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SLU Sustainability Semester seeks community partners

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CANTON — The people working the fields and industries of the north country can impart lessons and experience to the area’s young minds.

That’s why a St. Lawrence University program is calling on the expertise and skill of local residents and businesses this week.

Leaders of the inaugural Sustainability Semester are holding a public information session at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Learning Classroom, Route 68.

“Among the goals is to work with community members on issues of sustainability,” said Catherine H. Shrady, the semester’s director. “We want to have a meeting to inform community members ways in which we can imagine working together.”

Ms. Shrady said the program is looking for partners to host workshops or field trips.

That would include visiting area farms, working alongside craftsmen installing solar energy collectors, or touring a hydroelectric facility, Ms. Shrady said.

“There are folks in the community that make soaps from goat milk, or who maybe want to do a bowhunting workshop if people are getting interested in eating wild meat, or an edible wild plants workshop — they would be our teachers,” she said. “What they would take out of it is that we would be compensating them for their time.”

Thanks to a $25,000 grant from the Fred L. Emerson Foundation, the school will compensate community partners financially.

Ms. Shrady said community partners should be within the north country, but need not be in the immediate Canton area.

“We’re casting a wide net because we’re not sure; we don’t want to miss somebody who would be marvelous,” she said.

“The kind of things we had in mind are people who have particular skills and talents with sustainable practices and homesteading.”

The semester kicks off Jan. 21 with its first class of 12 students. Since announcing the program last year, the university has renovated a farmhouse at the Extension’s site to serve as living quarters for students, and converted a barn into a classroom.

“We have access to Cornell co-op’s high tunnel, so we’ve already planted some greens in the high tunnel, and garlic on the site,” Ms. Shrady said. “The house has been renovated for occupancy for our staff and students, but a lot of the ongoing kinds of projects will be things that the students will be working on.”

Students will take four core sustainability courses. One will focus on sustainable fibers and textile development.

Another class, rooted in the social sciences, will examine sustainability in its historical, political and cultural context. A natural sciences course will look at the geological and biological processes responsible for the formation of resources. Ms. Shrady also will teach a class.

“We’ll look in more detail at food and sustainability, more on energy in general. My class is the one that weaves in the experiential component of the semester. We’ll be going on field trips,” she said.

Ms. Shrady also will accompany students on a two-week field trip to Boston to study sustainable urban living and research issues such as transportation, planning and design.

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