My name is Phoebe Brinker, and I’m a rising junior on the women’s golf team. I recently participated in the ACE Student-Athlete Civic Engagement Program, along with several other Duke student-athletes, from June 15th to July 6th.
Together, we’ve explored Colorado’s scenic mountains, immersed ourselves in service projects like trail building and regenerative agriculture, and learned from Colorado-based partner organizations about the environmental challenges facing our planet as well. only workable solutions. The trip allowed all of us, student-athletes at Duke, to step away from our usual routine of sports, home, school work and family, pulling us out of our comfort zones to “promote global conservation efforts and environmental stewardship” with partner organizations at approximately 8,000 feet above sea level.
From this experience, I developed great friendships with the other participants (Connor Drake – Lacrosse, Alayna Burns – Field Hockey, Ellie Coleman – Tennis and Christina Ferrari – Fencing), and gained perspective on how it is vital to stay in touch with ourselves and the essential but limited resources of the Earth.
On a hot July afternoon near the end of our trip, our Ute Mountain Tribal Park guide told us, “Beware when life gets too easy. I had never thought of that before. Was my life “easy”? After a long day of hiking and trying to overcome the challenges the Rocky Mountains threw at me, I wouldn’t consider my life easy. However, on reflection, I would say that my life is easy in many ways, and I’m sure yours is too.
Water, such a basic human necessity, is in crisis in Colorado. With climate change melting glaciers earlier in the summer, streams that provide water to farmers and communities are scarce. In Colorado, I learned that water rights are a critical issue; Yet I just turn on my tap and it comes out as much water as I need.
Soil, another necessity that harbors microorganisms and minerals for growing healthy food, is being compromised by harmful farming practices. I had no knowledge of agriculture when I came to Colorado, but I learned how vital healthy soil is to creating nutritious food, healthy communities, and thriving ecosystems. Yet for the 20 years I’ve been alive, I’ve been content to walk into the grocery store and choose whatever fruits and vegetables look appetizing, completely unaware of how the crops are grown, how they get to the shelves in the store and all intermediate steps.
We’ve heard of a solution called regenerative agriculture, which focuses on restoring soil health by using no-till farming methods, planting cover crops, diversifying crops, and incorporating livestock into a rotation. to fertilize farms. Many farmers do not choose these solutions because they are a massive change from conventional farming practices. However, learning about this solution has given me hope for the planet because we have the tools to regenerate the deficient dirt that humans have created from unsustainable farming practices. With this knowledge I gained from the Coldharbour Institute, a partner organization located in Gunnison, Colorado, I realize that farmers simply have to make the hard choice for the health of our communities and ecosystems.
Learning more about the environmental challenges that the Coloradans face, as well as possible solutions, has changed my perspective. Despite being in the same country as Duke and my northeast hometown, Colorado’s ecosystems face immense climate-specific environmental pressures like wildfires and drought. Seeing the environment firsthand, hearing people’s stories, and learning from the experts gave me empathy for the Coloradans reality. I started following the recommended steps like taking shorter showers and turning off the tap when brushing my teeth. More so, what I have acquired is a connection to the Earth and an awareness of its indispensable, but limited resources. I had never considered the source of the kitchen faucet, nor the strawberry growing processes of the store, because the resources were still there. Now, I will do my best not to take the easy way out and make hard choices every day to protect our planet.
The student-athlete group along with the incredibly dedicated partner organizations have ignited my passion for protecting Earth’s resilient yet fragile environment. I would like to be involved in some way in the implementation of solutions to the environmental crisis, because I think it is the most pressing problem facing the world, especially in industry agriculture which plays a huge role in climate change and the deterioration of human health. Plus, the sometimes grueling service projects in the heat and at altitude taught me about myself as a teammate and as a leader, which I know I’ll bring back to my golf team this year. I hope to leave the world healthier and better than I found it, and I know there are millions of other people who hope to do the same.