Putting the Sun to Work

(Photo above) Rain or shine, it’s easy to charge your phone!

First of all, I would like to give a shout out to all the lovely people working for all the vendors and brands I have contacted in the past few months that manage to go through the trouble of listening to or reading my oddly specific requests (Do you use USDA certified organic ingredients? Where are your grapefruits grown? Where is the bread actually baked? When are eggplants in season here in Florida?) and answering them clearly, completely, and in a timely and friendly manner.

I really appreciate not needing to keep following up for the correct information. I always wonder what their offices are like when I call them up while I’m sitting in my own, especially when I’m calling people across the country and have to take time differences into account (What? Their office isn’t open yet? Oh, that’s right, my bad). Oh, and as I’m browsing the vendors’ websites, I’m seriously wondering how EVERY company can use “nothing but the freshest, highest quality ingredients.” What about the not-quite-the-best-but-still-pretty-okay ingredients? Who uses those?

The actual topic of my post for today is the SolarDok that USF Dining installed on campus last spring. It’s basically a patio table with an umbrella and 4 benches around it, but it has 4 solar panels installed on the umbrella with a huge battery at the base. This allows one to charge any of their portable electronics via either USB or standard outlets even if it isn’t currently sunny out. There’s also a LED lighting system (powered from the battery) so one can work there 24/7.

The funding for this endeavor came from the USF Student Green Energy Fund. Initially, the proposal was for multiple, cheaper charging stations, but it was agreed to invest the money in a larger unit to be placed in the high-traffic area by the Sun Dome stadium, Champion’s Choice dining hall, and Campus Recreation Center. It looks pretty cool, but because it’s so new, we’re working on advertising it some more. I’m helping out however I can with a themed dinner they will have at Champion’s in the early fall.

We would like to have an information table set up during the event. I created sustainability trivia to put on a game wheel for students to try and win prizes. A group that runs a weekly seminar series on campus also wants to learn more about the SolarDok, so I will be creating a PowerPoint presentation to share what the SolarDok is all about and what else USF Dining has accomplished and its future plans for sustainability on campus.

In preparation for this, I wrote an overview of the presentation for them to use when advertising the event to the campus community and have been gathering energy production information from the SolarDok itself to be able to share with everyone. It’s really interesting being on the other side of things now.

Whereas I used to just show up to events and not appreciate or even realize all the effort and time that goes into it way beforehand, now I’m realizing how complex it actually is to throw just one seemingly simple event, or how complex it is to just arrange lunch for all the hungry kids from the summer camps on campus.

In the meantime, I’m still working on tracking our sustainable food purchasing. It’s kinda fun to watch the sheets in my giant excel workbook filing out and calculating themselves with all of the formulas I typed in. I can watch the overall percentage of sustainable purchases going up and down as I add items like orange juice from Florida oranges, olive oil from Italy, cage-free eggs, pastries from a local bakery, or coconut milk from Thailand.

The term “sustainable food” has a variety of definitions, so I’m trying to be as consistent as possible when assessing products. It requires one to be VERY, VERY organized, and just in case the worst should happen, I back up every day. I can’t imagine losing all of this effort I’ve put in so far…