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November 22, 2012

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Once upon a time the Chesapeake Bay was beautiful and bountiful. Watermen made their livings harvesting oysters, blue crabs, rockfish and many other species of fish. Agriculture was a family business; many farms had existed for generations, some families going back to colonial times. Whether we lived and worked in town, farmed the land, fished or sailed the Bay and its network of waterways, or came for a vacation, the Bay was more than one of the world’s greatest estuaries; it was a way of life.

That was yesterday; today the Chesapeake Bay, its many waterways and the lands surrounding them are in serious trouble. “We have to be careful of the fish in the Bay because of pollution,” says Greg Farley, Associate Professor of Biology at Chesapeake College and Director of the College’s Center for Leadership in Environmental Education or CLEEn. He’s also a frustrated recreational fisherman because often the fish he catches can’t end up on his dinner table.

“CLEEn is Chesapeake College’s step toward making a more sustainable Eastern Shore,” Farley explains.  “Chesapeake College can serve as a clearinghouse for good information and conversations about agriculture, the Bay, planning and zoning, and we can serve as a catalyst for some of these conversations.”

In 2003 Farley came to Chesapeake College to teach biology. It wasn’t long before he realized the campus had its own pollution issue with the trash being generated by the 20 soda machines around campus. “We didn’t recycle,” he said. Using his Biology 101 Honors class, he organized a recycling program to try to fix the problem. He made it “cost neutral to the college,” and soon this successful volunteer recycling program caught on.   

Farley says he moved from “agitator to coordinator” with the new administration and president. They supported his recycling and other sustainability efforts by creating the Sustainability Operations Group with Farley and Douglass Gray, Vice President for Technology and Academic Support, as co-chairmen. Overall, the College made sustainability one of the five core themes of its Strategic Plan. The most visible evidence of these efforts is the 50-kilowatt wind turbine that provides some of the electricity for the Higher Education Center behind it. However, the wind turbine was not Chesapeake’s first sustainable endeavor; in 2006 the College implemented the first of several geothermal heating and air conditioning systems.

Besides generating electricity, the wind turbine is the first phase of the Center for Leadership in Environmental Education (CLEEn) for the Eastern Shore. The next step will be construction of a 4,000 square foot facility near the turbine that will house classrooms and laboratories. In this proposed wind and solar powered education facility, students will be educated and trained for work in a number of jobs involving wind and solar power generation. CLEEn will prepare students to plan, install and maintain solar and wind structures, such as the turbine, for both commercial and residential applications. Through CLEEn, Chesapeake College is becoming a leader for economic and environmental sustainability programs.

Farley wanted to learn firsthand about training people for “green” careers, so he designed a sabbatical leave to study the sustainability program at a community college on Maui. What does a lush Hawaiian island full of tourists, pineapple and sugar cane fields have to do with sustainability on the Eastern Shore? “Maui is really similar to the Eastern Shore,” he explains. “It is agriculture based, and the community college on the island has a sustainability institute. That’s why I chose to go there. They do it all—the community college trains people for sustainable solar panel installation, and they have classes on windsmithing, which is small wind power installation.” On Maui, Farley observed solar energy businesses and public utilities successfully working together to promote a more sustainable use of energy.

He believes that wind and solar energy will work here, too. “The College’s educational mission fits perfectly with sustainability,” Farley says. In fact, the Division of Continuing Education and Workforce Training already offers courses in wind power, solar, geothermal and electrical systems.

 “Sustainability,” he says, “means broadly meeting the needs of today without impairing meeting the needs of tomorrow. We need to take care of fiscal and financial responsibility along with environmental responsibility.” This makes sustainability a complex problem.

He believes that making intelligent choices, compromising in the right places will help. “If you can find the right way to untangle some of these inherently complex problems, you can affect social justice, the environment and the economy—if it’s done right and carefully.” He says for example, “Solar energy is clean. Smaller farms can be more profitable per acre than mechanized farms, and smaller farms mean less pressure on farmers and on the environment. One step at a time,” he smiles, “or one tractor at a time.”

Farley adds, “As a kid, I always wanted to be Jacques Cousteau.” Maybe the Eastern Shore is this marine biologist’s ocean to protect and sustain, and the Center for Leadership in Environmental Education is the Calypso. Certainly, CLEEn demonstrates the College’s commitment to environmental sustainability as a global and regional responsibility.

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November 22, 2012

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