by Emily McGinty, ’06, ’07, ’08
SCA Pittsburgh recently pulled on its gloves and headed out into the field to harvest sunflowers as part of SCA’s commitment to ServiceNation’s Day of Action.
Under the instruction of GTECH Strategies (Growth Through Energy and Community Health), members of SCA worked alongside the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, students from Carnegie Mellon University, a local boy scout troop, and other members of Pittsburgh’s East End community to prepare SCA-planted sunflowers for their conversion into biodiesel fuel.
The front end of our assembly line headed into the vibrant yellow forest armed with loppers and long sleeves -- we were warned not to be fooled by pretty petals because sunflower stalks can be itchy!
Thanks to the work of a student crew from SCA’s urban summer program in Pittsburgh, seeds that had been planted in June were now plants taller than any volunteer in the field. Flowers whose seeds were adequately ripe could be lopped and sent over to the next group, who sorted and inspected the sunflowers’ stalks and heads. All of the leaves were taken from the stalks and composted in the field; the goal was to pair with local furniture manufacturers who will use the stalks in their products.
The leafless green rods were tied into bundles as sunflower heads dried on a nearby tarp. Sunflowers’ heads can be pressed and will release oil that is used to create biodiesel, and the service project became very enlightening when we watched an actual demonstration on how the seeds’ oil can be made ready for an engine. A van running on locally-produced biodiesel was even shuttling community members to a nearby Green Jobs Rally.
I’ve learned to always expect an enthusiastic crowd with SCA; and whether it was friendly conversation shared amid clusters of yellow or a collective laugh at the story of an adventure on an SCA national crew, I was always engaged and entertained by the people around me. I brought along my friend Beth DeVito who had never been part of an SCA project before, and she noticed a genuine sense of community and motivation among the volunteers. As a newcomer, Beth remarked, “I’ve never really been around this type of group before. Everyone’s nice and everyone cares so much.”
After an inspirational wrap-up of the day’s accomplishments, we said goodbye to the crowd and the sunflowers and started to navigate through Pittsburgh towards home. In the middle of discussing our new interest in vacant lots and their ability to produce biodiesel, Beth commented, “so I’ve heard all of your stories and adventures with the Student Conservation Association, and I thought they were cool and exciting. Now though, I know what it’s like to be a part of it. Now I get it.”
I’m glad that one more person gets it, and I’m happy that SCA helps people understand the value of service to the land. From the flowers to the faces, it was a sunny day for SCA in Pittsburgh.
Read more about the project  on Conservation Nation, SCA’s blog.
Bottom photo: Beth DeVito and Emily McGinty (right).