I definitely understand your concern, but I think you're misunderstanding what I want to do. I don't want to design and build and run renewable energy technology. I want to consult with businesses and municipalities and individuals who are interested in these technologies, informing them of the basics of the economics, pay back times, greenhouse gas reductions, etc. In addition to that, I would like to inform them of potential energy inefficiencies, in their buildings and overall daily functioning, and projects that they could implement that would reduce their carbon footprint overall, like installing green roofs, funding community gardens for employees and residents, replacing lawn with trees and shrubs, removing trays from dining halls, composting food scraps, etc. I don't want to be the person who implements all of that, but simply advises that they should do it and why, and then finds people who are experts in those fields and makes it happen.
I understand the concern over not doing anything tangible per say, but in businesses and governments and universities today, there is a real need for someone who is knowledgeable in the area of sustainability as a general practice, and who can look at the overall picture and say "here are things you can do to reduce your environmental footprint, and here's how much you'll save in the long term if you do them.", basically giving them a menu of change they can pick from. Once that assessment has been made, then a TON of tangible stuff happens, but just like a designer who needs to assess a site and understand and present the potential actions that one could take on that site, there is a need for someone who can assess the social, business and technological landscape of today and give some potential options for those who want to do things differently, but have have no idea where to start on their own.
Here's some more links on the profession to help you understand it more:
After one of my last posts, where I said that I basically want to be a "renewable energy/energy efficiency expert", that apparently got my cogs turning, and I did some research into other potential avenues into that career realm, and discovered this incredibly interesting program:
Here's an excerpt that explains the program in full:
"The BCC Center for Sustainability and Alternative Energy, under a NASA grant, has developed curricula for energy efficiency and alternative/sustainable energy. These curricula support and expand Burlington County College’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) program offerings within green technologies. The new courses support Associate Degree Programs in:
Alternative Energy Technologies
Sustainable Energy Studies
An Associate Degree Program in Environmental Sustainability, as well as Career Certificate programs, is also planned. "
This program is within driving distance of where I live, is incredibly hands on, and is not so focused and heavy on the math and specifics of engineering that I will feel bogged down or confined in any way. I think that I were to complete this program, in and of itself, I would be well positioned to start the career I've been hoping to pursue.
In addition to this, I found several programs around the state (one ironically at a university I've previously attended, and as such I have a lot of gened credits there already) in which I could pursue a BS in Sustainability Science if I wanted to, being able to transfer in as a junior if I receive one of the associates mentioned above. So, if I feel that I need to further my education even more in order to get where I'm going, I have that option as well. Here's my current first choice if I were to go that option; they actually have a combined BS/MS program too if I wanted to really get into it and do some original research, which I could see myself wanting to do:
It's been a hell of a slog, but I think I'm finally on the right track now. From starting out as a music education major, realizing I wanted to do something for the world and the environment, discovering permaculture, trying to get into it in the realm of Landscape Design, deciding to pursue Landscape Architecture/Agroecology, then shifting to a more technical field, and finally now to a more generally specialized field. I'm slowly starting to figure out that a big part of what has taken me so long to figure it all out is the fact that this whole "sustainability" thing is so incredibly new, and the field itself has only developed within the last decade or so. I mean, hell, did you know that "Sustainability Science" is now a recognized independent field by the National Academies of Science? Check it out:
Anyway, thanks all for your suggestions and overall guidance. It's been an incredible help. Now I need to start thinking more strategically about staying out of debt. Short of some miracle, I will need to take my time, and only take a course load I'm able to pay for out of pocket. I'm also considering auditioning for the National Guard Band, which would enable me to have my student debt forgiven and have the remaining education paid for entirely. As much as I am not a fan of the armed forces, nationalism, etc, I'm a skilled musician (thanks to 4 years of higher music education, which is what led me into debt in the first place!!), so it's something I'm definitely contemplating, if only as a bridge strategy. The problem is the solution as they say.
As always, if anyone has any advice or input on my dynamic career path, please don't hesitate to chime in. Of particular relevance this time around is experience in the field of sustainability consulting, renewable energy, carbon accounting, life cycle analysis, and energy efficiency. Also, anyone who has experience playing for an army band, their experience there, how it was able to help them with school, etc, would be highly illuminating. Thanks.
Since there's interest from all around the state, maybe we should just stick with the Permaculture Network of NJ meetup platform. That's worked well thus far, and it would save the work/money of setting up something new. Unless you guys want to create something new. A website wouldn't hurt, at least to post techniques and plants that work in our area and post pictures from our events to share knowledge for those who couldn't attend.
In any case, I'm an event organizer (I can create events) on the meetup site, so if anyone has any ideas for events we should have, let me know and I can set it up. What do you guys think we should organize? In the true permaculture spirit, I think it should be as multifunctional as possible, serving as both a general meetup for us to get to know our fellow permaculturists from around the area, as well as a hands on workshop on some specific project. Does anyone have any hugelkulture beds they need help putting in? Does anyone have a bunch of fruit trees they need help planting, or a rain barrel system or rocket mass heater they need help installing? What are your projects you're working on that it would be really helpful to have a bunch of people come help out with? Or, perhaps it would be good to just pick a subject and meet to discuss it/practice it, like mushroom cultivation, tree pruning, or vermicomposting? Or we could watch a movie?
It's exciting to see so many people in south jersey interested in permaculture too! I would propose that we form our own informal or formal organization, and start organizing workshops/permablitz's as soon as possible! What do you guys think of calling ourselves the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens Permaculture Guild, since that seems to be the ecoregion we all reside in, and it is indeed such a unique ecoregion? If you're hazy on what that region is, you can learn about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_coastal_pine_barrens
In terms of what I know for our region, here are some of the most important things I know:
- Add organic matter to the soil every year, if only in the form of chopped leaves. Our soil is so poor, that if you want to grow anything that isn't native here, adding some sort of organics is essential. I've had moderate success with straw bales and compost, as well as hugelkulture. Also, add lime, since our soil is so acidic.
- Either irrigate or do hugelkulture to keep your plants healthy over the hot summer. Again, since our soil is so sandy, unless you've gotten it to the point where organic matter or wood is storing the water for you, the water will just leach right out.
- Despite how poor our soil is, we can grow lots of stuff you might not expect, as long as you treat the soil right.
- Here's a list of edible/useful perennial plants I've found could work well in our area with the proper care. Some are native, some not, but here they are in no particular order: Peach , blueberry, raspberry, elderberry, fig, horseradish, licorice, comfrey, new jersey tea, partridge pea, redbud, saltbush, seakale, beach plum, walnut, hickory, oak, sweet fern, lupine, rose of sharon, bee balm, yarrow, chicory, birch, rugosa rose, sea buckthorn, hardy pomegranate, pineapple guava (with protection), oregano, thyme, welsh onion, strawberry, asparagus, smilax, huckleberry, juneberry, oregon grape holly, grapes, schizandra, passion fruit, duck potato, water lily, lotus, cattails, wild rice, upland rice, yucca, creeping raspberry, hibiscus, prickly pear, paw paw, spikenard, udo, columbine...and the list goes on.
I'm sure there are many more to add, what else has anyone noticed or tried? I'd really like to start collecting wild rice, south jersey is supposed to be prime territory for that. In any case, we have quite a list of plants and techniques available to us to create an abundance for our region.
If you're all interested in getting together to help each other achieve that abundance, I'm totally game. If you'd all like, I could set up a website/communication platform for us, and we can plan our first meetup. When would be a good day for everyone to get together? I'm free any time really, so whenever anyone is free, let it be known and we'll go from there!
Looking forward to meeting and working with everyone,
Yea, it kind of has been my personal journal over the past few years, except the ideas aren't just rattling around in my head without answers....everyone's helping me answer them!! Haha.
Thanks so much for the connects down in FL. I was actually considering relocating to florida, since UF has a really great ag and bio engineering program, one of the best I've seen thus far. Combine that with the nice weather, the interesting plants, and I'd definitely be willing to give it a try, hah.
That company looks really great, I'll definitely add them to my contacts list if I do end up moving down there and am looking for a job. Thanks!!
Dave, that's some great advice there, and an interesting story as well, one that I will definitely be considering as I move forward. If there is one thing that I've resolved, it's that I will absolutely NOT be going into more debt. If I can't pay for it myself or with scholarships, I just won't go, plain and simple.
One thing that I would question regarding what you said is how one would go about getting a position in the field of engineering without a degree? From my research into it thus far, I don't see any way that it could be possible. All engineering positions require at least a BS in engineering, in some cases a masters. Especially with a field as complex as biosystems engineering, I don't think it would really be possible.
I've thought of just going to complete a degree based on the credits that I have, which for me would probably be a music degree or some kind of general liberal arts degree. The reason I've never done that is because I don't see the use in getting something I won't actually use in real life. I don't plan on becoming a music teacher or performer (and even if I did, I would probably do it as a private teacher and freelance performer, both of which I could easily do based purely on talent) or whatever someone does with a liberal arts degree. What I do hope to become eventually is a biofuels/biomaterial process designer using carbon sequestering and environmentally remediating sources of biomass (perennial nut trees, seaweed grown in the ocean, algae attached to wastewater treatment plants, etc), or in simpler terms, a renewable energy/energy efficiency expert. If you can think of a way of breaking into that field without getting a degree, I'm all ears, but otherwise, it would seem to me that engineering is the best way to go to get there. Even in terms of more easily accessible jobs, like solar installation, that usually requires some level of experience or knowledge about electricity, neither of which I have yet.
In terms of return on investment, I've run the numbers, if I go part time, it should take about 4 years (fortunately I've totally satisfied the geneds for basically any degree thanks to my previous schooling) and about $17,000 to get the degree ($121/credit at community college, $325/credit going p/t to rutgers and that's a high estimate overall, accounting for travel, books, and any other possible expenses), which as I said, I will be paying for as I go rather than going into debt. I think that is an investment that will pay itself back in spades in quite a short amount of time, especially if I go into the new and highly developing field that I'm interested in. In addition, I don't think I could quantify the value of getting involved in such incredibly interesting and innovative projects as the Rutgers Energy Institute (http://rei.rutgers.edu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5&Itemid=6), or the many student organizations that are doing great and interesting things to help make our world a better place, like for example Rutgers Initiative for Permaculture Education (RIPE)(https://ruripe.wordpress.com/) or the individual student projects like cleaning up and restoring a polluted creek/hiking trail on campus. Rather than trying to start my own biosystems design company from the ground up, using my own savings, I think it would probably be better, both in terms of access to resources/community and my own personal understanding of the science and technology behind it, to get involved in an institution that has both of those things there for the taking, if only I invest a bit of time and money. At least that's how I see it anyway.
I actually went to a career counselor when I was at rutgers. I had a hard time trying to explain to her exactly what it was I want to do, and that perhaps I don't need a degree to do it. She was pretty insistent on the need for a degree, but I disagreed. Now that my interests have shifted, I feel that a degree is absolutely necessary if I am to succeed.
But yea, I would love to meet with a career counselor again, it would likely help me figure out if I'm on the right track or not. Thanks for the tip!
So it's a year and a half since I posted this, and man has a lot changed. That semester at Rutgers turned out to be both my first and last. I didn't even make it to the end of the semester. I'm not sure what happened exactly, I guess the only explanation is lack of focus, but I ended up dropping all of my classes due to my inability to keep up. After that eye opening failure, I decided to pursue the real world experience route, and decided to start interning on an organic farm. Well, that was also a real wake up call as well, and I realized that if I wanted to eventually own land, I would need a great deal of money, and I also realized just how far out the management techniques I'm interested in really are. I also realized some of the practicalities of some of the techniques I'm interested in (that is to say, some of them just aren't practical on a certain scale, and some of them are only practical if you're willing to accept a certain amount of manual labor over the use of machines). Overall I'd say it was a good experience, but it definitely opened my eyes to some of the realities of farming. One of those realities was how hard it is to make money! In that vein, I decided to end the internship this september, primarily due to rapidly piling up student loan payments, which were becoming more and more delinquent due to my extremely meager income I was making. We got housing and food, but the actual monetary pay was simply not enough. I am now living back at my parent's house, working a full time lawn maintenance job (the antithesis of what I would like to be doing), making decent money now, slowing paying off my debt and strategizing on my next moves.
During my stay at the farm, I had a lot of free time to think about my overall impact on the planet and society, and how I could leverage my interests and skills into a truly profound impact. Farming and landscape design is definitely a great technique to help the environment in some very specific ways, but I was starting to get the feeling that I was pigeon holing myself. As a result, I decided to abandon landscape design/farming. Instead, I've become very interested in the field of biomimicry, and have chosen biosystems engineering as a career that will enable me to design and implement biomimetic technologies - solar panels that work like plants, waste treatment plants that work like marshes, using the chemistry of coral reefs to sequester point source carbon emissions, etc. To get a better picture of what I'm talking about, watch the originator of the idea (or rather it's greatest modern proponent) Janine Benyus explain it:
Of course I'm sure you can see the problem I might have with this new interest - engineering is a field that absolutely requires at least a bachelor's degree, which is something that, as you've read, I've had some trouble with. To further compound matters, I've never really been great at math, which is something that engineering has a big focus on. None the less, I've decided to not let either of these roadblocks deter me from pursuing my passions. I'm working on my math skills using the khan academy (great place for anyone who is a lifelong learner, both to learn new things and refresh on the old, not just math, but everything from philosophy to science), and looking into starting to take some math classes at the local community college. The good thing about that is that I'm hoping to be able to pay for it out of pocket as I go, which will greatly cut down on the costs in the long term. After that, I guess I'll be applying to a four year university that offers a degree in my area of interest, either agricultural and biological engineering, environmental engineering or biochemical engineering. I'll see how it plays out, and if it works out, great, if not, I always have my original plans to fall back on. We'll see how it goes.
So I guess I'm just posting this as a testament to those who might feel lost in life, don't really know where they're going, or are struggling in their current careers and considering a change. You're not alone!! In any case, if anyone has any thoughts on my saga, any blind spots in my reasoning or pursuits that you might notice, or words of encouragement, any input anyone has would be much appreciated.
So since all of the "How many acres does it take to feed one person" threads have died down, I thought a new one was in order, primarily because of a recent insight I had. Recently, on the Permaculture Research Institute's website, they posted a video tour of Zaytuna farm, which where the PRI is located. According to the video and the accompanying article (which I suggest you read and watch if you haven't yet, very inspiring and interesting http://permaculture.org.au/2012/06/01/zaytuna-farm-video-tour-apr-may-2012-ten-years-of-revolutionary-design/#more-7542), they're serving between 22,000 and 30,000 meals per year, growing 60-65% of what they serve on the 66 acres that the institute is situated on. Given these calculations, excluding imported food from the equation, and using the most conservative numbers, they're growing enough food to feed 66 people 3 meals a day per acre. Is that seriously possible? I can see the animal and food forest systems being incredibly productive, but that seems like a completely unrealistic estimate to me...