Masters Community Gathers for Sustainability Event

Dan Barber, the keynote speaker at the Masters Matters symposium on Wednesday, February 15, called for the creation of a sustainable agricultural economy that “dictates the use of the whole farm” so that farmers can grow a diversity of grains and vegetables instead of relying on a single profitable crop.

Mr. Barber’s presentation launched a day full of workshops and animated discussions centered on Sustainability: How Can We Effect Real Change? About 100 parents and alumnae/i joined students, faculty and staff for the event, during which experts discussed climate change, marine conservation, grassroots activism and other topics.

Mr. Barber is chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns and the author of The Third Plate. In his book, Mr. Barber promotes the idea of a "third plate" – an integrated system of vegetable, grain and livestock production that is both environmentally sustainable and improves the taste of our food.

“Dan Barber is leading the way in a movement toward a farm-driven cuisine,” Upper School biology teacher Mary May, Master’s first Green Dean, said as she introduced Mr. Barber. 

Under America’s current agribusiness system, Mr. Barber said, many farmers grow only wheat rather than a variety of grains because they can earn a profit from this high-yield crop. To change that system, he added, “It’s got to start with people like you….demanding things other than wheat.”

“If we increase the diversity and change the architecture of our plates,” Mr. Barber said, “I think we’ll force the food economy to change its game.”

In her workshop, Susan Van Dolsen, a co-founder of Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion (SAPE), called for activism of a different kind. By way of example, she described the steps that the grassroots group has taken to fight this gas pipeline project. Although Spectra Energy has received federal approval to put the first phase of the expansion from New York through New England into service, SAPE is appealing the approval in federal district court. 

When it comes to activism, Ms. Van Dolsen said, “There are all levels. An activist can be someone who is trying to do something small,” such as getting involved in a local environmental issue and demanding action by elected officials.

A session entitled “Marine Conservation in New York Needs You!” drew a large group of students. Robert De Giovanni, Jr., a marine biologist and Chief Scientist of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, urged the audience to help clean up trash that is left on beaches or carried onto shore by waves.

Such “marine debris,” he said, can harm turtles, dolphins, whales and other marine animals and even lead to their death. Plastic bags and balloons have been found in the stomachs of marine animals that live in Long Island Sound, noted Mr. De Giovanni, who showed photographs of seals and other animals ensnared in fishing lines, and heaps of golf balls, plastic straws and DVD cases cluttering beaches.

In a workshop at Doc Wilson Hall, Doug DeCandia of the Food Bank for Westchester shared his expertise on composting and “farming in a regenerative, ecological and natural way” with sophomores. DeCandia, who helped set up the composting bins on campus, told the group, “Composting is a tool that we can use to help regenerate and build back the health of the land.” 

There were several other activities designed for students during the day. Freshmen visited the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture for a program conducted by the center’s director of education. And in the woods bordering the northeast corner of the campus, groups of sophomores participated in a forest ecosystem walk or a walk and clean-up. 

Other workshops focused on environmental mediation, “The Plight of Bees,” “Eating Healthy for the Environment,” and how a group of citizens organized to stop high-volume fracking in New York. 

Dr. Radley Horton, a research scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University, spoke about climate change during informative sessions that drew both adults and students. And Sherie McClam, Associate Professor of Science Education and Education for Sustainability at Manhattanville College’s School of Education, told stories about young people from across the globe whose ordinary work in school led them to take extraordinary action for a sustainable future.