Week 2 – Composting and the Saturday Market

Blake Underwood, SLS Blogger
Weekly Update 01 Sept 2019

Hello, again! Get ready for an action-packed update because this has been a busy week for the SLS program.

In our three visits to Metz, we (Dr. Kozhanova, my classmates, and I) learned more about composting, we met with Gilles Friderich, who works for the City of Metz, and explored the Saturday markets, as well as some stores that would interest anyone trying to produce less waste.

First, we visited another location of the community garden and composting initiative in Metz, one closer to the center of the city, and met a lively professor named Jean-Jacques Gaumet (or JJ) who tends the garden and composting bins there. Among many other things, he spoke with the group about Metz’s composting initiative, about the process of composting, showing us to each of the composting bins (all in different phases of the process), about the garden and its yield, and about other events of interest to green minds, like the ecology festival (in two weeks). At one point, he demonstrated the heat of fermentation by sticking a thermometer into each of the compost bins. The highest temperature (in the compost bin with the greatest amount of bacteria present) was around 52°C; when he started to sift through the compost, stirring it, there was steam that would come out of the pockets that he opened in the soil. The other students and I (including Dr. Kozhanova) thoroughly enjoyed it, each taking a turn to stir the compost in the same way as I had last Saturday and each smiling and presenting the other to Dr. Kozhanova for a picture. JJ and his wife were nice enough to let me borrow a composting bin, too, so I’ll be better prepared for our next composting session.

The following morning, we walked to the European Institute of Ecology building in Metz and spoke to Gilles Friderich (whom I mentioned earlier), who is responsible for sustainable development in the City of Metz. Gilles took us through a presentation in which he began with an explanation of the three pillars of sustainable development laid out in the Agenda 21 (an environmental plan/initiative constructed by governmental and nongovernmental organizations): social development, environmental development, and economic development. Once he had covered the basics, he moved on to initiatives in the city of Metz that were made in accordance with the goals set forth in Agenda 21. There is a greater sense of urgency and focus on making transportation in the city more bike friendly, and they’re continuing to improve and promote public transportation (like trains and buses, which I would highly recommend). They hand out “family care packages” that contain an installation for a shower head to use less water (and a device of the same concept for a sink) and a more energy efficient LED lightbulb, among other things, for free; they’re providing the citizens of Metz and surrounding villages the tools that they need to live more sustainably (an idea I can get behind!). They produce cups for the community that are biodegradable and have grocery tote bags made (with other little gifts, too, like a cigarette butt container made of recycled aluminum). These things, in particular, stuck out to me because they’re educating and providing the people with the things that they need to be sustainable and responsible. I’d like to explore some of the same notions in Atlanta, at Georgia Tech. He gave us some important facts about the current state of the world’s environment, our consumption rate, and the social complexity of these issues. After taking a short quiz, he was able to demonstrate the amount of resources and energy it takes to live our certain lifestyles. I’m really sad to say that it would take 2.5 planets to maintain my lifestyle. That’s crazy!

On the next beautiful morning in Metz (I know, two in a row), I met with Dr. Kozhanova and Jean-Jacque to explore the Saturday market, get the inside scoop, and then go see how some stores were managing to sell all of their goods without packaging. At the market, we walked through the aisles of the many stalls, sometimes stopping for JJ to purchase his fruits and vegetables. At one point, we stopped to converse with one of the merchants who immediately picked me out as an American. I was so surprised, and especially because I hadn’t even spoken a word to him. The price of local produce was mind boggling because the same caliber and quality market in the United States seems to be considered luxury, like the healthy aspect of the fruits and vegetables comes with its own price tag. It was refreshing to see affordable, high-quality produce in abundance for people to come and buy.
The store without packaging was something I found to be refreshing as well. There were a lot of glass containers, essentially reusable containers, for sale on the shelves next to the pastas, legumes, rice, candy, you name it. Further down, there were soaps and laundry detergents next to recycled, reusable plastic containers. Everything in the store worked in harmony to facilitate a completely packaging free experience. I wish that this concept was more widely adopted because I believe that it causes people to really engage with what they’re buying (and potentially avoid excess), and it also reduces the amount of waste that you generate as a whole.

Overall, I had an amazing week. I think that my French is beginning to come more naturally in conversation because of the amount of it that I’ve been able to hear and speak through these activities. I also feel my heart growing full of passion and love for the city of Metz and its initiatives to develop a more sustainable society, environment, and economy. These three days alone have sparked a fire in me that I will carry home to Georgia Tech and spread to my friends and community there. I’d like to look into composting at Georgia Tech’s community garden and potentially having a mini market there during the harvesting season.

Au revoir, mes amis! I’ll see you all again next week.

Meet the SLS Blogger for Fall 2019 – Blake Underwood!

“If I stand between a stone and an iron plate, I am sometimes able to have a vision of the past and the distant future.” Lee Ufan

My name is Arleta Underwood, but you can call me by my middle name, Blake. I’m currently studying Industrial Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. I’m pursuing a minor in the French language and hope to pursue a minor in Sustainable Cities in the future. This fall marks the third year that I’ve been studying at the university, and it also marks the first semester that I’ve been outside the United States. I know, exciting, right? I’ve known that I was going to travel since I was a little girl and have dreamt of this day for a long time. In my wait, I developed a love of music and of education, learning is one of my deepest passions. Nature is where I find solitude, often picking a shady spot under trees to sit and read whatever book I’ve managed to slip into.

I haven’t been too caught up in my typical everyday Blake activities for the past week, though, because the environment of Metz has been too full of amazing opportunities and excitement. The students, after arriving in the city and managing to settle down in the dorms, began their classes at Georgia Tech Lorraine. We were introduced to our curriculum for the semester, some engineering, some math, some French and sustainability, like me. After our studies during the day, groups of us would often seek out the festivities of the ongoing fête de la Mirabelle (festival of the Mirabelle), a plum that’s considered a specialty in the Lorraine region.

In particular, there were multiple concerts to attend in front of the famed Cathedral of Saint Stephen (Metz Cathedral), including a laser show on one side of the grand building. The festivities came to a close this past Sunday after a lovely parade through the city center complete with floats covered in flowers, representing different groups in Metz, musicians (drummers and woodwinds alike), and people dancing in beautiful costumes. The Pompidou Centre was another popular attraction for students this week (perhaps because of our free admission). I became inspired by the gravity of each floor, each thoughtfully prepared with every intention of the artist in mind. I was genuinely entranced and gripped by each of the exhibitions, particularly the gallery of Lee Ufan, who’s quote I have at the beginning of this post. He was especially focused on the ideas of natural and industrial elements, time, and specifically, the notion of infinity.

Along with enjoying the celebrations in the city of Metz, two groups of students, including myself, were given walking tours around some richly historic buildings. Some were built as early as the age of the Romans, having being knocked over and rebuilt by Germans centuries later. There is a lot of mixing of different cultures in Metz, its practically in the center of Europe, and this is what makes its history so wide and interesting. Like how the Moselle and Seille rivers twist and turn through the city, so too did the different habitants of the region mold the heritage of Metz.

Regarding matters of community efforts in sustainability, Dr. Kozhanova and I were able to partake in a community garden session, cleaning excess growth from a garden bed and harvesting what had ripened over the past week. We added the waste to the compost pile and watched as other people from the neighboring townhomes and apartments came down to contribute their food waste to the pile as well. People would bring buckets and bags, speaking with Delfine, the representative for the garden, dumping them along the way. There was a greater sense of good and proactivity in what we were all doing at the garden, and I can’t wait to go again this coming Saturday.

I look forward to an action packed semester with you all as your Serve Learn Sustain blogger. Au Revoir!