UI study-abroad students learning to reduce carbon footprint

UI study-abroad students learning to reduce carbon footprint

PHILO – The Vienna Woods it isn't, but Jim Evans' walnut grove gave participants in the Austria Illinois Exchange Program a lesson in conservation.

Seven students and two University of Illinois faculty members pedaled bikes from campus to the Evans' home near Philo on Sunday to get ideas of how to make Champaign-Urbana a greener place.

The exchange program, which gives both U.S. and Austrian students a chance to study abroad, is conscious that jet travel has an environmental cost. So it's been trying to offset its carbon footprint with projects, such as planting trees on both sides of the Atlantic.

Already, more than 600 trees and shrubs have been planted in Austria, and program director Bruce Murray is exploring possibilities for planting on this end. He's also formed Environmental Entrepreneurs for ecologically conscious students in the program.

"There's a growing center of students who have interest in the topic," he said.

For guidance, Murray and the students turned to Jim Evans, a retired UI professor of agricultural communications, for information on black walnuts.

Evans and his wife, Marlene, moved to their home west of Philo in 1963 and decided to preserve hundreds of walnut trees there. The Evanses have become members of state and national walnut councils and attended workshops on growing the tree.

Jim Evans said his aim is to maintain a residential grove, not to grow the trees for lumber. Rather than planting trees in rows, plantation-style, he's following the "let it grow" philosophy.

Other trees, such as catalpas, hackberries and Osage orange, have sprung up in the grove. But Evans has learned not everything co-exists with black walnuts.

He tried planting tomatoes in his garden, but had little luck. He also planted apple, peach and apricot trees and discovered they didn't do well, either.

The problem, he said, is juglone, an organic compound produced by black walnuts that "will kill many kinds of plants," he said.

"Blackberries don't like to grow under walnuts, but raspberries do," he said. "We're getting better at understanding what walnuts tolerate. It's a fascinating tree."

Several of the students, who battled winds on their 7-mile ride to the grove, said they try to be active environmentalists.

Robert Nagel, for one, said he tries to conserve electricity and water, uses food waste as compost and rides his bike as much as he can.

Elizabeth Stegeman and Jacqueline Murphy said they recycle, even though there's no recycling pickup where they live.

Some of the students' environmental consciousness may have come from "having studied in Vienna and seen what (the Austrians) have done," Murray said.

"I saw someone take the staple out of a tea bag," said Mara Wade, head of the UI's Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures.

Besides planting trees, members of Environmental Entrepreneurs have visited Gussing, Austria, a town that has become energy-independent.

"We try to learn in the United States and Europe what projects and initiatives are working well and which may serve as models," Murray said.

Wade said she was once verbally attacked by a seemingly "anti-American" woman who criticized the environmental effects of Wade "jet-setting to all these conferences."

Wade said she was pleased to point out she doesn't drive to work and that the UI is trying to have a "carbon-neutral" study-abroad program.

"That stopped her dead in her tracks," Wade said.


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