The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Sustainability Spotlight: An Introduction

Hiking above the clouds at Doi Inthanon National Park in northern Thailand during November of 2018

“I will be a hummingbird; I will do the best I can.” These words were said by Wangarĩ Maathai, a renowned Kenyan leader in social, environmental, and political activism and the first African woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. I often cite Maathai as someone who has been influential in my decision to pursue sustainability policy and education. Each of us plays a unique role in the bigger picture of which we are all a part, and it is our responsibility to do what we can to affect positive change. 

My name is Phoebe Gelbard, and I’m a fourth-year student studying sustainable systems as a BDIC (Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration) student with a minor in natural resources conservation. As a communications assistant for the Commonwealth Honors College, I will be taking this opportunity of having a personal blog to highlight what’s going on in the realm of sustainability and the environment, both on campus and beyond. Positive change often stems from the ground up, and to be drivers of change, it is critical that we are informed as students, teachers, innovators, and leaders of our local and global communities. 

A little bit about me: I grew up in western Massachusetts and am fortunate to call the Connecticut River Valley my home. For the past 22 years of my life, I have had the privilege of spending the majority of my time outdoors in the hills, forests, fields, and rivers that cover this part of the state. I have spent the past five summers working as an outdoor environmental educator, where I’ve had the opportunity to teach local elementary and middle-school students about the ecology, geology, and bio-cultural history of the land around us, weaving in my knowledge of food systems and local agriculture along the way. 

From spending time in the kitchen cooking and sharing food with friends and family, to helping transplant broccoli seedlings and harvest pounds upon pounds of onions on local farms, to learning from farmers and professors about the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the food that I choose to consume, food is one of the central lenses through which I see the world. For this reason, looking at food systems and their place in a sustainable future has been a logical path for me. 

Food is an issue that affects — and is affected by — each and every one of us on a daily basis, whether or not we choose to see it that way. As farmer, writer, and environmental activist Wendell Berry explains, “Eating is an agricultural act.” From the water resources to the pollinators to the human labor involved, growing food is complex, impactful, and a beautiful process that both grounds and connects us as humans. 

Within this blog, I will delve into some of the sustainability issues that are of particular relevance to me in my academic work and personal life, as well as the opportunities and resources that I want to encourage others to take advantage of in making a positive impact. Stay tuned for stories about fellow students who are leading the climate justice movement, how to eat locally, sustainably, and affordably as a student, and much more.