What a great week! Earth Day was Sunday, and though it was a bit cold, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping and the flowers were blooming. To top it all off, the days since then have brought ex-presidents, awards and grand openings all celebrating the incredible environmental movement in Central Kentucky.
On Monday, I had the honor of attending the grand opening of THE premier agricultural school in the country. Locust Trace Agriscience Center is part of Fayette County Public Schools, and was recognized for its groundbreaking achievements in sustainability and agriculture education by our Commissioner of Agriculture, James Comer, Mayor Jim Gray and Fayette County Superintendent, Dr. Tom Shelton among others.
The idea for the school grew out of comments from past students, the leadership of Eastside Technical Center teacher Carrie Davis and Principal Joe Norman, and the support from the school board. They all voiced a need for an equine and veterinary technical school in this, the horse capital of the world. The truly visionary achievement however, in my opinion, is the emphasis on sustainable agriculture and incorporating sustainable design into not only the school building, but also the school’s curriculum.
The building relies upon a large array of solar panels for energy and is heated and cooled by geothermal as well as the aptly named Big Ass Fans in the auditorium and throughout the building. Lighting is extremely efficient and only supplements the “day lighting” supplied by properly placed windows and solar tubes that bring in natural light.
The entire building is “net zero”, which means that the building creates as much energy as it uses and will, at times, be able to send electricity back to the grid.
In addition to the incredible energy efficiency features, all of the water used in the building (except for what is necessary for the sprinkler system) is generated onsite. Water to irrigate the gardens and agriculture plots is supplied through the use of rain water collected in cisterns and there is a well available for hand washing. All waste water is routed through constructed wetlands for proper disposal.
I graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture in 1999. My degree was in Natural Resource Conservation and Management and I learned all about sustainability and how it applied to forestry, wildlife habitat and soils. Despite our supposed integration into the College of Ag, I felt that as an NRCM student, I was completely separate from the rest of the college. It seems that 13 years ago, agriculture and the environment did not mix. Words can not express how excited I am that high school students today can learn about raising cattle, growing corn, or preserving endangered species while sitting next to each other and can understand how each discipline affects the other.
I could go on forever about Locust Trace’s feat in architecture and education, but I am still talking about the first day in a week that is not even half way over. After the grand opening and ribbon cutting at Locust Trace, I went downtown to see another amazing site, former President Bill Clinton celebrating Earth Day with the Bluegrass Youth Sustainability Council.
The council is made up of students from eight public and private high schools in Fayette County. I started an environmental group in my high school, but my big achievement at the time was writing letters about saving Florida manatees. Since I went to high school in Lexington, this was fairly futile. I am not sure if I was more impressed by what Mr. Clinton had to say, or the fact that a group of high school students had enough connections and vision to invite him to speak.
I was definitely inspired by the president’s mantra of the economy being tied to the environment. Just like finding the similarities and interconnectedness of agriculture and the environment, this is also a fairly new realization to most of the country. Whether it is providing jobs through energy efficiency or attracting new business by cleaning up litter, the economy is directly tied to our local environment, and I am glad that is getting the attention it deserves.
The Monday after Earth Day was the beginning of a great week. I am writing this on Tuesday, and in addition to the inspiring activities mentioned above, today I attended the fifth anniversary celebration of Toyota’s Environmental Education Trail, as well as their announcement of $50,000 in grants to fund local environmental education projects. It was also announced that three schools in Kentucky have received the inaugural “Green Ribbon” award from the U.S. Department of Education.
Overall, it is an amazing time to be in Kentucky and I am continually inspired by our youth. My only concern for the future is job security since these high school students will graduate with more experience than I have after 10 years of working with Bluegrass PRIDE!
Amy Sohner is executive director of Bluegrass PRIDE and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with PRIDE since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as Vice-Chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, 5-year-old daughter and a multitude of pets.