Final Summer Snapshot for 2016

Click here to read a Recap of Summer 2016 and more!

 

TU: International visitors immersed in North Florida sustainability

Click here to view story from the July 29 issue of the Florida Times-Union.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH | They came to Northeast Florida to get their hands dirty.

During a whirlwind 18-day trip to learn about environmental initiatives, the 19 mostly young adults from Austria, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Sweden, France, Portugal and Spain volunteered in a variety of ways. They built a bio-swale in Springfield, removed invasive plants at Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve and tested Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve water and sediment for marine debris and microplastic waste.

They also helped out at the Jacksonville Zoo and at two local nonprofits, learned all about the St. Johns River and land bank mitigation and Tuesday toured Gyo Greens in Ponte Vedra Beach, a small farming operation that combines traditional aquaculture with hydroponics.

“Interesting,” said Madalena Neves, 19, of Portugal, marveling at the end of the Gyo Greens tour, which included a microgreens tasting session. “I could stay here all day.”

But there were more places to go, including historic Camp Milton, where the group was to help improve the Rails to Trails pathway system. And there was more sustainability information to absorb.

The Northeast Florida visit was an International People’s Project hosted by nonprofit CISV Jacksonville, part of a worldwide volunteer organization that promotes peace, education and cross-cultural friendship. People’s Projects are designed by host cities in partnership with local organizations. They bring a group of volunteers from at least four different countries to work together on a community project along a specific theme. The local theme was exploring the environment and environmental initiatives.

Practices employed and lessons learned in one country, group members said, may benefit other countries or at least help start conversations.

Controlled burns, for instance, are used in U.S. forest management to reduce fuel buildup and decrease the likelihood of serious hotter fires. But Neves said there is no such concept in her home country of Portugal.

Experiences should be shared globally, said group member Brigitte Reisner of Austria.

“I have learned that everything is connected … everywhere,” she said.

Her husband, Johann Reisner, is a consulting engineer for agricultural engineering and water management in Austria. He said he was familiar with the global issue of microplastic waste — his outgoing emails contain the phrase “take care of microplastics” — and planned to suggest it as a topic to be studied by Engineers without Borders, of which he is a member.

Fannie Lawson of Sweden said sustainability practices should be applied worldwide.

“We have to, with what we buy, what we eat,” she said. “The whole earth is not only ours.”

At the Gyo Greens greenhouse, farm manager Jessie Berlinger had a full sustainability lesson plan ready. In aquaculture, waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic animals supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water. Less land and water is needed than in a traditional farming operation, she said, and since everything is recycled, nothing goes to waste.

Plant growth is rapid.

“Like magic,” she said, gesturing to containers of multi-colored microgreens, “Everything here will turn green this afternoon.”

Gyo Green’s specialty produce and microgreens are sold to 32 area restaurants and, except for the summer months, available to the public on a retail basis.

“We’re very busy,” she said.