Final Words…

This week I learned a lot about marine biology and sustainable agricultural practices. Even more so, having ventured out of campus and traveled across California, I got to see the economics disparities between areas like Watsonville and Carmel. I learned about ways local governments can intervene and provide aid in the form of vouchers to low-income mothers of small children in WIC, and that there people working to ensure that no family subsists on saturated fats bought at cheaper, local drug stores. 

My biggest takeaways from the trip are probably the following: to NEVER leave bags hanging around the ocean because leather-back turtles mistake them for jellyfish, which they then eat and die. I also got to observe how fresh farmer markets truly foster community growth and can be a healthy, affordable option for many middle-income families. 

It is difficult for me to choose my favorite experience because there are so many, but if I had to pin down one it would probably be the Seder. To me that dinner represented how close our group had gotten over the past week, whether it be through cooking together, staying up late telling jokes, or writing letters during nap times =) It meant so much for me to share a tradition that is usually observed with family members with a new group of people I had never imagined getting so close to. 

Other great moments include: kayaking down Elkhorn Slough with Aliza and spotting flotillas of baby otters doing flips with their mom and, of course, picking strawberries in ALBA!!!! I also really enjoyed hearing about the projects Pajaros High School students were working on and getting to connect with them over things like the college admission process, which we were all once fearful of and excited about.

I think this class made me a lot more aware and conscious about how my lifestyle decisions affect not only my health but also the health of my surrounding environments. My biggest hope is to take my trip leader’s commitment to healthy food, reflective and insightful dinner conversations, and long hikes in many of California’s BEAUTIFUL natural parks and integrate them in my busy life at Stanford. In other words, to enjoy life and all that is offers to the fullest and take care of our environment, considering all that it does for us both in terms of leisure and resources. Here are some group pictures to enjoy: Maria and I at ALBA, the beautiful scenery of Point Lobos, and jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Image 



How can we enact change?

Earlier this week, we got to do some water quality monitoring around Elkhorn Slough for the Coastal Watershed Council. We collected data about the water’s salinity level, which increased as we neared the Slough. Some areas had low levels of oxygen and were quite acidic, while others had very high levels of oxygen and a high pH level. We also took samples of the water to send to a lab that checks for nitrate levels. The ultimate goal of the project is to compare water quality of streams near organic versus conventional farms, from which there is greater chemical runoff. The Coastal Watershed Council is also involved in the restoration of a farmland called Triple M, owned by Alba Organic farms, where the hope is to restore the biodiversity and make the location more hospitable to species such as the California red legged frog, the tiger salamander, and the Santa Cruz long toe salamander. Despite the organization’s large data bank; however, it does not have the jurisdiction to actually enact laws that will help keep the water sources it monitors clean or suited for wildlife. This got me to thinking about ways to best distribute data to local leaders who can propose solutions to issues such as the growing piles of trash in nearby streams. To compare this approach, we also visited the sustainability headquarters of Driscoll’s berry corporation. To this end, we got to see their new water aquifer, which comprised of water tunnels leading to areas with high percolation rates where the water is collected and pumped for agricultural use. Driscoll’s also developed the technology of tensionmeter probes, which farmers use to measure the water levels of their produce as opposed to just sticking their fingers in the topmost soil layer, which is often dry. The probes not only prevents over-irrigation and water waste, they also foster cooperation among  farmers who share satellites that obtain the data from the probes. Driscoll’s efforts seemed like a more direct, encompassing approach to dealing with water issues in the area, addressing the salt water erosion that comes from pumping too much water from the Monterey Bay and inefficient water uses by local farmers. Finally, Driscoll’s also incentivizes farms to recycle their plastic tarps, which it sells for re-use as plastic bags and subsidizes farmers’ conservation efforts based on performance results rather than practice implementation. Ultimately, I found both trips to be insightful into ways that we can address water issues and broader conservation questions. Looking forward, I think a combination of both data compiling, law propositions, new technologies, and behavior changes would be the most effective way to combat and prevent the growing environmental issues our class studied. 

From the Fields

 A Blog Post about Day 1, by Will Kim

I was kind of tired today, glad to have had finals over, but really felt beat. 

We trucked around, had fun, talked and laughed.

We stopped by Santa Cruz, saw the beach, saw the Monterey Marine Sanctuary Museum, and went to Monterey’s Steinbeck Museum, too. For me the movie we watched at the end of our romp through the museum helped me to rethink about my education. It was a short biopic about Damian Trujillo, and his journey from the fields to newsroom. I’ve heard these feel-good stories before, but somehow when Damian talked about his choice: “either you study your books or you work in the fields,” I reflected on my own education and my own motivations. Growing up in a well-to-do family, surrounded by the quintessential model minority community, going to college was a given, and doing well in school was a part of everyone’s agenda, whether jock, hipster, or geek. It’s a competitive environment and I’ve grown to love it for what it is, but after a while, your brain doesn’t think about things like the purpose of college or education as much as the goal of going to ‘X’ college or landing a plush job.

I love learning and reading (I’m loving SLE, if that counts for anything), but I rarely considered the value of such an education, other than for fun, grade, or career. I’ve never thought about it as something for my survival.

Thinking about that, I just felt more invigorated and more appreciative of the education I’m receiving at Stanford. Things like all-nighters pale in comparison to hard labor from sunrise to sunset everyday. It made me glad to re-see my education, because too often I’m stuck on autopilot, trying to keep in control of school and other things, that I forget the whole point of my education, and its immense value.

Here is a post about the first day of our trip, stay tuned for the rest!


An exhibit at the National Marina Sanctuary Exploration Center. Capturing our class perfectly: from the farm to the ocean researcher all are affected by conservation.


A picture of all of us by the ocean!


A quote from the Steinbeck Museum, showing us the history of Salinas and the migrant workers.


Joe with sea otter

We started our adventure at the National Marine Sanctuary Center where we got to play around with interactive computer games that simulated sonar images from underwater depths, look at the organisms growing on the remains of fallen whales, and realized the hazardous effects of plastic bags on sea turtles.  The locations of this museum lead us to the mouth of an even bigger exploration “center”: the Pacific Ocean. After having a delightful lunch along the breezy Santa Cruz boardwalk, enjoying the sun and the sand, we headed over to the Steinbeck Museum. Even though all of us have read novels by the quintessential American novelist, only a few of us knew about his deep-rooted connection to Salinas. Through his rich literature, we walked through the migratory history of the United States, focusing on the role of agriculture and the debilitated dust bowl (features in The Grapes of Wrath). We were later inspired by a video of a CNBC news reporter who rose from economic hardships, working as a farm hand in Salinas. This led to interesting set of questions like: how come most of the farm hands working in Salinas are Mexican-American immigrants? How are their contributions to society acknowledged and regarded?   How can education present more opportunities for first-generation children?

The Meaning of Social Justice

On the ride to Urban Adamah, I did not know what to expect. I have never heard of an agricultural program that acted on the enduring tradition of Jewish social justice by securing food for low-income members of the community. After working in the farm by planting fig and olive trees, I was inspired by the direct and immediate benefits pouring out of what seemed like at first a small, urban farm. In light of this new-found inspiration, I decided to write a post detailing some of the Jewish social justice acts I grew up learning about, but never got to experience until last Saturday.

The term social justice stems from an over-arching concept called Tikum Olam, which literally translates to “repairing the world.” Repairing the world sounds like a daunting task, but it can also refer to doing small good deeds, or Mitzvahs, which we are expected to complete without seeking reward. The most significant philosophy guiding these actions is the following quote: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” Leviticus 19.17. Most of us have heard this quote growing up, and it actually comes from the bible and was on a poster in Urban Adama!

The second wisdom underlying social justice is the word Tzdakah, which means charity. In fact, the main religious text of Judaism, the Torah, gives explicit instructions: to let the poor person pick first from the fruit tree and not to harvest the corners of your field and leave their yield for the poor. The text also explicitly says: “For six years you shall sow your land, and shall gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the animal of the field shall eat. In like manner you shall deal with your vineyard and with your olive grove.” These guidelines are directly to Urban Adamah, where the plants and vegetables we helped grow go to help local church- goers.

Though these quotes stem from Jewish social justice ideology, their message, like Casey said, align with universal values. I feel as though their religious background, however, adds significance to our trip and how it fits in a larger, global context.

One of the pictures I attached features a poster saying Justice, justice, you shall pursue!



Shirley’s Reflection on and Recap of Today’s Class

Today, in class we started off by reading an article about the use of, methyl iodide, a toxic pesticide carcinogen that is used in fields near public schools in Ohlone, Watsonville. The pesticide is produced by a Japanese chemical company called Arysta LifeScience and has been associated with attention span problems, chronic breathing problems, and hyperactivity among students. The pesticide was first approved for use by the EPA in 2007, an action with strong public backlash. The major players fighting against it are: the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers, The California Department of Pesticide Control, students groups, local unions, the Pesticide Action Network, and the United Farm Workers. These groups are all concerned about the health of the children attending the local school, who also get exposed to methyl iodide through their parents, most of whom are seasonal farmhands. Lately, a decision has been made by Alameda County Supreme Court Judge Frank Roesch to ban the pesticide in California on the grounds of it violating the Birth Defect Prevention Act.

We used this case study as a launch pad for discussing campaign strategies, theories, and targets through which we can reach our goal. We worked in groups to construct power maps of influential people we knew and could use to get in contact with Secretary Rodriquez, head of the EPA who might approve industry exemption from the methyl iodide ban. One group took an educational approach while another group took a business pressure approach.

After eating yummy mochi (thank you Grace), we transitioned in the larger ethical questions regarding community service and social change. Specifically, we looked at the power dynamics inherent in campaigns between special interest groups and powerful fund providers. We applied this theory to our own Stanford background, noting the potential dangers behaving like entitled Stanford students who know better than everyone else what should be done. We also discussed the problems with privileged disengagement, which basically refers to someone only dedicating a few hours into a project without really caring about the result because they have nothing at stake. In the example of the pesticide issue in Watsonville, we realized the importance of having accountability between the organizations with powers and funds and the actual people how live in those communities and breathe in the fumes everyday, but have no money or power. In this way, we learned how to use our social capital (a sort of “title” that comes from graduating from a university like Stanford) to affect positive change that is sensitive to the needs of the receivers of aid.

Finally, this related to the broader issues of ablesim, or discrimination in favor of able-bodies, and “allyship,” which refers to bring mindful of social hierarchies that form naturally as a result of gender, sexual orientation, race, or religious differences; and lending true, un-pretentious support to groups that don’t have the same democratic rights that you hold. This was an entirely new point for me, and one that made me think about times when I was in a position of power, and vice versa. When we help someone, we need to be mindful and sensitive of what they actually want, have tried, is important to them instead of just applying what we believe will best suit their situation (major take-away for the trip!).

Shirley’s Tide Pool Experience

starfishI had a wonderful time in Half Moon Bay Fitzgerald Marine Reserve tide
pools last week. Below is a picture of a starfish I found. For the
trip, I learned about Barnacles and here are a few facts about them:
•       Barnacles are encrusters, which means they are attached to a hard substrate
•       They are suspension feeders and get food by rhythmically beating
their feather appendages to draw plankton
•       They absorb O2 through their limbs and inner membrane