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Q&A with Jessica Baltmanas

Jessica Baltmanas is connecting to her roots — the garden variety that is. You can often find her exercising her green thumb in UC San Diego's community gardens. As an environmental policy major, she believes in the power of farming to provide cost-efficient, sustainable food and to reduce dependence on other food sources. This is just one of Jessica's many green practices; she is also an EcoNaut who spreads the word to other students about environmentally friendly living. In addition, she's a sustainability coordinator with the Price Center. In this interview, she talks about why it's important to her to be green and her role in UC San Diego's upcoming 50th anniversary Green Open House.

When did you first learn about sustainability and green practices, and why did it strike a chord with you?

Baltmanas: My connection to sustainability began when I was five and pulled a carrot out of my grandmother's farm in Lithuania while we were visiting. It opened my mind to the realization that humans are a part of nature and got me to start thinking where food came from. This sowed seeds in me to start a deeper questioning of the food system and society as a whole. I was a child that got an incredible opportunity of being in a society where growing food was still commonplace and I brought that experience back with me.

Why did you become an EcoNaut and a sustainability coordinator for the Price Center? What is your role in each position?

Baltmanas: After hearing about the opportunity to become an EcoNaut at Admit Day and going through the interview process, I took the job because it sounded like an incredible opportunity to engage the student community on environmental issues. My role is to be a peer-educator of all things green going on in Housing, Dining and Hospitality. My role is to educate, take on initiatives, and get the campus excited and involved with environmentally conscious activities. For instance, we've held trash demonstrations to show the campus how much waste is produced in a day. We also promote recycling and composting, and we've handed out drying racks to students so they don't have to use clothes dryers.  Our goal is to make students aware of their actions and teach them about sustainable practices.  It's an ongoing job of education and communication. I also coordinate Earl's Garden!

I found out about the Price Center position on Port Triton and became a sustainability coordinator to help promote and prioritize environmental issues for the Price Center.  As a sustainability coordinator, I primarily work to help Price Center vendors to implement sustainable practices and policies such as the Sustainable Food Policy which requires 25 percent of the food to be sustainable by 2016. I also aid Price Center management with any sustainability initiatives, goals and events.

Tell me about the student-led community gardens and what it means to eat sustainable food. How can we all become more conscious of what we're eating?

Baltmanas:The community gardens that exist on campus are all very special. There is the Pepper Canyon Farm, the Neighborhood Community Garden behind Che, and the newest, Earl's Garden, at Warren College. The farm and gardens are the fruition of the vision, effort and passion of students who wanted to be able to grow food on their campus. These agricultural havens also provide students with the opportunity to connect with nature.

We can become more conscious of what we're eating by asking questions and investigating the answers—where did it come from, who grew it, how was it grown, does it come at the expense of many resources and is it nutritious? The best way to become conscious of what we are eating is, of course, by growing it ourselves!

What do you plan to do with your major in Environmental Systems: Environmental Policy?

Baltmanas: I may actually be creating my own major, something similar to UC Berkeley's "Society and Environment" major, but regardless I'd like to do something similar with it. I'm interested in poverty alleviation through agricultural development. I am interested in gardening not only as a source of food security and income, but also as an activity useful in conflict resolution and community and peace building. I believe gardening is pretty radical because it allows us to empower ourselves. I may attend grad school after my journey at UC San Diego, work for a grassroots movement or jump straight into my career. The options are pretty thrilling.

Why are you excited to be a part of UC San Diego's 50th anniversary Green Open House?

Baltmanas: I am excited for Green Open House because UC San Diego's sustainability initiatives will be clearly displayed through the walking tours.  It is important to celebrate the wonderful achievements that have been made on campus and the conversations and transitions that continue to take place. I am also excited for the children's activity area!  

As the Sustainability Coordinator for the Price Center, I have been able to assist with the planning of the walking tour.  We will show those taking the tour the environmentally friendly things we've done at the Price Center like adding solar panels to the roof, providing hydration stations, using recycled materials, improving the lighting system to make it more efficient and, of course, housing the Sustainability Resource Center.  On the day of the Green Open House, I will also staff a table to promote the sustainable practices in Housing and Dining.

What are some simple actions we could all take to improve our environmental sustainability?

Baltmanas: Simple actions would be to carpool or walk more, eat less meat and, when purchasing items, buy organic. The power of the purse perpetuates systems that are environmentally destructive so the best actions would be to support environmentally respectful companies and to buy only what is necessary. Also, take control of your food system and garden!

 Fun Faves  

Favorite place at UC San Diego: Â Earl's Garden and the Food Co-op.

Favorite place on Earth: Peaceful places. Favorite hobby: Getting to know others. Favorite way to be green: Restraining what I purchase.

Favorite accomplishment: Establishing Earl's Garden. Favorite words to live by: "You've got one tiny moment in time, in life, to burn away the darkness." —Matisyahu Miller