1. United States
Public schools around the country are using hydroponics as a tool both to teach the values of sustainable agriculture and to help feed land-scarce communities. In the Morgan Hill Unified School District in Santa Clara County, California, a Freight Farms shipping container in a school parking lot produces enough lettuce to satisfy 60% to 70% of the district’s salad bar needs. Nutrition director Michael Jochner calculated the $150,000 investment would pay for itself in 7 ½ years, and he’s working on expanding the program. Freight Farms, a Boston-based startup, says there are currently 16 K-12 schools around the country employing its system.
In New York, a nonprofit called Teens for Food Justice installs hydroponics in schools with a focus on food insecurity and education. Students partner with faculty farm managers to tend crops throughout the year.
Why We Wrote This
In our progress roundup, a basic but precious resource around the world – clean water – is also growing as a medium for raising fresh vegetables. And in both Bangladesh and New Zealand, concerted efforts to protect flora and fauna are paying off.
“It’s designed to be a totally immersive experience for these kids, from how you grow the food to why we need to eat differently to why we need to structure our systems around food production differently,” said Katherine Soll, director of TFFJ. “We have the ability to empower a group of leaders with an entirely new way of looking at our food system.” TFFJ’s newest farms will be in Denver and Miami.
Source: Civil Eats
2. United Kingdom
A London-based physicist has written 1,750 Wikipedia articles about scientists and engineers whose contributions had been overlooked, adding to a more equitable online knowledge base. Jessica Wade received the British Empire Medal for “services to gender diversity in science” in 2019.
Dr. Wade, who works in a physics lab at Imperial College London, gained notoriety for her clashes with Wikipedia editors over who is worthy of an article. Her entry on African American nuclear chemist Clarice Phelps – who was involved in the discovery of tennessine, the 117th element on the periodic table – was hotly debated and subject to repeated deletions and repostings before Dr. Wade won out. She has published papers on inequality in academia and wrote a children’s book about nanoscience last year. Dr. Wade says the best way to remedy underrepresentation of women in STEM fields is for educators to give the next generation of female scientists the tools and mentorship they need to cultivate their interests – including representation in a resource as widely used as Wikipedia.
“Wikipedia is a really powerful way to give credit to people who, for a long time, have been written out of history,” she said. “Having people know who you are means you get more opportunities.”
Sources: The Washington Post, NBC News
The decline of endangered vultures has been halted in Bangladesh thanks to efforts between the country’s Forest Department and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Officials credit the government’s ban on some veterinary drugs used on cattle – which are one of the scavenging birds’ primary food sources – with the stabilizing of vulture populations. Though vulture numbers have not increased since the last census in 2015, they have stopped declining for the first time in years.
Until the 1980s, vultures were abundant across the Indian subcontinent. But as habitat loss increased and farmers began treating cattle with anti-inflammatory drugs that vultures can’t metabolize, some species lost 95% or more of their populations. Bangladesh banned veterinary use of one drug in 2010, and later defined two safe zones for vultures where a successor drug, ketoprofen, has not been allowed since 2017. Last year, the country banned all production and use of ketoprofen across the country to strengthen protections for the birds.
An IUCN action plan that runs through 2025 also includes the maintenance of the vulture safe zones in important breeding areas, and local communities have joined conservation efforts with protected feeding stations.
Sources: Mongabay, Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction, Bangladesh Ministry of Environment and Forests
4. New Zealand
The success of an urban nature park aimed at restoring a part of New Zealand’s capital to its natural state has inspired residents to take conservation into their own hands. Twenty years ago, Zealandia opened outside central Wellington and concentrated 18 native species over 500 acres. Today, as wildlife from inside the sanctuary flies beyond its fences and exposes people to more common sightings of once-rare animals, human residents are amping up their pest control efforts – joining neighborhood eradication networks and setting up rat traps across the city. “It links them to their neighbors, it links them to their community, and pretty soon you’re part of a bigger movement that’s delivering on a shared vision,” says James Willcocks, project director at Predator Free Wellington.
The initiative mirrors New Zealand’s goal of pest eradication by 2050. After seven centuries of human settlement and the invasive mammals that ships brought to the islands, dozens of native species have been wiped out. But in a recent bird count in Wellington, numbers of the endangered kākā have more than tripled since 2011. The parrot was once hard to find even in national parks. Now it’s not uncommon to spot a kākā at city bus stops.
Two billion people have gained access to safe drinking water over the past 20 years. The World Health Organization, which sets global drinking water goals and standards, announced in a report that access increased from 62% in 2000 to 74% in 2020.
According to the WHO, these improvements are largely due to widespread government investments in drinking water services. But that still leaves 2 billion people without, far short of the sustainable development goal of “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all” by 2030.
To help close this gap, the report recommends a quadrupling of investment and outlines a number of policies that governments and partners can enact, including government oversight of drinking water management, creating financial incentives for safe access, and regular, transparent review of drinking water policies.
“No child should be faced with the choice of drinking dirty water – a leading killer of children – or making dangerous journeys to collect water and missing out on school,” said Aidan Cronin of UNICEF.
Source: World Health Organization