When was the last time you thought about the impacts of a decision you made, not just on yourself or your family, but on the whole community? Or the surrounding environment? Or the local economy? And not just in the immediate future, but how it might influence future generations as well? Talk about place-based learning! The discussion on ranching operations took place in the hay barn of a local ranch.
The students at Greenville Junior/Senior High School have been building the skills to make those kinds of informed decisions through the Sustainability Institute series, hosted in partnership with Sierra Institute. After participating in Part I of the series in late January, students recently undertook Part II, which explored how some of Indian Valley’s current stakeholders are finding the right balance of sustainability in their lives.
Two long-time ranching families spoke to students about how they stay sustainable and keep their operations going under changing conditions. An unexpected highlight was when each rancher told the group about what kept them personally sustainable in their work- ranging from their love of animals or for machinery, to carrying on a family tradition, to finding a real sense of purpose in their everyday connection to the landscapes they care for. This, coupled with a bus tour exploring local natural resources, offered a great opportunity for students to learn a bit more about these aspects of Indian Valley many had little or no experience with before.
One of Indian Valley’s most abundant natural resources are the hillsides upon hillsides of timber in surrounding forests. However, Indian Valley and outside operators have historically harvested just the most valuable timber, a fraction of our overall forests, leaving a lot of small diameter trees and waste material behind that can increase wildfire risk. Camille Swezy, a representative from Sierra Institute, spoke to students about these challenges and what she and others in the Valley are doing about it, while also factoring in that healthy forests provide important habitat and environmental services. Specifically, they are looking at new ways to use some of this low-value and small diameter wood to support the local economy with new jobs, while also promoting environment health by harvesting these trees responsibly.
Students were teed up for this topic and presentation on wood utilization as they had just explored the process of tapping into hidden or wasted energy to maximize efficiency, much like all the unused materials in our forest. A discussion on Indian Valley’s assets and challenges drew similar connections.
The highlight for many students were the Choice Activity sessions that linked different local concepts to sustainability and sustainable living. Students learned about the local sheep-to-garment business, another that raises goats to make niche soap with goat milk , and how to use yeast to make leavened bread. A returning favorite, students also learned about mindfulness and the importance of connecting healthy thoughts with a healthy mind through yoga.
Students will use all of this information to develop final projects that help improve the sustainability of Indian Valley into the future. These final projects will not only allow students to apply all the information they’ve learned so far to demonstrate their knowledge, but also provide real suggestions on how to improve Indian Valley and keep our communities, environment, and economies in balance for years to come.
Perhaps most exciting- students are already starting to draw important connections across content! One student excitedly shared an image she created to visualize her thought process on what she has been learning and how our communities, economies, and environments really are connected. This type of creative and intuitive thinking is exactly what we hope to foster in these future stewards.
GJSHS and Sierra Institute would like to thank the following for their participation as presenters, activity leaders, mentors and more: Marsha Roby, Jane Braxton Little, Guy McNett, Brian, Heather, Travis and Vanessa Kingdon, Mia and David Van Fleet, Lorraine Nielsen, Rosanna Angel, Nancy Presser, Heidi Kingdon, Camille Swezy, Amber Russel, and all the teaching, administrative and cafeteria staff at GJSHS. This programming was supported by Plumas National Forest Moonlight Settlement Dollars, the Greenville Rotary Club, the Greenville Booster’s Club, and an anonymous donor.
Article by: Courtney Gomola