Snow and ice cover the ground outside my house; the windchill makes it feel well below 20 degrees. My mind, however, is in my spiritual homeland, where the first buds of the almond tree are beginning to bloom. It is where, in most years, I would be this week interviewing our Israeli Mishlachat members who come to camp to inspire our campers and staff with their love of Israel and passion for educating young Jews.
Tu BiShvat, a one-time minor kabbalistic holiday to mark the birthday of the trees, has rightfully become a significant date in our Jewish calendar. Jews the world over celebrate this day by hosting Tu BiShvat sedarim, planting trees, and taking time to assess our own impact on the environment.
As we prepare to reopen our camp in six months, we too are taking stock of our own environmental habits. This summer, we will focus on three main aspects of our own environmental impact.
In 2020, we installed our first solar panels and geothermal wells. At present, these systems power our new wellness center (or Mirpa’ah as it is called in the summer). Because of these systems, this building is carbon neutral to operate. To date, we have saved the 13,017 lb of CO2 emissions compared to using fossil based energy, which in turn is equivalent to planting 98 trees! During most of the winter, the panels return power to the electrical grid since our electrical needs are minimal. The building is well insulated with R39 foam insulation in the walls; it is heated in the winter by a geothermal system. Our hope is to publish the data from the building on a weekly basis both during the summer and year round, so that campers can analyze the data and learn more about energy use. In the coming years, we hope to install three more solar arrays on our site so that we can cut our carbon-based electrical use by over 75%.
In 2021 we are launching a new STEM program with a dual focus on ecology and sustainable design. In addition to opening a renovated farm education center, we will be hiring two staff members to lead this program. One staff member will focus on ecological observation projects – monitoring stream flow, observing reforestation, and cataloging the species that are native to our ranch. The second staff member will help campers evaluate our own environmental impact, and problem-solve to design new systems focused on our water usage & waste streams. We will draw upon curriculum designed for youth, and hopefully begin a partnership with a local environmental science department at a Colorado university in the next year.
Waste & Composting
Over the past few years, we have devoted considerable resources to reducing the waste we produce at camp and set a goal in 2016 of being at zero waste by 2020. While we have made some progress, we have fallen far from our goal of being waste-free. Unfortunately, the large scale bokashi system we implemented in 2016/17 has not been able to deal adequately with our organic waste in the way we had originally envisioned. Similarly, while we have significantly increased the amount of cardboard and metal we recycle, we would still like to capture more. Finally, while we have reduced the amount of paper towels we use for hand washing through increased use of hand dryers, in all likelihood COVID protocols this summer will require us to use even more paper towels and single-use cleaning cloths. Nonetheless, we know that we can be more conscious of the waste we produce and find better avenues for composting and recycling. In 2021 we hope to contract with a commercial composter to process most of our organic waste and paper towels. We also hope to be more transparent with our campers about where our waste goes and set aspirational goals of how we can do better to reduce the waste we put into landfills and incinerators.
Tu B’shvat happens once a year. As Jews, however, our focus on the environment needs to be a year-round endeavour. Our goal as a camp is for our alumni to return to their home communities as advocates for change in both personal habits and collective policies that mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.