Getting a taste of college life

When The Campus met with Mike Larkin, ’12, and Julian Seltzer, ’13, creators of the Facebook group, “Edible Allegheny,” it was the morning after Saturday’s Springfest.  They walked in together, bleary-eyed, stifling yawns.  But once asked about their green initiative, Seltzer and Larkin leaned forward in sync and began talking a mile a minute.

Dana D'Amico/THE CAMPUS

“We made the group to gauge interest to see how many people thought it was a good idea, if they would like to see fruit trees or berry trees to pick between classes,” Seltzer said.

“Edible Allegheny” launched during the afternoon of Tuesday, April 6 and within two hours over 100 people joined.  By 10 p.m. that night, over 500 had joined.
“My first reaction, honestly, was, ‘Oh shit,’ Larkin said. “The fact that it passed 300 in one day blew our minds.”

“Professors started e-mailing us, along with Kelly Boulton, who runs the Green Gator, and they were offering their support and help,” Seltzer said. “We’re very proud of it,”
As of the night of Wednesday, April 14, there are 892 members – more than half the campus, considering the vast majority of the members are Allegheny students.

“After we hit 200, we were like, ‘Maybe we could get a quarter of the campus?” Seltzer said.  “Then it was like, what if we can get half the campus?”

“In the first hour it broke 200, I started thinking to myself, we can actually make this happen,” Larkin said.

Brainstorming for “Edible Allegheny” started in Professor Rich Bowden’s ENVSC 210: Research and Development class.  Bowden didn’t realize how quickly Facebook would spread the word.

“I don’t know a thing about Facebook,” Bowden said.  “I would have thought more traditionally and conventionally, but when I saw how many people showed support, I just thought, wow.”

News of the idea passed quickly through the grapevine.

“Suddenly, we were having administration and alumni saying, ‘Let us help you,” Larkin said. “Eric [Pallant, another Environmental Science professor], just e-mailed Rich [Bowden] and us on a random day, with just one sentence: ‘I was member 684.’ He’s been posting on the Facebook wall, too,” Seltzer said.

Seltzer and Larkin found tremendous value in using Facebook to inform and market the idea and gather support and student/administrative input in just a matter of hours.

“It’s a technological age we’re in and Facebook is a great way for college kids to get the word out,” said Larkin.  “I don’t know if we could get it out to 858 [the amount at the time] people just by word of mouth,”

Larkin and Seltzer have egged on the Facebook group’s popularity by actively participating in the online discussions and answering or commenting on student questions or concerns. A discussion thread was also started to ask what kinds of berries or fruit trees students would like to see.

The idea first originated when Sustainability Coordinator Kelly Bolton passed on a student inquiry asking if the college ever considered planting fruit trees.  Bowden mentioned the proposition to his class and “they jumped on the idea,” according to Bowden.

“Rich Bowden posed it as more of a theoretical kind of thing, if you want to see a positive change, then how would we get the research?” Larkin said. “He was letting us be free with the conversation and then posed the idea as sort of a final project.”

The group’s current goal is to formulate a proposal to integrate fruit and berry plants on campus and to plant about half a dozen trees by the end of the semester, according to Bowden.
“The point is not to have so many trees that you don’t need to buy apples anymore,” Bowden said.  “We’re not growing apples to supply the dining halls, but for students to pick a snack on the way to class or if someone wants to bake an apple pie, they could just go outside and grab a few apples.”

“Edible Allegheny” is just one of the three groups pursuing innovative green initiatives in Bowden’s class.  One group is organizing the addition of a switchgrass pellet stove in the President’s House.  Another group is pushing for local farmers to be bigger suppliers for our dining halls, according to Bowden.

Steps have been taken to figure out the logistics of the project.  Bowden said the students have met with “Bill” from The Plant Place in Meadville, who discussed the best fruits to plants on our campus.

“Our next step is to send out a legitimate survey reminding people in the My Allegheny e-mails,” Seltzer said.  “We have to talk to the guy who does surveys.”

For Seltzer and Larkin, some of the biggest concerns about the project have been brought up right on the Facebook group’s wall.

“Someone mentioned how drunk people may pee on the bushes or wreck the plants,” Seltzer said. “Eric [Pallant] actually commented on that one; he said he was all for peeing because it’s a natural fertilizer.  It’s organic.”

Bowden thinks a lot of concerns will be alleviated once details are made public.

“One concern was that students will be climbing the trees,” Bowden said. “I don’t think these plants would be big enough to climb because we’re looking into semi-dwarf trees right now.
“Maybe if students started apple fights with the rotten apples, it could be a problem,” he added, cracking a grin.

The project is still very much in its beginning stages but the massive support from students, faculty, the administration, and alumni have stimulated a campus-wide discussion about what to do now and how this project would radically change the college’s green status, the landscape, the Admissions, and student life.

“I wouldn’t call these concerns, but rather, there are things to think about,” Bowden said. “Our soils on campus are not the best for planting trees.  And also, where to plant?  A lot of effort is spent into making this campus pretty, so we want to merge this idea with aesthetics.”

Bowden is proud that his students and the campus community are taking initiative to make this idea a reality.

“I think it’s a great application of research, agricultural science, and social needs,” he said.

Seltzer and Larkin were ecstatic with Allegheny’s responsiveness to the project.    “In general, everyone is pretty green at Allegheny, everyone cares about the environment, everyone realizes the importance of it,” Larkin said.  “Someone on the Facebook group said this makes a lot more sense than flying fluit 900 miles to get here, and they’re right.  It would make our college much healthier and geared towards the environment.”

Besides the student survey, Larkin and Seltzer’s group in the ES 210 class plans to initiate discussion with Admissions, environmental groups, and the Physical Plant.

“One of the biggest things we were worried about was getting our idea past a lot of people.  For people to show their support,” Larkin said.

“That’s not so much of a problem anymore, it sort of took care of itself,” Seltzer finished.

If you have a Facebook, join “Edible Allegheny” at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=116904048319727&ref=ts.