron, Carey. “Criminalization of Homelessness in US Criticized by United Nations.” Our World. Our World, 09 Sept. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/criminalization-of-homelessness-in-us-criticized-by-united-nations>.

Chung, Jen. “Number of Homeless in NYC At Highest Point Since 1980s.” Gothamist. Gothamist, 24 Jan. 2006. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://gothamist.com/2006/01/24/number_of_homel.php>.

Cohen, Steven. “Understanding Homelessness in New York City.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 May 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-cohen/understanding-homelessnes_b_608211.html>.

Collins, John. “More Selective Articulation.” Weave News. Weave News, 04 Sept. 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://weavenews.org/node/793>.

Da Costa Nunez, Ralph. “Homelessness: It’s About Race, Not Just Poverty.” City Limits. City Limits, 05 Mar. 2012. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://citylimits.org/2012/03/05/homelessness-its-about-race-not-just-poverty/>.

Dreier, Peter. “Reagan’s Legacy: Homelessness in America.” National Housing Institute. NHI, 13 May 2004. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://nhi.org/online/issues/135/reagan.html>.

Fuller, Torey. “Ronald Reagan’s Shameful Legacy: Violence, the Homeless, Mental Illness.” Salon. Salon, 29 Sept. 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.salon.com/2013/09/29/ronald_reagans_shameful_legacy_violence_the_homeless_mental_illness/>.

History. com Staff. ”The Great Depression.” History. A+E Networks, 15 Sept. 2009. Web. 05 Apr. 2016. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.history.com%2Ftopics%2Fgreat-depression>.

Jankovic, Anto, and Antje Passenheim. “Siromaštvo U Najbogatijoj Zemlji Svijeta.” Deutche Welle. Deutche Welle, 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.dw.com/hr/siroma%C5%A1tvo-u-najbogatijoj-zemlji-svijeta/a-17390312>.

Loha, Tanuka. “Housing: It’s a Wonderful Right.” Amnesty International USA. Amnesty International, 21 Dec. 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://blog.amnestyusa.org/us/housing-its-a-wonderful-right/>

McGreal, Chris. “UN Investigator Accuses US of Shameful Neglect of Homeless.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 12 Nov. 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/12/un-investigator-us-neglect-homeless>.

“Mental Health Systems Act of 1980.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FMental_Health_Systems_Act_of_1980>.

Mitchell, Daniel. “The American Dream Is Alive.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 01 Jan. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/01/01/is-the-modern-american-dream-attainable/the-american-dream-is-alive>.

Moiola, Paolo. “Paradiso Senza Fissa Dimora.” Paolo Moiola. Paolo Moiola, 04 June 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.paolomoiola.it/old/0/det.php?id=99>.

“NewsMap.” Newsmap.jp. Newsmap, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://newsmap.jp/>.

Palmer, Mark. “Sex And The City! Noisier Sirens, Bigger Portions, More Glamorous Stars … Why New York Truly Is the Greatest City on Earth.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers. Accessed on April 10, 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2756769/Mad-Manhattan-Noiser-sirens-bigger-portions-glamorous-stars-New-York-truly-greatest-city-Earth.html

PBS.com Staff. ”Deinstitutionalization: A Psychiatric Titanic.” PBS. WPBS Digital TV, 10 May 2005. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/asylums/special/excerpt.html>.

Photograph. Property of MTA. “Homeless people sleep at a subway station in New York City.” Accessed on April, 10, 2016 from http://obsidianthemystic.blogspot.com/2013/09/hobo-handbook-memoirs-of-homeless-poet_13.html

Sept. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2756769/Mad-Manhattan-Noiser-sirens-bigger-portions-glamorous-stars-New-York-truly-greatest-city-Earth.html>.

Stangler, Cole. “Richest 20 Americans Own More Wealth Than The Entire Bottom Half Of The Country: Report.” International Business Times. International Business Times, 02 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.ibtimes.com/richest-20-americans-own-more-wealth-entire-bottom-half-country-report-2206865>

Stringer, Scott. “NYC Must Fix Homeless Shelters to Have People Use Them.” NY Daily News. NY Daily News, 06 Jan. 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-fix-homeless-shelters-people-article-1.2486637>.

Telegraf Staff. ”AMERIČKI SAN JE UMRO: 46 Miliona Siromašnih U SAD!” Telegraf. Telegraf, 29 July 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.telegraf.rs/vesti/793085-americki-san-je-umro-cak-462-miliona-ljudi-siromasno>.

The New York Times Staff. ”Denying the Mentally Ill.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 June 1981. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/1981/06/05/opinion/denying-the-mentally-ill.html>.

Wharton, Rebecca. “How Big Media Ignores the Poor.” BillMoyers. BillMOyers, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://billmoyers.com/2012/10/11/how-big-media-ignores-the-poor/>.

Maple Traditions in the North Country

By Imman Merdanovic

Maple Season is not considered to be one of the “four seasons,” but for those in the North Country, it is the sweetest. Little Lucy knows best, as she takes another bite of a freshly made maple donut at this year’s Maple Weekend. Lucy does not need her mother’s approval of all the sweet treats she indulges herself in – after all, maple syrup is an antioxidant, a superfood, and part of a much larger tradition of the North East.

Maple Donuts at Bryan Thompson's sugar shack in Canton. Photo Credits, Imman Merdanovic.
Maple Donuts at Bryan Thompson’s sugar shack in Canton. Photo Credits, Imman Merdanovic.

Maple Weekend, which took place on March 19-20 and April 2-3, has been around since 1995. Its goal is to educate the public of the process of making maple sugar. Nowadays, Maple Weekend includes approximately 160 farms that open their doors annually to welcome maple lovers from around the region.

Maple syrup is a natural sugar made by the evaporation of the sap from maple trees. The abundance of maple trees and a climate particular to the North East, allows for the harvest of our favorite pancake sweetener every Spring.

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According to the Northeastern Regional Field Office of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics, maple syrup production in 2015 reached 2.96 million gallons. Vermont remains the top maple syrup-producing state in the nation, producing 40.7 percent of the country’s syrup.

Tapped Maple Tree. Photo Credits, Imman Merdanovic.
Tapped Maple Tree. Photo Credits, Imman Merdanovic.

For residents of the North Country, producing maple syrup is a family tradition that has been carried on for generations. “I’ve been producing maple syrup for over 25 years,” said Jeff Jennes, owner of The Orebed Sugar Shack. “My dad did it when he was growing up, my wife and her family all did it, so there are five generations of us here on weekends that all do maple syrup. It’s a family thing, you can’t do it alone.” Each year, the Orebed’s put about 1,800 taps in 1,400 trees.

For BryanThompson, owner of Blue Heron Farm, maple sugaring was one of the first things he learned growing up. “I have been making maple syrup since I was about three years old,” he said. “My father made syrup until he was 85 and he learned to make maple syrup from his uncle who learned from my great-grand father. We have been making syrup since 1805, so it’s a long family tradition.”

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Just like Thompson, the owners of the Woody’s Maple have been producing maple since 1912 and are planning to continue the family tradition by passing the business onto their son-in-law, Josh Whitford.

Five Generations of Maple Producers at the Orebed Sugar Shack. Photo Credits, Imman Merdanovic.
Five Generations of Maple Producers at the Orebed Sugar Shack. Photo Credits, Justin Dalaba.

Andy Hurlbut, owner of Hurlbut’s Maple, sees maple sugaring as a way of staying active and connected to nature. “From my perspective, I enjoy being outside,” said Hurlbut. “It’s kind of like a winter sport. The season never really lasts long enough, so you never really get sick of it.”

Just as Hurlbut doesn’t get sick of maple season,  Lucy certainly did not get sick of her maple donut. “This was our first time coming to Maple Weekend,” said Lucy’s mom, Stephanie Rose. “Our favorite part was eating maple syrup, maple doughnuts, and learning. “It is important to keep educating people about maple production, because it is part of the North Country tradition. It’s all about families,” she said.

Work Cited

“About Maple Weekend.” NYS Maple Weekend. Accessed on April 3, 2016 from http://www.nysmaple.com/maple-weekend/About-Maple-Weekend/1

“Vermont still leads U.S. in maple syrup production.” Farm and Dairy. Accessed on April 3, 2016 from http://www.farmanddairy.com/top-stories/vermont-still-leads-u-s-in-maple-syrup-production/265545.html

Interviews https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSyJUgfQURA