Three ways Orange County recycling creates more trash

By Megan Cain

It Starts at Your Stove

It’s taco Tuesday inside the little yellow house on the corner.

Jess Griffin stands next to the stove, sipping a margarita out of a Solo cup. She empties the ground beef from its foam casing into the pan. The meat cracks and sizzles alongside the sautéed garlic and onion.

Without a second thought, Griffin tosses the plastic wrap covering the meat into the garbage. She begins to do the same with the foam casing until her housemate, Nadia Parashkevova, stops her.

“Isn’t that recyclable?”

Griffin side-eyes her housemate. Parashkevova has always been an Earth nut. She flips it over, noticing the chasing arrows on the bottom.

She throws it into the recycling bin with little bits of meat still clinging to the bottom. She does the same with a glass jar of salsa. But she ties two unrinsed cans of black beans in a grocery bag to avoid drippage.

Then, the two proceed with their evening, unaware of the trouble they’ve caused.

Who is an Expert

“Just a little extra effort can go a long way,” the solid waste planner for Orange County, Blair Pollock, said.

Pollock started Orange County’s recycling program in 1987 and says he forgot to leave.

Since his arrival, the county has cut its waste from 1.36 tons to about half of a ton of landfilled trash per person.

They can do better, he says. Especially when it comes to his three no-noes.

What Not to Do 

Contamination by food waste is the first.

“Somebody is working on the other end of that line, and during the summer, after sitting in the hot sun for a few days, that dirty can is going to be pretty rank,” Pollock said.

Just a light rinse of your containers, particularly the plastics, goes a long way.

Plastic can’t be heated to 1000-degree temperatures like glass and steel, so food and liquid remnants can complicate the sorting plant process or contaminate clean pieces, creating more trash.

Pollock’s second no-no? Plastic bags.

Bagging your recyclables might keep them from dripping, but with more than 140,000 tons of recyclables coming into the sorting plant each year, there isn’t enough time to open each bag.

“They don’t know if you put the dead cat in there, the dead goldfish or the bag of kitty litter, so they’re not going to open it,” Pollock said.

Bagged recyclables take the scenic route to the landfill. And all that effort was wasted.

Finally, don’t put your garden hoses or hangers in the recycling bin. These items can jam the belts and pulleys at the sorting center.

Other non-recyclable materials get mixed in too, but are less destructive than the big three.

Solo cups aren’t recyclable in many places, including Orange County, but they often find their way to recycling bins. Looking at the bottom of one, you’ll see a number six, which stands for polystyrene. It’s made from natural gas.

Pollock says as long as practices like fracking keep natural gas prices low, there isn’t much of a market for these materials to be recycled.

When Solo cups and other non-recyclable materials end up in recycling bins, they go right to the closest landfill, wasting energy and resources.

Recycling right makes a difference. If the container isn’t listed as an acceptable material on the label on your cart, don’t put it in there.

Even if it’s not on the label, it might still be recyclable. Large plastics, tires and scrap wood are among the materials accepted at five waste and recycling centers across Orange County.

What Happens Next

Just a few days later, it’s the most exciting day of the week. It’s trash day.

Taco Tuesday’s remnants sit in a brimming blue bin on the curb, anticipating pickup.

Black liquid oozes from the cans into the plastic grocery bag. Leftover margarita from the Solo cup seeps into Griffin’s notes from last semester. The salsa jar remains intact, for now. The smell of 3-days-old juicy, beef-soaked plastic foam wafts from the bin.

Delicious.

The contents of the bin and the rest of the county’s recyclables are picked up and dumped into a massive pile at the Orange County landfill.

A bulldozer packs these materials by the ton into a tractor-trailer that drives it all down to the sorting center in Raleigh.

There, the bag of cans and the Solo cup will be thrown away, perhaps along with the notes, depending on how badly they have been damaged by the margarita.

Some unlucky worker will have to deal with the hamburger tray and everything contaminated by its stench.

The glass jar is the only thing that’s going to be melted down, turned into usable material and sold back to companies.

How You Can Do More

But the loop isn’t closed yet.

If your favorite brand doesn’t use recycled material in its packaging, Pollock advises that you call and request for them to.

“If people will do that, and oil gets to $100 a barrel and natural gas gets to $5 a therm, then we’ll have recycling nirvana,” Pollock said.

According to Pollock, you contribute to the first arrow by recycling. But many consumers forget that they can serve a vital role by closing the loop and buying products made with recycled material.

“I know I tend to be a finger-wagger about this, but the good people of Orange County truly are doing a great job. We’re consistently at the top of the heap when it comes to waste reduction per person,” Pollock said.

Edited by Molly Sprecher

Increasing light pollution wreaks havoc in the sky — and on our health

By Anne McDarris

Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Doug Lively of the Raleigh Astronomy Club could peer through the lens of his telescope and see the Whirlpool Galaxy in rich detail. The galaxy was clean and symmetrical, a pretty silver spiral that looked like a glow-in-the-dark ceiling sticker.  Lively could see one of its wispy arms reaching for the unassuming blob of its sister galaxy, M5195, and the details of the dust bridge between the two galaxies.

Now, on a wintery evening along the edge of Jordan Lake, Lively squints through his telescope lens at the Whirlpool Galaxy and M5195. The thin spirals look fuzzy and faded.  He can’t see the dust bridge. Newborn stars — which aren’t so new anymore because the light traveled for 25 million years to reach Lively’s eye — are only suggestions.

He sighs.  The light pollution is getting worse.

He can see it in the same way that the lights of Raleigh, Durham and Apex burn like suns pinned just below the horizon, a sunset that never fades. The way that they cast a white-orange fog that dims the starlight, the light of the Whirlpool Galaxy and its sister.

Light pollution, the bane of Lively and the Raleigh Astronomy Club, is the result of undirected light from artificial sources like streetlamps and buildings. The light reflects off clouds and small particles in the atmosphere, which creates a hazy glow that obstructs the view of the stars. For the past two decades, this has become a problem for North Carolina astronomers as people have flooded into the area seeking jobs and high living standards.

Mass migration carries quiet consequences.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Durham County grew by 16 people per day while Wake County grew by 67 people per day in 2016. With this mass migration into central North Carolina comes more roads, developments and lights that illuminate those places at night. This growth carries quiet consequences.

“I’ll never forget that night that the mall over there in Durham… completely obliterated our northern horizon,” Lively said, referring to the Streets at Southpoint, which opened in 2002. “Objects that are in the northern sky that you could see really well, it’s pretty well washed-out now.”

New development isn’t the only source of light pollution — LED lights have wreaked havoc on the night sky. While great for energy efficiency and city budgets, blindingly bright LEDs are terrible for light pollution. And because they’re cheap, some cities overlight areas because they can afford to, despite studies showing that more lights do not always mean less crime.

The crux of the matter is using light efficiently and taking advantage of the technology we have. It’s addressing light design more than light usage.

Although many cities have developed lighting ordinances that decrease inefficiencies, they’re not exhaustive. In Raleigh, the lighting ordinance does not affect streetlights, a major source of light pollution. This means that these lights do not need to be shielded like many others do and can shine in all directions — even up.

Our health is at risk, too.

Light pollution doesn’t just affect astronomers — it can affect the health of city dwellers across the globe. In large cities like Hong Kong and New York City where night is more like twilight, residents have decreased levels of melatonin production, a regulatory hormone that the body produces at night. Scientists have linked low levels of melatonin to breast cancer.  Light pollution also messes with the circadian rhythm, and the inconsistent ticking of the biological clock is linked to depression, cardiovascular disease and insomnia.

Many aspects of environmental change can feel intangible, seen only through long-range reports and scientists’ earnest articles and lectures. Melting glaciers and desertification are far-off issues that plague a minority. But with light pollution, the change is something that people can observe in their lifetimes. It’s something that affects our health and our ability to look at the stars. To see it, all that a person has to do is look up.

Amy Sayle knows this all too well. An educator for the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, Sayle teaches about the night sky under a dome of virtual stars. There is a light pollution feature that she can turn on during shows, and when she turns it off, people gasp and murmur at the difference.

“Lots of people have never seen a truly dark sky, but a lot of people don’t realize it,” she said. “They think they’ve seen a very dark sky but don’t even know what one looks like because there are so few places that are not light polluted anymore.”

But Sayle has found one of those few places in Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah, where she volunteers at its annual astronomy festival.

“It’s pretty darn close to a perfect sky,” she said. “It’s dark. It’s amazing.”

One night, she forgot her flashlight in her cabin when she went to go to the bathroom. She tried to walk along the paved road that curves around the campsite. She knew the area — she had come to this event 12 years in a row. But in the consuming darkness without a light, she stumbled into a ditch, reoriented herself, walked a few more feet and then smacked into a tree.  When she found the bathroom, she gravitated toward the light, relieved.

Light pollution continues its tour of the U.S.

On a recent data collection trip to Bryce Canyon, Chad Moore, the head of the National Park Service Night Sky Team, showed Sayle the new map of light pollution in the area. There appeared to be some detectable from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Las Vegas is 270 miles away.

“It’s just one of those things that I think is just thoughtlessness,” Sayle said. “Taking care of light pollution is a win-win-win-win-win situation.”

Sayle said astronomy is one way to get people interested in science and how it works.

“To be an informed citizen in a democracy, you have to understand how science works,” she said.

Far from Bryce Canyon, the Raleigh Astronomy Club continues to go to Jordan Lake, even as the glow creeps closer with each passing year. They’ve seen the light pollution maps. They know it’s only getting worse.

“At least for the next 10 years, we’re going to continue to use Jordan Lake, unless it gets absolutely bad,” Lively said. “Probably the next place we could go would be north up around Castalia, Rocky Mount and Medoc Mountain State Park.”

Medoc Mountain is just under a two-hour drive from Jordan Lake.  It’s a long way to go for dark skies. And like Jordan Lake, it’s not immune to the creeping fingers of light pollution.

So they grit their teeth. They bear it.  They don’t have much of a choice.

Edited by Adam Phan

The Eco–Institute is a sanctuary for those seeking to return to the basics

By Janna Childers
There’s a metal arch flanked by a vast blur of green. It reads “Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute.” As soon as I crossed that threshold, the atmosphere shifted. The grumble of gravel beneath my tires softened as my red Hyundai Elantra slowed and a sweet wind brushed its way through the leaves and into my small car.

I could no longer hear the distant hum of cars speeding down Jo Mac Road, but the stillness here was not silent. There’s a quiet roar to the invisible activities of the creatures, hidden underneath tall grass or nestled high in the branches of trees. The frogs bellowed as the sun began to drop through the sky. Birds released bursts of sounds that were carried through the expanse of open sky.  And the constant underscore of cicadas and crickets could not be ignored. I don’t know whether it was the pungent smell of nurtured earth or the crisp taste of clean air, or maybe something more intangible, but something struck me as different about this place. I exhaled deeply.

Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute is a place of hope. The educational farm offers many different programs, including summer camps for children, workshops in organic farming techniques and a ten-week immersive educational experience for young adults, all of which center around the work of restoring a broken relationship between the earth and humanity.

The 38 acres of land, owned by Megan and Tim Toben, offers a place for a community to gather, to learn, to build and to recharge. It attracts wanderers who sense something wrong with the traditional trajectory of education and career, burnt out environmental activists who want to be reminded of their motivation to do their work and people who are looking for a place to connect with others who share similar concerns about the state of the earth.

At Pickards Mountain, real work is done not only to teach people about the plight of the earth and crises that humanity is facing, but also about how to build a new way of doing things. Somehow, despite all of the negative things this place was built in response to, hope has seeped in to this place and refuses to leave.

A quick 15-minute drive west will take you from the paved and manicured world of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus to an unkempt land of oaks, separated by tracts of land for small houses and big fields. It’s here that you will find the Eco-Institute, tucked away behind Honeysuckle Tea House, an open-air tea house and herb farm owned by the Tobens.

While I was making this drive, I rolled the windows down to let the warm evening air blow through my hair and drown out the sound of the radio. I was rehearsing the questions I wanted to ask and the appropriate way to greet Megan Toben, the founder of the Institute, who had agreed to meet with me that evening. The repetition of “Hi, thanks so much for meeting with me,” and “Can you tell me more about…” was underscored by a flood of memories that I kept trying to ignore.

See, the majority of the first two years of my college education were spent sitting in white-walled classrooms being bombarded by devastating information. I heard stories of these structures of injustice that we, as a society have trapped ourselves in, and facts about the tipping point of parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere and how humans have passed that point. I saw examples of disparities between the rich and the poor and the way that greed and power seduce even the wisest of people to keep widening the gap– stories of a failing government, a failing economy, a failing society.

It was hard to find hope. And that same lost feeling started bubbling up again as I drove through the woods to this place I knew was full of people who had devoted their lives building a better future. I just couldn’t imagine how they could do that.

A conversation by the pond

Megan Toben greeted me with a hug, welcoming me to the farm like I was family, like I belonged there. We walked through the gardens of neatly planted vegetables, like spinach and potatoes, asparagus and mint. We passed farmer Dave, the bare-foot garden manager at the Eco-Institute whose shoulder-length blonde curls almost touched the ground as he bent over the rows of plants, pulling out weeds. We stopped by the pond, which takes up about four acres of the land, and sat down in a large red gazebo, with flags of faded primary colors rocking with the wind.

Toben took me back to her days as an undergraduate at Elon Univeristy, where she graduated in 2002. Toben studied biology, but was not able to detach herself from the phenomena she was studying the way her classmates could.

“How is it that things like deforestation and species extinction and water pollution rates and climate disruption are just continuing,” she said. “I mean, it’s still worsening every day. I got to the point where I felt like I couldn’t sit in a classroom and hear the data any longer without doing something. My intellect was being engaged with this desperate information. But there was no engagement for my hands, or my heart, or my voice.”

That’s where the story of the Eco-Institute began. Toben longed for a more holistic education experience, and searched for a way to provide one for herself and to work with others who wanted the same thing. She fell in love with the bodies of work of two environmental activists, Thomas Berry and Joanna Macy, who later would become the philosophical pillars for the work of the Eco-Institute. Then she met Tim Toben.

“When my husband, Tim, and I fell in love, he owned this land,” Toben said. “Part of what drew us to one another was our common love for earth. A big question for us in the beginning was, how can we offer this place to bring people together to support the movement?”

Together, they began to open up their land to the community, hosting potluck dinners and summer camps for children, and teaching people about a new way of living and being in the world — a notion supported by a global ecological and social movement that writer Joanna Macy has deemed “The Great Turning.” Macy wrote that The Great Turning “is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.”

This global movement encompasses more than just a need to reduce carbon emissions. It is broad and diverse, but essentially is working toward a new way of doing things. It is built on the basis that our current societal and economic systems are disruptive to the balance of the earth, the balance of society and the balance of humanity itself.

“I think that it helps to remember that there was a time when humanity saw itself as a member of the earth community,” Toben said. “At some point, humanity began to see itself as sort of lord and master, and everything else then became, what we call, resource.”

The movement itself can be characterized by many different social movements, like the indigenous movements of Latin America, the Occupy Wallstreet movement in the United States and many other small movements happening in communities around the world. The Eco-Institute sees itself as a gathering place for this movement, a place where people can come to rest and to learn and be a part of the greater community.

“I think there have to people who go out there and picket,” Toben said. “There have to be people who petition for change. There have to be people who use their bodies to stop the bulldozers from taking down the old growth forests. There also has to be midwifing of a new way of doing things. So, there has to be both at the same time. And we’re more in the midwifing of the new way of doing things, like organic agriculture and renewable energy, social justice and cooperation, collaboration, creativity.”

The Eco-Institute offers a variety of programs, including permaculture classes, mushroom growing lessons and outdoor yoga sessions. But, the most important program they offer is a 10-week immersive educational experience called the Odyssey Fellowship. The fellowship was developed after years of hosting young adults who wanted to be a part of the work the institute was doing. Many of them found the farm through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a network of organizations that connect volunteers with organic farms. The program was named after a period of development between adolescence and adulthood called odyssey and marked by wandering.

“When I read that description, I immediately thought of the hundreds of young adults that have come wandering through here in the ten years that the eco-institute has been here, wanting to work on the farm, wanting to spend time here, wanting to engage, wanting to build community, wanting to talk about the issues that are challenging,” Toben said. “We realized that what young adults were really wanting was an opportunity to come and engage on all levels in a truly holistic educational experience.”

The Gathering Place

Apollo, a golden retriever, was lounging in the grass behind the barn and next to a gathering of a few of the current fellows. They had finished cooking and eating dinner together and were gathered around a picnic table with a large sheet of brown paper before them, thinking through plans to publish a zine. Even though they were all outdoors in this common space, they sat around in comfortable clothes with their shoes kicked off. It was like stepping into an outdoor living room. I could tell that this was home for them.

These fellows had gone through the first 10-week Odyssey Fellowship, and were here for another 10-week program, the Odyssey Leadership Program. Jimi Eisenstein, one of the fellows, called it the “graduate program” for the fellowship.

“We graduated from it and wanted more,” he said, his black poufy hair highlighting the swirls of colors on his tie-dye shirt.

Eisenstein was born in Tai Pei, Taiwan, grew up in Pennsylvania, but calls North Carolina his home. Growing up in multiple places was a common theme among the fellows. Anna Feldman is from New York, but lived in Asheville, North Carolina. Hayley May, another of the fellows couldn’t even name a place that she was from. “That’s a hard question to answer,” she said. “I’m from all over.” It made me wonder if part of the attraction to the Eco-Institute was its roots.

Jessica Cudney sat at the picnic table, leaning against Michelle Rozek. The two sat facing the gardens, both dressed in black sweatpants and sweatshirts, with long brown pulled behind their shoulders. For Cudney, the Eco-Institute was a place to learn how to actually live an alternative life.

“A lot of young people are curious about what other options are out there for them, and through social media, a lot of young people are discovering that there are other options available and that people are living alternative lives,” Cudney said. “It’s just difficult to figure out how to start on that journey.”

For Eisenstein, the Eco-Institute was a place where the dread of a meaningless life could be replaced by something more beautiful.

“I guess like a lot of people who grow up in just this culture, the dominant culture, they kind of go through the motions, but there’s also a part of them that feels like there’s something wrong with what they’re doing,” Eisenstein said. “Like, should I really be in school seven hours a day on a beautiful day? There’s this sort of innate rejection of the system that gets kind of quieted down as someone grows up. But here, that voice is nurtured, listened to and so, it kind of comes from the understanding that there is a more beautiful way to live.”

For Christine LeRoy, who graduated from the University of Northern Colorado, coming to the Eco-Institute was a supplement to formal education.

“I went to university and I double majored and I really excelled in that environment, and then I graduated and I realized, I don’t really have very many practical life skills and that’s really a large part of what that is, learning how to live in community, learning how to milk a goat, plant a garden, and like care for yourself and other people and the environment,” she said.

Conclusion

Wendell Berry is a farmer in Kentucky, an environmental activist and a prolific writer. In an interview with filmmaker Laura Dunn, he said: “This is an age of divorce. Things that belong together have been taken apart. And you can’t put it all back together again. What you can do, is the only thing that you can do. You take two things that ought to be together and you put them together. Two things! Not all things.”

Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute is a place that is putting two things together. It is a place of community, of care, of hard-work on all levels. It is a place of hope. And those pit of your stomach, desperate feelings that accompanied me to the farm dissipated at the threshold. I couldn’t be in such an abundant place and feel empty.  I may not yet know what my two things will be, but I’m hopeful that I, too, can find two things to put back together.

Edited by Luke Bollinger

Weathering the cold during spring break: 5 days in a Georgia State Park

By Luke Bollinger

For many college students, spring break is an opportunity to visit and explore unfamiliar places. For those seeking new experiences in new places, weather is almost always a factor. However, the problem with having spring break in March is the unpredictability of the weather. What happens when the success of the trip is dependent on the weather because the trip will be almost entirely outdoors? This is a question I faced when I went camping in Georgia for spring break this year.

When my traveling companions (Evan Mozingo, Hunter Patterson, JP Patterson and Alex Lusk) booked a camping trip to Chattahoochee Bend State Park in Georgia, we knew we were taking a risk. Our reasoning was that, though it would be March, Georgia would have to be warm. Their assumptions of the weather were off by a week. The temperature didn’t rise above 50 F almost the whole week, the sun could not seem to find its way out from behind the clouds and the wind, at times, made things miserable. The forecast for the weeks before and after our trip was 70 degrees and sunny. Due to the cooler conditions during the time we were there, it was up to us to make the best out of our circumstances.

Day 1

georgia
Kayaking down the Chattahoochee River was not an option due to the weather.

After a six-hour drive from Concord, North Carolina, to the state park, we stopped at the visitor’s center to check in with the ranger on duty. She laid out the rules and what the park had to offer. To our dismay, she informed us that they would not be renting kayaks. Taking a trip down the Chattahoochee River was something we had all been looking forward to. Erin, the park ranger, told us because of the weather, they were going to wait until next week to offer kayaking trip. This was our first setback.

She wished us good camping and good luck. She seemed to understand that we were a bit upset about the kayaks, as well as the weather.

Our campsite was about one-half mile from the visitor’s center. However, it wasn’t what we were expecting, as it wasn’t as secluded as we had hoped. The road led right to our site, which made it convenient for unloading our supplies, but the aura of being surrounded by nature wasn’t exactly present.

For some reason, our reservation was made for a recreational vehicle campsite.

“Have you noticed we’re the only idiots without a camper?” Hunter said.

He was the one who made the reservation.

It began to rain lightly as we started unloading our gear. After donning rain jackets, we were kept adequately dry. There were no problems setting up the tents, and we unloaded our four coolers. Regardless of what happened that week, at the very least we were not short supplied, JP noted.

About 20 minutes after arriving at the campsite, we received our first visit from the campsite ranger on duty. The ranger never seemed too keen on making conversation so we never caught his name.

“I’m a grouchy old man,” were the first words out of his mouth. And he certainly looked the part, horned-rimmed glasses and all.

“I won’t tolerate any noise after 10 p.m.,” he said.  “The guy at the next site is a working man. He gets up early, and he’ll let me know if you all are loud.”

OK.

He then told us it would get below freezing that night and wished us good luck.

After our cordial welcome to the campsite, Evan and I set out to get a fire going while the rest of the crew headed off to the nearest gas station to get a couple more bags of ice. Lighting a fire proved to be a challenge, as it seemed it had been raining before we arrived at the park. Most of the wood we found was fairly wet.

Because of the weather, I knew starting and maintaining a fire was going to be essential to not being miserable. But despite our best efforts, the wood was too wet. All it would do was smolder.

Luckily, Hunter bought a couple bundles of wood from the visitor’s center for $5 a bundle, and we were able to start a blazing fire. By that point my fingers were numb, so I didn’t step away from the fire until dinner.

The fire pit at our site was a circle of metal about six inches high that was dug into the gravel. We found that if we placed the gathered wood beside or on top of the pit, we could dry the logs out in a couple of hours, as we weren’t too fond of spending $20 a day on firewood.

By the end of the week, we would all be experts at starting fires.

For dinner that night, we heated up some spaghetti, a much-appreciated contribution from the parents of Hunter and JP that we cooked on one of our propane grills. At the end of our first day, that meal tasted better than any spaghetti dish I’ve had at a restaurant. I was already beginning to appreciate the smaller things in my life. That’s what camping is all about, right? Simplicity? That’s what I was telling myself.

After dinner we all set around the fire to unwind and enjoy a few beers. This was short-lived, however, as the wind picked up significantly. We moved inside to the five-person tent for a friendly game of poker.

Day 2

I woke up the next day feeling well rested. The REI tent Evan and I were staying in did a good job at retaining heat. Despite the cold weather, I’m not sure I had ever been warmer sleeping in a tent.

Leaving the tent, though, was disappointing. It was a bitter cold morning, and the day did not get much warmer. We kept track of the sun that day and saw it leave the cover of the clouds just twice.

Evan, Hunter and I decided to do a bit of hiking. Alex and JP, however, felt exploring the park was not worth leaving the comfort of the fire, which we had started immediately after we woke up.

We chose the riverside trail, which offered great views of the Chattahoochee River and the surrounding swamp area. The trail was well-maintained and not very challenging. After hiking about three miles, we decided Alex and JP were onto something when they stayed behind. We turned back, but a couple of wrong turns later and we were near the edge of the park, about another two miles from our site.

After eventually finding our way back to the campsite, we soon set out to make dinner. The abysmal weather had all of our spirits down. But a feast of marinated chicken cooked on one grill, along with macaroni and cheese and green beans cooked on the other, had us feeling much better about our situation.

We retired to the fire for a couple of hours before heading to bed. We were ready to be done with the cold.

Day 3

Our third day in the park was the coldest of the week, as the temperature hovered between 35 and 40 degrees for most of the day. But with the sun was finally shining, I felt warm enough to shed my third layer of clothing.

The itinerary for the morning was to head into Newnan to buy groceries for the rest of the week. Newnan is the closest town to the park and was a 40-minute drive.

While we were in town, Evan and Hunter bought fishing licenses at Walmart for $23 each. Despite park ranger Erin’s warning that fishing was practically impossible on the river because of the steep banks and overhanging trees, they were desperate for something to do other than standing around the fire.

Once we got back to the campsite, we headed to the river. Evan and Hunter settled on a spot fairly clear of trees to cast their lines. We descended the banks, which were still wet from the rain. Hunter lost his footing and came two feet from taking a dip in the frigid water. Evan also came close to taking a swim after losing his balance laughing at Hunter. It wasn’t the best start to their fishing endeavor. Evan subsequently got his line caught in a tree. Park ranger Erin’s warning was proving valid.

While the two fishermen waited patiently for the fish to bite, I found myself at a spot higher up on the bank where I could comfortably read the book I had brought on the trip. With the sun warming my body, I soon fell asleep – the first nap I had afforded myself all semester. I awoke 30 minutes later to learn that they had not even had a nibble.

Day 4

Evan and Hunter, still determined on catching some fish, found a large lake about 20 minutes from the park. Despite the rest of us not having fishing licenses, a day by the lake would be a nice change of scenery. We loaded up in the truck with a football and a cooler with our lunch and headed to West Point Lake.

It was another sunny day, but the fish still were not biting. I was a bit relieved they didn’t catch anything, though, because they had said they wanted to cook anything they caught for dinner, which was a task I knew would not be worth the trouble.

Day 5

We made it to the final day. The consensus of the group was that we had experienced about all the park had to offer, so we decided to head back into town to find a Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the first round of the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament.

After spending a couple of hours watching the Tar Heels rout Texas Southern, we headed back to the campsite for the final night.

We cleaned up around the campsite and got everything ready to leave the next morning, then walked down to the river to catch the sunset. Afterward, we got the fire going. We had broken our two hatchets at this point, but we figured out we could split wood by hammering a metal wedge into the log by dropping a larger log on the wood.

Bedtime was early that night, as most of us were ready for the morning to come.

Final Thoughts

Though the weather significantly altered the experience we were expecting, it was nonetheless an experience. When it comes to camping, sometimes it’s trial and error. We now know not to book a spring break camping trip in January, as we won’t know what the weather is going to be like in March. I’ve also realized that the campsites in Georgia do not offer anything different than a campsite you might find near the base of the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains. You live and you learn.

Edited by Matt Wotus

Carrboro Farmers’ Market provides community, sustainability

By Leah Asmelash

An old man sells handmade mugs in a corner, in the same spot every week. He smiles and converses with the vendors and customers around him, pointing at different mugs and grinning with almost every sentence. Across from him, a farmer with three tables filled with different types of mushrooms leans against his truck, while his daughter collects money from customers. There are signs for ethically-raised meat and local dairy up ahead.

A few feet away from the vendors, kids run around on the open grass, playing soccer with a muddy yellow ball. Vans are parked on the grass, some with names of farms on the side. Everyone seems to be talking to someone else – farmers talking to customers and other farmers. They speak with the friendliness of people who have known each other for years, but they could have just met that morning.

This is the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, where every Saturday and Wednesday, dozens of farmers set up tables filled with fresh, local produce and meat. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of customers come to the market every week to shop, chatting with the farmers about new products and what’s good that week.

Although farmers’ markets can be fun for community members, the life of a farmer is not glamorous. It involves early mornings, mud, sweat, animals, animal feces and animal carcasses. It involves early mornings at farmers’ markets and pulling bugs off crops, high costs and hard labor with minimal profits. So what drives people to choose this life – a life without health benefits, a small paycheck and self-employment?

Cane Creek Farm

For Eliza MacLean, owner of Cane Creek Farm in Graham, it was love.

“I was fascinated,” she said, recalling her earlier days managing a pig herd at North Carolina A&T State University. “I fell head over heels in love.”

Although MacLean had worked with and studied animals for many years prior, she said she didn’t know anything about pigs when she started managing the herd. Working with the pigs made her realize she had a tender spot in her heart for livestock, and she became involved in evaluating farms and meat quality for hog production in North Carolina.

Three years later, Peter Kaminsky, author and writer for The New York Times, was searching for someone to care for a herd of rare Ossabaw Island hogs. MacLean was the first suggestion he received, and thus Cane Creek Farm was born, devoted to ethical raising of livestock.

Now, Cane Creek Farm is over 15-years-old. MacLean has pigs available every day of the year, harvesting three to five pigs for her butcher shop and a few more to sell at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.

Customer Driven

When talking about the slaughtering process, MacLean said she tries to cater to the customers’ desires and do what works best for her community.

“For me, that’s why I’m so small,” she said. “I want to be able to see my community. I want people to know my little story and be able to see my animals and see what they eat, know why they’re paying a little bit more.”

But no one knows the animals, loves the animals, more than MacLean. She’s the one that feeds them every day and prepares them for sale. She takes them to slaughter herself, in a trailer that she says smells like them, and she’s around the animals when they are killed.

“My kids say I treat them as well as I treat the pigs,” she said with a laugh, before further explaining her rationale.

“I want everyone to have room to be what they want to be,” she said. “A pig gets to be a pig, a chicken gets to be a chicken.”

Ethical Breeding

Despite how well she treats them, the animals are always brought to slaughter and sold.

“It doesn’t make real intuitive sense to raise something to certain death,” she said. “But again it wouldn’t be there in the first place if I hadn’t raised it, and it’s doing a good thing for my land, it’s having a nice life while it’s alive, it’s good for consumer – it all makes sense to me.”

Still, MacLean admits it is not always easy.

“It’s sad a lot of the time,” she said.

The sadness doesn’t stop her from having fun though, which she always makes sure to include in her busy schedule.

“I plan my breeding this time of year so that I’m not having babies in August, and we can be flying off rope swings and doing things that are much more appropriate for August than everybody completely stressed because it’s so friggin’ hot,” she said.

MacLean doesn’t sleep much. Instead, she floats down the Haw River while drinking a beer and kayaks in the moonlight. Her kids, both 16-years-old, chase her up mountains. These playful times are important to her, and she makes sure she doesn’t take on too much work so that there’s always, even in the middle of a workday, time for play.

Turtle Run Farm

Two miles away, on the other side of the Haw River, husband-and-wife duo Kevin and Kim Meehan grow organic vegetables on Turtle Run Farm. Before owning the farm, they were in the construction business and originally bought the land to build a house. But Kim had always loved gardening. Gradually, a few rows of vegetables turned into a few plots. In 1996, Turtle Run Farm was born.

Two years later, Kim applied for a spot at the competitive Carrboro Farmers’ Market. She said they weren’t expecting to be accepted, but they ultimately were. They began selling their produce at the Wednesday market, but eventually moved up to the Saturday one.

“Once we got into the Saturday market, we kicked it into high gear,” Kevin said.

Afterwards, their crop production continued to grow to keep up with demand, so much that they began selling honeysuckle bouquets and strawberries which grew naturally on their property, just so they would have something to sell.

They both admit that farming is exhausting, but they enjoy their job because it’s never boring.

“Farming is very satisfying work and at the end of the day you are physically exhausted but mentally enriched,” Kevin said. “Farming is always changing as the seasons come and go, and the weather and tons of other variables create challenges.”

Environmental Advocacy

For the Meehans, their farm is also a type of environmental advocacy, and they refuse to use chemicals and pesticides on their crops. Although Turtle Run is not a certified organic farm, the two are dedicated environmentalists and did not see any other way to farm besides organically.

“(Using pesticides) just never occurred to us,” Kim said.

Since they don’t use sprays and chemicals, Kim said they learned through trial and error which crops will bring a lot of bugs to their land and which ones won’t. That’s the reason why they never sell carrots, she said. They’re too difficult to manage with the bugs and critters they attract. Instead, they try to keep the bugs in check by planting flowers and plants that bloom in order to attract beneficial insects, like ladybugs, to help with pest control.

Farming Community

They also enjoy the community farming has given them, saying the Carrboro Farmers’ Market is a social network just as much as a business network. Local farmers throw parties or host farm-to-fork dinners and other events to bring the farmering community together.

“It’s a tremendous social farmer’s club,” Kim said.

It was the Carrboro Farmers’ Market that pushed the Meehans to move to the area in the first place, figuring that if they had a nice farmers’ market, the town must be pretty nice too.

“It’s a very friendly market,” Kim said.

Kim said the market was one of the best she’s been to in the country.

Alex Rike, assistant manager of the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, agrees, but he says friendliness isn’t the only reason consumers come back week after week.

Buying Local

“It’s a form of consumer activism,” Rike said. “When (customers) spend their dollars at the market, they know they’re supporting their neighbor and, with the case at CFM, someone within 50 miles of where they live. And they get to know their farmer. They get to know that their food is fresh – it’s been picked within the week. They can ask questions about the growing practices.”

MacLean prides herself on the social and economic effects Cane Creek Farm, and local farms in general, have on the community.

“My land is open,” she said. “The cross-country kids run their cross-country meets through the farm. There’s a 5K that combines land in Saxapahaw and goes through the farm. Teaching people about what these animals are really like, how funny, how curious, how smart, how dignified. And keeping the money in that community. What I’m growing is being sold to my neighbors and it makes me feel really good.”

It makes Kevin and Kim feel good too. For both MacLean and the Meehans, their farms serve as ethically raised and organic offerings to their community. So what’s a little hard work for something you love, for something that brings you and your community so much joy?

Edited by Sarah Muzzillo