Blogs from Emily Belle Tue, 03 Jan 2017 13:19:48 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Community Voices - Ian Yarber Ian YarbergIan Yarber is the head of the Recreation Department of Oberlin. He oversees recreation-related activities around in the town. He was born in Oberlin, and returned here about 17 years ago. Ian has a three year-old daughter.

Q: What comes to mind when you think of Oberlin?

A: I’ve always thought of it as a small, cosmopolitan town. Because you have all these diverse people. The college brings in a lot of diversity. But even—its a diverse community. I can say you can see the diversity on the campus, just like I can see the diversity in the community. A lot of small communities don’t have that diversity, and Oberlin does.

I think Oberlin’s always been cutting-edge, on a number of things, whether it’s support of education: not just the college but the schools, the local schools…Just the way the community supports endeavors for young people. They continue to support that environment that helps young people – children, college students—just be able to come and be educated, and go out into the world. To me, Oberlin gives that whole…rapping our arms around the community and helping it grow, and set the foundation for life. Oberlin’s college, and community sets the foundation for people to move on in life. I see it as a big family environment. With all families, you have your own issues within your own families. But still to me, it has that family environment. I think it’s a nurturing community for people.

Q: What sort of actions is the Recreation Department involved in that relate directly to the well-being of the environment?

A: We have a recreation complex where we sell concessions. One of the first things we did was look at, in selling concessions, that we weren’t gonna use styrofoam to serve food and stuff in. We also have recycle bins, so we try to recycle—not  only water bottles, but we try to recycle the cardboard. We try to do it in the best friendly, environmental way. So we have no styrofoam, we have no glass, and most of the plastics we use are recyclable plastics. We try to use things that can be recycled, that are not as harmful to the environment that way.

Our afterschool program…the things that we serve them, we try to do locally grown. If not locally grown, it’s purchased at IGA, so we try to not have a big footprint on the environment. If we purchase things, [we] try to purchase them locally in terms of products that we might use in our programs…knowing that, part of the carbon footprint in trucking things in and out. So, as much as we can do it locally without that, we try to.

Q: What different programs does the Rec Department oversee? What sorts of things go on in these programs?

A: The city has an afterschool program, that we run at Eastwood Elementary School. It’s for kindergardeners through 5th grade. Our afterschool program goes Mondays, Wedneday, and Fridays. Just three days a week, afterschool until 6 PM. So at that program…we help them with their homework. We give them a snack. They do games. We do try to get them out moving—especially if it’s nice enough. They go on the playground. We might do kickball games in the gym. We might do jumprope in the gym. We do arts crafts games. You know, a lot of those things.

The Rec Complex—I oversee the scheduling of games out there. Who plays—where, when and why. That’s baseball, softball games, for kids. That could be baseball, softball games for adults. Soccer games. Leagues. Practices. Tournament games…you have about 220 soccer games a year out there, and you’re doing about 400 and some-odd baseball and softball games out there.

I oversee city programs—afterschool program. A small kids wrestling program, introduction to wrestling program. Youth basketball, which is probably about 7 or 8 weeks on Saturdays: we teach the fundamentals of basketball. We do a basketball camp in the summertime for two weeks from nine to noon for boys  and girls.

Our largest program is our Playground Program – Summer Playground Program – which is a six week summer program. Registered this past year was about 270 kids. In that camp, they do arts, craft, games. They go bowling, certain days. They go swimming every Friday, for the six weeks…They do a lot in that program.

Then we have a program for teens called the Open Gym Program. Teenagers are something that we’re always wrestling with, to try to engage them…They’re just a changing group. And then we do other programs, like a bootcamp in the park…an earth day 5K run in April. And we’re trying to revamp that, to add more things. We’re looking at other programs.

Q: In thinking about sustainability, and the social health and well-being of the community, what do you think these programs give to Oberlin kids?

A: I look at the Playground Camp. Our Playground Program goes five days a week, from 10 AM to 3 PM. That is a large chunk of time. I think without that there would be a lot of kids left, really, unsupervised. Left to sit at home at their own devices and come up with probably good things, and not so good things, to do. As opposed now, they’re in a supervised, pretty much controlled environment, with trained staff who can make sure the things they’re doing is safe.

We do so many things with them…parents might not have been able to take them to splash zone, once a week in the summer. They might not have been able to go bowling, once a week. They might not have been to go to Birds of Prey—as opposed to a child getting to sit there with their friends, and get to see an Eagle, and a Hawk, and an Owl. Just the different things that keep them active and engaged. I think that program brings value to the community.

Our basketball camp, we call a mini-hoop camp…they can come to a basketball camp, learn some basketball skills, have some fun, and get a basketball shirt, a trophy…

Also, some of those statistics show that kids that are in afterschool program do a lot better in school, because they do their homework and they do get help with their homework.

So, I see value in all of it. I see that it’s just helping…a lot of those programs, help with...the fiber of the community…taking care of the community. Having things that children can do incorporated within this small community of Oberlin—that they can get all those things here. I see value in it. And I’ve told people – sports are one thing, a basketball camp is one thing. But I also tell people: “I can teach life lessons within those sports.” How to be a team player. How to be able to deal with wins and losses. You gonna win some, you gonna lose some. You gonna deal with losses in your life, because losses are gonna happen in your life. So, to deal with those things, those emotions, and tell them that, “This is all apart of growing up…as you walk through life…you know, the hard work. I see children that come there [basketball camp], that can’t make a layup. And in two weeks, they can make that layup. There are those things that I see value in—in the community, for the children of this community.

Q: Do these programs promote any personally healthy habits for Oberlin kids?

A: We talk to kids about healthy choices. And that’s one of the biggest things. We try to encourage that in afterschool, in our snacks. We do maybe baked potato chips, but we also do carrots and vegetables…You start talking about healthy food choice. Because if they go home, it’s probably gonna be chips, candy. It could just be candy, and just junk food all-together. As opposed to…we’re introducing some of them to carrots, and celery, and unsweetened tea…as opposed to pop, and some of the other things that they could be getting at home.

And I do hear some of the parents say, “I don’t know how you did this, but my child has asked me to pick up baby carrots at the grocery store! And he’s never wanted carrots before. I guess he’s eating it there, and he likes them, so now I get them.” So, I do know that there is success in that. That there’s change in the thought of some of the kids…When they sit at the table, the peers eat that: “Oh I want that, I want grapes or whatever.” “Oh, I want grapes.” So if they see their peers eating it this way, a lot times they don’t wanna be left out of that peer group, they eat the grapes, and the baby carrots. So, it helps, if they find out that grapes are sweet, they’re not nasty – and grapes and oranges are not bad for you – they’re pretty good.

Q: Do you see ways in which what the Oberlin Recreation Department offers benefits the sustainability of the community as a whole, beyond the kids?

A: There are those things that I see value in, in the community, for the children of this community…And the value not just for the children, but the values in the parents too: that they have a comfort zone enough that they can leave a child here, and not worry about the,m because they know they’re in a fun, safe enviroment. They can go to work, or wherever, and pick them up at a certain time…and know that their child is gonna be fine. So there’s value in that, too. Because a parent…whether they’re working full-time or seasonal or part-time…might say, “Oh, I gotta get back by noon to pick my child up, and how I’m gona do this? I’m working over here in Avon. How am I gonna get back here and get back to work? You know, I can’t.” Then you have to give them the choice of – can I work this job? But when the community is such that they say “Ok, I don’t have to worry about that. They’re gonna be able to go to this program, and I’m off work when that program is over…” All those programs, there’s value in the community.

And it’s the coming together. Back here at Park Street Park – for years I wanted them to have a new playground, and they would say, “What’s a new playground gonna do for that park?” And I would say, “Well, it’s more than just a playground. It’s where kids come to play, and where a parent takes a kid, they get to meet other parents. It’s a bringing of the community together.” It’s more than just a playground. When you have a public park and a playground, it’s bringing the community together around play…Or, “if I can bring my younger kid to play, and my twelve year-old can go over there and shoot hoops, and the library’s right behind me, I can get a book and sit at a picnic table, read my book while my kids play and get some exercise.” That’s some of those things.

Q: What would be your message to the Oberlin community, in thinking about a healthy and sustainable lifestyle?

A: I keep this little thing on my desk – “Get out and play.”

Just because you don’t play baseball, softball, tennis, golf--doesn’t stop you from getting out and playing. You can get out and throw a frisbee. You don’t have to be athletic to do a lot of things. I tell kids all the time: “Just because you’re playing basketball doesn’t mean you have to be trying out for a team.” You could just shoot, for exercise. Some of those things…some fun, exercise, a game…Those are some of the things that I really like. Just to get ‘em back, you know…“Get out and play.”

]]> (Emily Belle) Community Voices Fri, 17 Apr 2015 18:29:30 +0000
Community Voices - Laura Brua Laura Brua 2

Lauri Brua is a fifth grade teacher at Prospect Elementary School. She uses the Environmental
Dashboard as a teaching tool in her classroom, and makes sure that her students go home with an awareness of energy use and environmental issues, along with a sense of their own power to address these challenges.

Q: What are some words or images that come to mind when you think of Oberlin?
A: I would say progressive, changing. When I think of Oberlin as a community, I think: this is much more of a home community than where I actually live, because of the interactions that we teachers have with the community and the college.

Q: How is it that you came to be teaching in Oberlin?
A: I was just thinking about that…I got my job here in the early 90s. [My husband and I] were living in Elyria; so I targeted Lorain County schools and Oberlin called me. Then, I started doing research and looking into the historical value that was here, and it just really interested me. I was lucky enough to get pulled out of the hat for interviews, and got the job, so I felt pretty blessed.

Q: People use the word “sustainability” to mean a lot of different things. Can you give me your definition of “sustainability”?
A: Well, it’s changed just over the past few weeks because of these [Creative Change] lessons that we’ve had: talking about what you need to be happy and healthy, supporting your own wellbeing, and tying that in with nature and how that works all together as a community. I used to think of it more in terms of ecology and what it takes to be “green.” Now, it’s broadened out a lot more to include the well-being of a person.

Q: What are you doing as a teacher and in your personal life to move towards sustainability?
A: I stress recycling and reusing. We try to create as little trash as possible each day in the classroom, and we turn the lights off when we leave. We have been talking about the Bioregional Dashboard a lot at the end of the day when we look at the graphs of electricity and water use for that day. We always notice that the water usage goes up at the beginning of the day, at lunch, and at the end of the day. And the kids say, “Well they’re getting ready to go home, they’re going to the bathroom…” those types of things. But we noticed from 1:45-2:00 one day, our electricity usage went DOWN, significantly. And the kids brought this up- they said “Remember, we had a fire drill today?” Everybody had gone outside and turned off their lights and it made a difference in the graph. And the kids were like “Wow, that’s really cool. Now if we could turn the lights off when we….” And I do that in the morning now - I’ll keep the lights off and I bring in a lamp from home and turn just that on- and I think that makes a little bit of a difference. And I’ll do that at home, of course, too.

Q: Is there anything you would want to tell people in Oberlin about sustainability or caring for the environment?
A: I think it could get people more interested in what’s going on in the community if they had more information. The kids go home and talk about what we’re learning about with electricity. They go home and talk about how to conserve and make less trash and say “oh, we made a compost pile, and we’re planting seeds inside so that we can put them in the ground in the spring.” So they do make those connections. I think the more and more that we get kids interested, then they’ll go home and talk about it with their parents and get their parents interested.

]]> (Emily Belle) Community Voices Tue, 09 Dec 2014 19:26:39 +0000
Community Voices - Jan Miyake 160Jan Miyake is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Oberlin Conservatory, and a client of Providing Oberlin with Efficiency Responsibly (POWER).

How did you hear about POWER?

I think in the news tribune and then my friend Cindy also told me.

Why did you contact POWER/ what was your motivation?


When you bought your home was energy efficiency a consideration? (Like the age of your furnace, windows, etc.)

No. (Moved in 2004).

Have you done any previous work to improve the energy efficiency of your home?

Yes, we blew in insulation in the attic and we bought new windows.

How would you describe Greg?

Greg is great! He’s easy to talk to, really kind and fun to be around.

Which improvements did you choose to make?

Oh yeah. We called Columbia Gas, we got an energy audit...that resulted in insulating our walls and we also bought a new air conditioning unit. We also put a monitor on our water heater to keep it from getting super hot unless the weather was super cold. I think that’s it. We got a new ceiling on our doors.  (How was that process?) It was good. Some of the contractors we wanted to use were super busy and so we had to go with someone else but other than that, it was a good process. It took us a long time to choose people but that’s just because we were super careful.

Have you saved money on energy?

I’m sure we have but it’s really hard to tell because this winter’s much colder than last winter was so we’ve already used a lot more gas than we used last year.

How have these improvements affected your life?

The house is much more cozy upstairs. Especially our guest room which has two exterior walls and sits above the garage. Our guests have appreciated having insulation in the walls.

How would you define sustainability and what actions have you made to contribute to sustainability?

Sustainability for me would be using the world’s resources in a way where they’ll still be there for my grandkids.  We’ve switched to all CFL light bulbs. We’ve been teaching our kids about water usage and their showers and teeth brushing. We did the work with the air conditioning unit and the insulation in our house. We’ve tried to drive one car instead of two as much as possible. So usually we’ll take two cars maybe once a week maybe more than once a week. We ride bikes a lot, we love to walk. I think that’s it?  

]]> (Emily Belle) Community Voices Wed, 01 Oct 2014 19:17:16 +0000
Community Voices - Jerry Anderson Jerry AndersonJerry Anderson is the owner of Watson’s Hardware, located at 26 South Main Street in Oberlin. He believes in making full use of available materials.

Q: What words/images would you use to describe Oberlin?
A: Coming from your point of view, zero carbon.

Q: Why would you choose these words/images?
A: I don’t know of any town that is trying harder [to reach zero carbon emissions].

Q: How is it that you came to open your business in Oberlin?
A: The economic opportunities.

Q: Could you briefly describe the nature of your business and its function in the Oberlin community?
A: We are a retail hardware store, and that serves as the function as well.

Q: The word sustainability can be used to describe actions that promote the economic, social, and environmental well-being of a community. What does sustainability mean to you as an Oberlin resident and business owner?
A: Sustainability means that we put fewer materials out than we take in.

Q: Do you think sustainability is a relevant factor in making business decisions? Why? How do your beliefs about sustainability influence your business model/practices?
A: : It should be a relevant factor. It influences my decisions very much so. I’m really trying is about all I can say about it. I think one of the best things we do around here is we try to fix used things and we try to sell used things. When people come in and need something fixed, if we can patch it up so they don’t spend any money on it, then I think that’s about the best thing we can do around here.

Q: What sustainable practices/initiatives have you incorporated into your business practices? What inspired you to take these actions?
A: Well I just told you probably our biggest one, but a guy came and showed me this part that cost $4 and I was able to direct him to a part that cost only about 50 cents to make. So it saved him a bit of money. That is the idea of sustainability. If everyone thinks about what they are throwing away, if they consciously make every move count, then they will be sustainable. You know what I’m really bad at is I still throw trash or paper away that I shouldn’t because I don’t trust in my head that it really matters. It’s not environmentally sustainable, but it’s hard for me to break that habit. I should consciously put every piece of paper away and take every piece of metal and do the extra effort and recycle it properly.

Q: What advice/tips would you offer to other business owners who are interested in adopting sustainable initiatives?
A: I would say just think about what you’re doing and try your very best to really recycle as much as you can. Then, what you do recycle, think about what how much you are wasting or recycling and come to you own conclusions about what to do.


]]> (Emily Belle) Community Voices Tue, 02 Sep 2014 15:22:57 +0000
Community Voices - Manuel Espinoza Manuel EspinozaManuel EspinozaWhen Mr. Manuel Espinoza first came to Oberlin in 1964 for a job interview at the local barbershop, he knew right away that he wanted to stay. A self-identified “people person,” he enjoys interacting with his clients and making them look good, one haircut at a time. 
Q: What words or images would you use to describe Oberlin?
A: Oberlin…Lively, animated. Entertaining. 
Q: Why would you choose those words?
Because I go through other towns and you hardly see any people on the streets. But you come to Oberlin and there’s students walking around, any day of the week…Most outside towns, Saturdays are busy days. Oberlin, every day you’ve got movement in town. From here, you can see all the people going to the Feve, walking by and going to the banks…and just the different people—the different countries walking around. It’s pretty cool.
Q: How is that you came to open your business in Oberlin? 
A: It was back in 1964. I was an apprentice barber...Grew up in western Ohio and went to barber school in Toledo. I had my apprentice’s license but I couldn’t find any job that I really wanted to do over there. And then I was working as an apprentice hod-carrier—you mix mud for a plasterer—I set up the scaffolding and put the ladder up, and mixed the mud and the plaster, would do the walls…One day we were working in Toledo at a hotel and he [my boss] went out to lunch and came back with the Cleveland Plain Dealer and there were three job openings in the wanted section. One was in Bedford, one was in North Ridgeville, and one was in Oberlin. Went to Bedford and interviewed there…They said I could come work the next day. Then I drove to North Ridgeville…and I went to Ron’s Barbershop and he said I could start the next day. And then I came to Oberlin and it was about noon and the kids were leaving their art lessons at the museum and we were at the crosswalk…and I said yep, I think I’ll stay here….I came in here…and I applied and he said yeah, you can start working tomorrow. So at noon, when he closed up the shop, we went over to a place called Martin’s Inn—a monthly rental place—and I got a room there for a month. And the next day I came to town. 
I started working the next day, which was the first part of October. I had a year and a half apprenticeship and then in…March I came to work and Perry, my boss, says, “If you want to buy the barbershop, you should buy it today,” he says, “ ’Cause I’m retiring. If you don’t, you’ll be working for somebody else tomorrow.” So I bought it. And he packed up his tools and left, just like that. So that was pretty cool…That was about 1967. 
When I was over there [in a different location], I got married and sent my wife to barber school and she was cutting hair. And we cut hair together—she was very good, she was excellent. We ended up getting a divorce…We remained good friends…She was looking for a place to open her own business and I said, well, come back to Oberlin. I said, you’re a hair stylist, a barber stylist; I’m just a barber. We’ll get along fine, you’ll have your customers and I’ll have mine. So she had a place right up the street, right next to Gibson’s—it was called A Cut Above—and she had a really good business going…I had Renee working with me, then after that, I just worked by myself. It worked out pretty good and I’ve been by myself since then. I call it quality control. 
Q: Can you briefly describe the nature of your business and its function in the Oberlin community? 
A: My business is making people look good.
Q: The word sustainability can be used to describe actions that promote the economic, social, and environmental well-being of a community. What does sustainability mean to you as an Oberlin resident and a business owner?
A: I don’t know how much a barbershop would apply to that, other than good grooming…Well… the town itself…you don’t have to go out of town to get whatever you need. Most of your needs are here. With that, I’d say Oberlin does pretty well. Self-sufficient, self-sustaining.
Q: I think longevity is part of it too, what you were saying about how you’ve been here since the 60s. I would say your business has definitely been sustainable. 
A: I think I’ve changed when there needed to be change. When the long hair came in—in the mid-70s, the late 70s—Renee and I went to hair design school and learned to cut long hair and women’s hair and all that…You’ve got to go with the flow, not to extremes, just enough to rock the boat. So we changed as the times changed. I’m probably the first barbershop to have appointments. In town, no barbershops had appointments…I was the first guy who had a woman with me working as a barber. She got first chair…I was second chair—I deferred to my wife’s talents!
Q: What sustainable practices have you incorporated into your business practices? 
A: I think one of them is the appointments because a lot of my clients, customers, they have time constraints. I have professors and college students and they have x amount of minutes to go between classes or before classes start and they’ll call up and set up an appointment. They’ll be in and out and guaranteed they won’t have to wait. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve done. That, and consistency in the quality of the haircuts…I do all right, cutting hair. After 50 years…that says it all.
Q: Is it difficult to handle all the scheduling? What kind of system do you have worked out?  
A: The system is—I go at 20-minute intervals. A good hair cut, the actual cutting action of the hair, takes about twelve minutes. To cut it right, make it look good. But you also have the set-up time, the client coming in.  So I have a five-minute window. If you’re five minutes late, I’ll have to hurry your haircut and it’s not going to come out the way I want it to. And then the guy that has an appointment has to wait and he shouldn’t have to wait. So my thing is, if you’re five minutes late, I have to reschedule you, unless there’s nobody coming in afterwards. So my customers know that I’m not going to wait. The walk-ins are welcome, but they’ll have to wait if I have an appointment…I think that’s what’s kept me consistent. 
The people who come here come here of their own volition, so it’s a great working environment. No one comes in here because they have to. You come here because you want to…50 years and I love my job. And if you love your job, you never spend a day at work. 
Q: What sorts of economic development would you like to see in Oberlin? 
A: I don’t know…I think specialty shops would probably be the best because anything else, you have…Walmart and all that competing with you and they’re going to undercut you and cut prices just to get people. And people are more bargain hunters than quality buyers and they’re going to go over there. An example in hair cutting: you’ve got Best Cuts, Fantastic Sam’s—these are like the fast food of haircuts. They serve a good purpose because there’s families with four or five kids and that’s a big chunk to pay out to give them haircuts, so you’re going to get them at half price…and they’re kids—kids are cute whether you cut their hair good or bad…I think unique stores would probably last longer [downtown] than anything that would have to compete with the big “box stores” as they call them…I never worried [those stores]. In my business, if I lose a customer, it’s not because of somebody else—it’s because of me. 
]]> (Emily Belle) Community Voices Tue, 29 Jul 2014 16:18:28 +0000
Community Voices - Donna Shurr Optimized-DSCN0153Donna Shurr has been teaching Family and Consumer Sciences at Oberlin High School since she moved to the town in 1998. She is involved in many volunteering pursuits such as managing the Oberlin Backpack Program, which gives eligible students from Prospect and Eastwood Elementary Schools meal items and snacks to bring home for the weekend.

Q: Have you had any interaction with the Environmental Digital signs in the Public Library, The AJLC, or Prospect Elementary School, and if so, what do you think about it?

A: Well, I guess I’ve had a lot of interaction because when I came here, when I moved to Ohio in 1998 and began teaching here, I found out from a colleague that I could take classes at Oberlin College for free. Every teacher here is allowed to take one free class per semester. At first, I was taking some random classes because of their availability in the afternoon. Then, all of a sudden, I ran into problems and I realized, “Oh, Environmental Studies, I’m really interested in that and they have classes in the evenings.” So I started signing up for those—I think I’ve taken every class that David Orr teaches—and one by one, I’ve taken a number of them. In those courses, I interacted with the Dashboard. Then I got very excited about the Environmental Studies program and sustainability and since I teach Family and Consumer Science, I started having Oberlin College students coming over to my classes and just sharing things about energy. Almost every year, I’ve had Oberlin students working with my students. I would say that 5 out of my 16 years, I’ve taken students over to take tours of the AJLC. Also, in the summer for many years, I taught architecture for the Oberlin Early Childhood Center for an organization that’s now Oberlin’s Heritage Center, Every summer, I had one class and I would bring that small group of students from that one class to the Center and we would go on a tour of the Living Machine and of the Dashboard.

Q: As both a resident of Oberlin and as a teacher at OHS, do you perceive those aspects of your relationship with the town as being separate or intertwined?

A: I think everything is connected. I’m a teacher, but I’m also a resident, a wife, a mother, and a sister. All of that makes me - “me”. It’s all interconnected. When I came here in 1998, my principal asked me what kind of club I wanted to be involved with, because, you know, we teachers all try to be involved at least one club here. No one wanted to do the community service club and that’s right up my alley, since I’ve always done community service just as a natural part of my life. So I guess that’s really made me even more connected with the community since my students are constantly doing community service and we interact with many organizations like the Public Library and we do things at Oberlin Community Services. Also, we work with the Community Meals Program where the kids serve meals, and we bake and do lots of things, so I’ve had lots of interactions with the community. I write for the newspaper at least on a monthly basis, if not two or three times a month. I’m a Rotarian, and as a Rotarian, we raise money to support things, like to help people pay their bills in the winter if they don’t have enough money, we supply coats and mittens to the school for kids who forget their coats and their mittens and hats. The Rotarians do a lot for the community as well.

Q: What word(s) or image(s) would you use to describe Oberlin? Why did you choose those word(s)/image(s)?

A: I would say Oberlin is a welcoming community. I know at the high school, we welcome kids from all over the place. We only have three foreign exchange students this year, but sometimes we’ll have up to seven or eight. They really add a great deal of color to our community here. I’ve felt very welcome here. I’ve been asked to be on a number of boards in the community. Right now, I sit on the board of the Oberlin Heritage Center. I’m part of FAVA—I’ve been asked to be on their board as well, but I can’t do that currently with the Oberlin Heritage Center. I’ve been a Rotarian for about ten years. So, it’s been very welcoming—I’ve been here for about sixteen years, and even coming from Florida, I feel like Oberlin is my home. I think another thing that’s great is that the residents reach out as well. I know this week, on December 6th, Ben Franklin is having a celebration in conjunction with one of our French and Spanish teachers—they reached out to her, and they’re going to celebrate together and the College French students and our French students are putting on music and games and there will be a student interpreting for Father Christmas, who does not speak French but who will also be there. I think that’s going to be a really nice event—and that’s something new! Barry Richards, who’s the president of the school board, he and some other folks brought a Chalk Walk here and that’s been happening every summer now for ten years—people from all over Lorain County come for a day in the summer and they create chalk art all over the city. We have lots of great things to bring people together. I would say the other thing about Oberlin is that’s it’s creative—we have loads of creative people, and lots of creative ideas, not just in visual arts but in music and dramatic arts as well. We are just a really creative and innovative community. I think the whole community is really also beginning to embrace environmentalism and it is a community process of bringing awareness about taking care of the community here that will help us affect surrounding communities and the world.

Q: Some people use the word “sustainability” to mean actions that enhance/maintain the economic, environmental and social welfare of the Oberlin community.” What does sustainability mean to you/in your own life?

A: I think personally, sustainability means to me that I have the skills and the means to be able to take care myself and my family and help my students understand that they can do this as well. For instance, I think eventually, perhaps, there may be a day when the power grid goes down and I want to be able to take care of my family if it does. I have to use computers frequently because I’m a teacher and I’ve learned a great deal about using them since I’ve come to Oberlin. I’m learning technology, but I do refuse to have a cell phone—I don’t want one. Technology is great and I love it, but I would like to be able to live without the grid. NOTE: Since this interview we have gotten a cell phone.  We were in a car accident this summer and realized that technology is important in this instance. We have had it for two months and it has been useful. I wish we could have held out longer – getting impossible.

 My husband and I do a lot of things—we have our own garden. When we freeze the fruits and vegetables from our garden, we remain on the grid, but I do a lot of canning and freeze-drying in order to be more sustainable. There’s another thing that I talk about when I talk about sustainability with my students, I talk a lot about water usage. We’re doing water projects now where we talk about water in other countries and how water is not available for so may people, and how food is not available for so many people—a billion people in this world do not have enough to eat each day to sustain their heath and well-being. There is enough food for everyone in the world but it’s not distributed well, so we talk about how we can make it possible for there to be food and water availability for everyone in the world. It’s so important for kids to understand that what they do has a ripple effect and affects the whole world.

Q: Have you noticed any changes in the reactions of your students in regards to sustainability from when you first begin working with them to when you teach them about sustainability during the year?

A: As a matter of fact, I do! We just went to the movies—the Apollo Outreach had a program called Food For Thought and they showed “Polyculture” and another movie (“Hungry for Health”). Originally, the kids were like, “oh, we get a field trip! That’s awesome!” but when we got to the theater, they were very much impressed by the videos, they liked them a lot, and we talked about them later. It was really cool because by the time that we finished up, the kids were making connections and talking about the ways that processed foods can be unhealthy. The kids are really embracing it this year, and they like doing these things—some of the kids have even changed their eating habits, which is great because I’m trying to promote healthy eating and living habits.

Q: Is there anything you would like to tell your fellow community members regarding care for the environment/sustainable living/respect for nature?

A: I’m very proud of the community and the fact that we have a lot of community gardens—I love it. I think I’d just like to see even more people involved in those gardens and bringing that knowledge down to their little children. I think that community gardens really bring people together but also promote sustainable living—yeah, I just love the community garden system and am very excited about them! I am also excited about the Oberlin Dashboard being in every school.  I think this will be a learning tool that all teachers can use in the classroom in every discipline. With the Dashboard also being in other places in the community, students may even become more involved by explaining it to others, maybe even by being “Dashboard Docents.”

]]> (Emily Belle) Community Voices Wed, 16 Jul 2014 20:58:48 +0000
Community Voices - Glenn Gall GlennGallWebGlenn Gall is an activist, a writer, and a farmer living in Oberlin. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from Huntington University, and has training in permaculture and grazing techniques. He proposes the use of natural systems as a multidimensional approach to the problem of climate change. More of his ideas can be found on the website:

Q: What comes to mind when you think about Oberlin?

A: It is a very healthy community—in terms of, there’s sharing and caring going on. There’s always new relationships to be made…learning to understand where people are coming from, and what they’re working on. And enjoying the culture, and appreciating the activism. And a chance to explore my own ideas, and foster those, and try to prepare others for a future that can use some of these ideas.

Q: How did you become interested in the role of natural systems for addressing issues of climate, food, and the environment? What started you on this path?

A: Years ago, we lived in another house on the far east side of town…I learned about compost, and organic matter, and how that can help regenerate topsoil. I wasn’t satisfied with just organic gardening. I had to do biointensive and natural farming methods, as I learned about those.

It was six or seven years ago now that I really became interested and involved in the problem of our climate, and that took me to a deeper environmental level. I was concerned about reducing emissions, of course. I learned then about soil, and how rapidly that can take on CO2, and be transformed into humus – topsoil. So I got interested in that. Took a couple permaculture trainings. Took grazing and management training. Found a land-owner that had land that he wanted to have grazed.  He understood the value of that. It’s 8 miles from here. We started off 4 years ago. We bought the fencing, the sheep and the hay and everything. And we got through a year at the cost of a down payment on a hybrid car. Yet, I’m getting roughly 10 tons per acre of CO2 sequestered. So, five acres? Fifty tons. Boy, that’s more than my family carbon footprint.

Q: Can you describe your main approach, in farming and in developing natural systems?

A: I think understanding food, and how it relates to natural systems, and understanding the climate as how it relates to systems, and how to grow things that way—I think it’s all tied together. And that’s what I work on. I’m working with sheep. I’m getting a cow or two, to do more grazing. It all fits together. I’m growing food. But not eroding. Sequestering carbon at a pretty good rate. I figure my carbon footprint is more than offset in just a few acres, at a much lower cost than you could do by changing to a hybrid car, or insulating the house and all those things. I do those things, or want to do more of those things. But they are more costly than actually getting carbon sequestered. So my environmental choice is to work on more land and get more of that happening.

Q: How does the development of healthy natural systems help with our problem of climate change?

A: It’s very different from the typical climate approaches we have. And that’s one of the things I’m hoping to get at. It has to do with getting carbon out of the atmosphere, instead of simply reducing what emit. Look at all the damage you see being done by extreme weather, ice melting, sea level rise, a number of related types of things. It’s already happening. One estimate came out to $1.2 trillion dollars per year of damage, and 400,000 climate-related premature deaths…we have a problem already. That isn’t due to what we’re going to emit that we’re trying to stop: it has to do with what has already been emitted, that is still lingering in the atmosphere.

How do we deal with that? Photosynthesis is one thing that nature does all the time. It’s reversing that flow of CO2 from our emissions, and getting it back into living things.

We were at 400 parts per million let’s say back in May…And now in September, October, we reached in the range of 393 parts per million (of CO2). Well, what happened? Well, nature pulled a heck of a lot of CO2 out of the atmosphere. Natural systems are capable of doing this. About a third of what we emit gets pulled back into soil and biomass, every year.

The climate movement and climate science seems to be more geared towards reducing emissions, instead of dealing with the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere. And I think that needs to change. It needs to change rapidly…getting away from just a narrow approach to dealing with the climate, to a much broader approach that involves natural systems that provide all these services. We recycle everything else – why not carbon? We send it into the atmosphere, and we forget about it. “Well, I wanna stop the next ton,” ya know? What about the 200 gigatons that are extra, right now?

Q: And so how does this approach of developing healthy natural systems also tie into food, and sustainable food growth?

A: The thrust should be in growing the healthiest food possible. I think there’s also some value in some of the annual agriculture. But I think it’s limited, and needs to be a part of a natural system as well. There are people who understand how plants really work, and what it takes to grow the healthiest food possible. We need to find ways to…get our soils healthier, and renew them, and reverse what we’ve done.

What does it take to grow a plant? You need DNA. You need water and CO2…What else do you need? You need some minerals. You need nitrogen to make the amino acids. You really need soil biology to make this work. You need sunlight to get the photosynthesis started. You need warmth. You need some kind of warm temperature to make it work as well…Big Ag says you need to buy things. So, It seems to be harder and harder to buy all the things you need to do this right, according to Big Ag…A lot of times they’ll be buying seed. Well, you can also save seed – there’s ways to do that. A lot of farmers add a lot of minerals. Well, if you’ve got clay soil like we do here, you don’t need minerals. Almost all of them are there. Above every farm is well more than enough nitrogen to grow anything you could possibly want (with nitrogren-fixing bacteria)… Healthy plants can resist pretty much all pests and diseases…All these needs are there, are being met on the farm, if you do a natural method of farming.

Q: How do your methods of natural system development relate to ecosystem services, and the sustainability of the landscape as a whole?

A: Dr. Ratan Lal…he’s the well-known soil scientist at Ohio State, estimates that for every ton of carbon in the soil, the value is about $200 in services of minerals, and mineralization, and topsoil, and avoiding topsoil loss, and soil biology.

Plus, if these practices are adopted on a broader scale, that would mean less extinction, and less desertification. There’s more abundance of timber and forest crops and things like that. The benefits are huge. More than just climate. They have to do with extinction, desertification, and food. I’m looking at successes and saying, “Boy, if we harvested water better, if we were able to graze more at-risk rangelands—it could be a whole different picture here. More forestry. Bring back these forests that we had—and provide for our needs. We’re talking energy; we’re talking timber; we’re talking food; medicinals – forest medicinals are important. And we’re talking less erosion too. So, I think it’s all important. All ties together.

Q: What do you envision for yourself, for others in the community, and for the world in terms of future directions relating to these sorts of practices?


A: [It’s] kind of my motto: more life. We need much more life in a hurry…More life. Get more life going. We don’t have a lot of choices but to…I think we need to recreate Eden, basically. That’s what our choice is. We don’t – we extinct ourselves out, or we warm ourselves to death, or we run out of land, because we’re creating deserts and urban spaces that just consume it. So, that’s the trajectory we’re on now. That has to be totally turned around. So, how do you do it? Recreate Eden. That’s our choice. I’m one that looks at my little sheep ranch and multiplying that kind of thing by two billion or ten billion acres, and figuring: “Yeah, if we did that, that would be huge.”

]]> (Emily Belle) Community Voices Thu, 26 Jun 2014 19:44:52 +0000
Community Voices - Russell Benjamin RussellBenjaminRussell Benjamin is a woodworker and a contractor. He is interested in green and energy efficient construction and community development. In addition to living in Oberlin, he also lives in the Pemaquid Peninsula in Maine. He is a strong proponent of education and enjoys travelling.

Q: What words or images would you use to describe Oberlin?

A: Dynamic, progressive, vibrant, alive—the downtown is still very much alive, mostly because of the students needing to have close by services.

Q: Some people use the word “sustainability” to mean actions that enhance/maintain the economic, environmental and social welfare of the Oberlin community.” What does sustainability mean to you and mean in your own life?

A: Sustainability, to me, means using the resources we have as well as we can and using them to the utmost of their longevity. I am a proponent of, for example, fiber cement siding because it uses materials that include materials that were waste and it uses materials that will last for a long time. Wood siding is not so sustainable—it doesn’t last as long, although certain species like the White Cedar, which they use in New England, last a long time with proper care.

Q: Has anyone or anything in particular inspired you to be interested in sustainability?

A: Well, the practicality of sustainability is one reason. I consider myself to be a very practical person. When you’re looking at projects, you know, sustainable to me is using products that last longer, and when they’re done, it’s important to think about whether they will return to the earth or sit in a landfill. When I think about what products and processes I want to use, I think about the environment. I care about the environment, I care about air quality, and so it’s just kind of a personal mode of operation that brings me to thinking a certain way. Those things are practical and they make sense to me.

Q: Is there anything you would like to tell your fellow community members regarding their treatment of the environment?

A: Sustainability takes time, a longer vision, and a longer time frame. Most people are stuck in the immediate meeting of their needs—putting siding back on their house, heating their house—and they think about what will be the cheapest at that moment. So, to take the long view on these issues, I think they might arrive at different decisions when they’re making these decisions. They’ll think about their children, the next five generations, and they’ll take the long view. We are all kind of caught up in our immediate needs, and the long view needs to always be looked at.

Q: When you envision what Oberlin will be like in 25 or 50 years, what would you want to see in that vision?

One thing I would like to see is sustainable structures that are affordable in place of older and less environmentally-friendly structures. I’d also like to see more solar panels and a true embracing of sustainability, which is taking that long view. Let’s start now, and in fifty years, we’ll have a utopia.

]]> (Emily Belle) Community Voices Fri, 18 Apr 2014 15:11:25 +0000
Community Voices - Shirley Owens Shirley OwensPhoto by Yvette Chen OC '16A lifelong Oberlin resident, Ms. Shirley Owens is General Manager of Quick and Delicious restaurant, located at 311 South Main Street. She believes in creating community through the continuous beautification of neighborhoods, and by making good-tasting food accessible to everyone. Ms. Owens is thankful that Quick and Delicious is equipped to serve people of all ages and abilities, giving customers the opportunity “to eat what you’d like to eat” in “a place where family and friends gather and hugs are free.”

Q: What word or image would you use to describe Oberlin?

A: Cultural. You just have to learn how to embrace what Oberlin has to offer. It’s a very nice community, and a lot of things that people don’t even know exist here have been here for a long time. You just have to know how to plan and make it happen when the events are available, and enjoy them.

Q: Can you share any examples of the types of cool events that take place here?

A: Well, a lot of things have to do with the college; they have a lot of really nice events that people can embrace and go to. There are plays that come about, and the museum. On Heritage Tours, you can learn more about some of the things that are available and get a chance to see some of the neighborhoods that have the history that brings Oberlin to life; the Underground Railroad and the development of our little community under those circumstances.

Q: Thanks! Can you talk a bit about your family’s history in Oberlin?

A: I was born and raised here, basically in the restaurant business. My dad, Fred Owens, owned Campus Restaurant for eighteen, nineteen years; we delivered to the college, we did all those things. Campus Restaurant opened in 1969 in the downtown corridor of the Oberlin Savings Bank, which is now First Merit. It was an old-style ‘50s diner with individual jukebox machines at each table. It’s obviously meant for...our family to have a restaurant business here in Oberlin, ‘cause here we are again going into our tenth year.

Q: Some people use the word “sustainability” to mean actions that enhance the social, economic, and environmental welfare of the community. What has sustainability meant to you in your life and work?

A: I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to buy two homes in this community. One that I built - so I added a home - and one that I have reconditioned. So it’s really about continuously building or beautifying the Oberlin situation. We refurbished this whole that was another things we tried to do for our community. I think that continuously making sure that you are being a part of the reconditioning of Oberlin is something that is really nice.

Q: Do you engage in any sustainability actions in your business?

A: What we have done is we’ve saved cans and given them to area schools, like to help them buy a bus. We’ve also had the schools come to us and we’ve given them some of our styrofoam boxes for an experiment that they wanted to do. So we have been a part of decent things around the community, as best that we possibly can.

We do try to make sure that we’re decently environmental; we recycle our corrugated cardboard boxes and our oil. The oil is recycled under contract with Darling Oil, a comanay which removes used oil from restaurants and recycles 100% of it into usable products ( That’s three or four different ways that restaurants can give back to the community or help out throughout the county, state; however these things become useful to anyone who ends up with them.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to tell your fellow community members regarding building sustainable relationships in the Oberlin community?

A: I’m just thankful not to see a block on certain areas of Oberlin. Oberlin is a community, and as a community that’s how you build: You can’t have barriers. We’re thankful for what we can bring to [the community], because we bring a lot of people from all over to this place. We’re very self-conscious about how we feed people, how we treat people, and that’s what a restaurant’s really all about. We’re just a nice “Mom and Pop” where you can eat anything you’d like all day a home environment type of family setting. Everyone needs to bring their own flavor, we brought ours. It makes it all more personal here and we’re thankful for that.


]]> (Emily Belle) Community Voices Thu, 13 Mar 2014 18:56:13 +0000