Environmental groups build community and advocate sustainability at MU and in the Columbia area

Sustain Mizzou and Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture are creating a tangible place for members of the MU and Columbia communities to get involved with sustainable living and environmental action.
Students purchase homemade bread and other local products at the campus farmers market, hosted by conservation organization the MU Sustainability Office. Photo by Senior Photographer Becca Newton

For Mary Diekmeier, the president of Sustain Mizzou, sustainable living is as simple as seeing an empty can on the street and tossing it in a recycling bin nearby.

As a freshman, Diekmeier became involved with Sustain Mizzou because she was drawn in by the community and wanted to learn more about sustainability. Now a senior, Diekmeier says sustainable living is one of her biggest passions.

“When I joined Sustain Mizzou, it wasn’t a very highly attended organization,” Diekmeier said. “It was mostly the people who had always been in it and a few new faces every year. Now we’re at the point where these issues have become much more prevalent. We’re running out of time for making a change and a lot of people have grown passionate about it.”

Diekmeier believes environmental sustainability is a bottom-up effort, emphasizing that individual contributions matter. She hopes to build a community through Sustain Mizzou where individuals have a place to come together to address environmental and climate issues on campus and in Columbia.

She cites the phrase “think local, act global,” as a motto for her work with the organization.

“A lot of people feel like it’s a lost cause and [that] one person can’t make a difference,” Diekmeier said. “I want people to feel like they have a voice and they can do something. I think the biggest changes we can make in our own lives is through our community. Sustain Mizzou is the place where you do it. We have real, tangible ways of actually getting involved in making a difference, both in the community and on campus.”

Diekmeier has organized a project through Sustain Mizzou called Change Your Clothes which she said focuses on advocating sustainability through the fashion industry by educating members on how to ethically consume fashion. Change Your Clothes will hold a clothing repurposing event and a clothing drive this semester. All clothes the club receives will be donated to local charitable organizations.

Change Your Clothes is one of several projects Sustain Mizzou organizes each semester. The club plans to host two electronic waste drives, stream cleanups and other community-building events.

One former Sustain Mizzou project, now known as the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, has become an independent organization dedicated to promoting sustainable living through agriculture and community education. Adam Saunders, cofounder of the CCUA, said he explored many types of environmental advocacy projects during his time at Sustain Mizzou, but working with agriculture was what really stuck. Saunders said he believes food provides a common interest that can bring people together and encourage sustainable living.

“It’s a common denominator,” Saunders said. “Everybody can relate to food. Old people, young people, people all across the economic spectrum. Everybody wants to eat better for the environment, for their health and for their budget.”

Saunders has spent the last 10 years developing his agriculture project from a volunteer-based organization through Sustain Mizzou to an independent organization with 17 employees. CCUA aims to connect people through a variety of local initiatives including gardening services, farm tours and community education.

Saunders encourages anyone in the Columbia community who has an interest in farming or gardening to volunteer for the organization to learn more and help further the sustainability movement. He said the perfect opportunity for MU students to get involved in CCUA is to volunteer for or attend the 10th Annual Harvest Hootenanny on Oct. 5, where members of the Columbia community are invited to come together for a sustainable meal and live music.

“When you have a group of people who see themselves in the mission it enables involvement and investment,” Saunders said. “It’s been really fruitful, pun intended, to help people engage and connect with agriculture.”

Edited by Ben Scott | bscott@themaneater.com

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