Middle schoolers learn to see a bigger picture

Saranac Lake Middle School student Carson Ryan, seen playing drums at Hobofest Sept. 3, wrote his sustainability project about drumsticks. “One medium-sized maple tree can produce 24 pairs of sticks,” he wrote. “If you walk into a music store you can see that their [sic] are hundreds of sticks, which means a lot of trees were cut down. But were those trees planted back?” (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — Eighth-grade students at Saranac Lake Middle School entertained their parents at the Harvest Dinner with an array of projects focused on sustainability, pollution and taking care of the earth.

Over 150 people signed up for the dinner ahead of time, which featured locally grown food from Lewis Family Farm, Fledging Crow, Tucker Farm in Gabriels, Rulf’s Orchard, Essex Farm, Juniper Hill and the Petrova school garden. Flowers to adorn the tables were provided by Red Lakes Flowers.

While the parents and siblings milled around waiting for the food to be served, they perused the projects put together by students.

Science teacher Maureen Gilmore said the projects had taken several weeks from start to finish. The students read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan in ELA class to gain inspiration.

“We explored the concept of sustainability in a variety of ways. Brainstorming activities, videos, field trips, planting a fall garden, we had a plant physiologist [Carly Summers] come speak to us about non-sustainable agriculture and the banana industry. Students learned about plants and natural cycles in science classes. We explored local environmental issues. The students were asked to pick topics after they answered essential questions about how they could make the world a better place. They had several afternoons of dedicated time to create and build projects.”

Teacher Christina Grant demonstrates some of the food at Saranac Lake Middle School’s Harvest Dinner Wednesday evening, Nov. 15. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

The students approached their task by taking on issues that affected them personally.

Carson Ryan, for instance, wrote about drumsticks.

“The average drummer breaks 3 or 4 drumsticks per month … drummers (including myself) break a lot of sticks, depending on the style you play. One medium-sized maple tree can produce 24 pairs of sticks. If you walk into a music store you can see that their [sic] are hundreds of sticks, which means a lot of trees were cut down. But were those trees planted back?”

Alison Hewett and Mayah Land researched the question, “Are goldfish sustainable?” Their research looked into the environmental impact of goldfish, which become a harmful invasive species when they are released into the wild. Hewett and Land concluded that goldfish are all right if they are captive bred, and not released into the wild.

“The best way to keep invasive fish out of the waterways is not to release them in the first place,” they wrote.

Students Levi Groves, on the bike, and Nate McCarthy demonstrate a machine they worked up in which pedaling a bicycle powers a blender that is used to make smoothies Wednesday evening, Nov. 15 at Saranac Lake Middle School. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

Emmett Groves tackled the issue of declining snow depth, writing: “Will people be able to ski in the Adirondacks in 30 years?”

Chase Newman wrote about the many ways water can be polluted, through heat, sewage, chemical waste or garbage.

Nate Keaney targeted ramen noodles and named names. “Ramen is a huge component of deforestation, because of palm oil production. Most ramen products like Cup Noodles, Instant Ramen, are made using palm oil… The two biggest companies, Nissin Foods Company and Toyo Suisan Kaisha (Maruchan), both Japanese firms, have continued to cut down whole forests for palm oil [plantations].” Keaney wrote that the expansion of the palm oil plantations threatens the survival of orangutans, and displaces human communities. “Say no to palm oil,” he wrote.

Cheyenna Pelkey and Jade Sirman lined up the costs and benefits of processed food versus fresh food, asking the question, “Do Doritos cause cancer?” and listing the benefits of healthy alternatives.

Other projects by the eighth-graders explained solar power, traditional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) planting methods, and clear cutting.

Students' sustainability projects are seen at Saranac Lake Middle School's Harvest Dinner Wednesday evening, Nov. 15. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

Students Sawyer Trudeau and Ryan Gallagher set up a bicycle-powered sewing machine, with a belt connected the flywheel of the machine to the rear axle of the bicycle. Trudeau pedaled energetically, while next to his project Nate McCarthy and Levi Groves worked on a similar one with a different mechanism. Their bike powered a blender by hand-connecting a turning wheel to the rear wheel of the bike.

“We took all the machine parts out of the blender,” said Groves, demonstrating the mechanism. As McCarthy pedaled, Groves looked into the blender, which they were using to make smoothies. Passersby helped themselves to smoothie samples.

Bethany Garretson, a teacher at Paul Smith’s College, and students involved in the Osgood Pond Semester gave a slide show and talk about the college’s off-grid living project, where students can live in a yurt, work on sustainability projects and meet around a campfire at night instead of hunching over their phones.

Finally, it was time for dinner and everyone sat down at the long tables in the cafeteria to eat an entire meal created from food grown in and around the school district, including salad from the garden at the building SLMS shares with Petrova Elementary School.