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Students present social sustainability program

Series focuses on creating balance and protecting Earth

POSTED: April 4, 2013 12:07 a.m.

Area college students are working to encourage a culture of social sustainability by highlighting the connections between the environment, individuals and area businesses.

The Institute of Environmental and Spatial Analysis at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville is holding a sustainability series during April to inform students and the public about local and global sustainability.

The series will feature different speakers each week from local businesses that focus on being environmentally sound.

Tom Torres, a senior in UNG’s Applied Environmental Spatial Analysis program and the event organizer, said he hopes the series will encourage local conversations about global issues.

“When people say ‘We’re going to do something environmental, let’s contact this national group,” Torres said. “But there are people here, in our community, who are doing this kind of stuff. There are all these big, global, systemic problems and there are all of these local individuals with these amazing, innovative solutions.”

Torres said part of the problem with addressing these and other issues on a more local level is that there aren’t enough people from different backgrounds sharing their unique insights and experiences.

Two businesses made presentations to a group of nearly 50 students Wednesday afternoon.

Kevin Arita, a 17-year-old entrepreneur from Honduras, founded Yonah Coffee, a coffee company based in Habersham County, to fund his college education. Arita and his mentor Dick Stafford are currently growing about 50 coffee plants inside a large greenhouse. As the business and the plants grow, the pair are learning how to produce the plants in an organic and environmentally sustainable manner.

“We’re trying to figure out how to grow coffee in Habersham County, period,” Stafford said. “But also, how to grow it in a way that is sustainable so we don’t destroy the land it’s planted in.”

Another local business is also working to protect its land through sustainable practices.

Kat Stratton, director of Cedar Hill Enrichment Center, told the students about the center’s roots as a women’s spirituality retreat and its efforts in re-establishing itself as a center for sustainable living.

Stratton discussed how the center strives to find “more natural ways to do things” while tending its 17 acres off Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville.

The center practices permaculture, an agricultural philosophy that involves working with the natural design of the land. She said the center also approaches its projects from a holistic point of view, by doing what is best for the earth and people.

“The way people are describing that now is the ability of the current generation to provide for their needs without compromising the needs of future generations,” Stratton told the group.

Stratton pointed out various projects the center has undertaken. Instead of installing a drain in the middle of a garden to catch water overflow, the center built a rock-creek bed to redirect the path of the water. The center has stopped using dyed mulch in gardens and walkways and does not till the ground to plant because that can lead to erosion.

Stratton said it’s important for people to realize their connection to nature. Several of the center’s programs focus on healing the body and spirit through nature.

“When you talk about sustaining the human spirit, that’s the foundation for everything that we do,” Stratton said. “It’s not just out in the gardens or in the ground, it’s the human community.”


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