My name is Phoebe Brinker, and I am 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 15 to July 6.
Together we explored Colorado’s scenic mountains, immersed ourselves in service projects like trail building and regenerative farming, and learned from Colorado-based partner organizations about the environmental challenges facing our planet along with feasible solutions. The trip allowed all of us Duke student-athletes some time away from our usual routine of sports, home, schoolwork, and family, pulling us out of our comfort zones to “promote global conservation and environmental stewardship efforts” with partner organizations at roughly 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 I gained perspective on just how vital it is to stay in touch with ourselves and the Earth’s indispensable, yet finite resources.
On a hot July afternoon towards the end of our trip, our guide at the Ute Mountain Tribal Park told us, “Beware when life gets too easy.” I had never thought about this before. Was my life “easy”? After a long day of hiking and pushing myself to take on challenges the Rocky Mountains threw at me, I would not consider my life easy. However, after reflecting, I would say my life is easy in many senses, and I’m sure yours is too.
Water, such a basic human necessity, is in a crisis in Colorado. With climate change melting glaciers earlier in the summer, the streams supplying water to farmers and communities are scarce. In Colorado, I learned, water rights are a critical issue; yet I simply turn on my faucet, and out comes as much water as I need.
Soil, another necessity which houses microorganisms and minerals to grow healthy food, is compromised by harmful farming practices. I had zero knowledge about agriculture when I arrived in Colorado, but I learned how vital healthy soil is to create nutritious food, healthy communities, and thriving ecosystems. Yet, for the 20 years I have been alive, I simply walk into the grocery store and pick out the fruits and vegetables that look appetizing, completely ignorant about how the crops are grown, how they arrive on the store’s shelves, and all of the steps in between.
We learned of a solution called regenerative agriculture, which focuses on restoring soil heath by utilizing no-till farming methods, planting cover crops, diversifying crops, and incorporating livestock on a rotation to fertilize farms. Many farmers do not choose these solutions because they are a massive switch from conventional agriculture practices. However, learning about this solution gave 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 Coldharbour Institute, a partner organization located in Gunnison, Colorado, I realize that farmers just need to make the hard choice for the health of our communities and ecosystems.
Learning about the environmental challenges Coloradans face, as well as the possible solutions, changed my perspective. Despite being in the same country as Duke and my Northeastern hometown, Colorado’s ecosystems face immense environmental pressures unique to the climate like wildfires and drought. Seeing the environment firsthand, hearing people’s stories, and learning from experts allowed me to have empathy for Coloradans reality. I began to take the recommended steps like taking shorter showers and turning the faucet off when I’m brushing my teeth. Even more than that, what I gained is a connection to the Earth and an awareness of its indispensable, yet limited resources. I had never considered the source of the kitchen faucet, or the processes by which the strawberries from the store were grown, because the resources were always there. Now, I will do my best to not take the easy way out, and instead make the hard choices each day to protect our planet
The group of student-athletes along with the incredibly dedicated partner organizations fired up my passion for protecting the Earth’s resilient, yet fragile environment. I would love to be involved in some way with implementing solutions to the environmental crisis, because I believe is the most pressing issue facing the world, specifically within the agriculture industry which plays a huge role in climate change and deteriorating human health. In addition, the sometimes-grueling service projects in the heat and at elevation taught me about myself as a teammate and as a leader, which I know I will bring back to my golf team this coming year. I hope to leave the world healthier and better off than I found it, and I know there are millions of other people who hope to do the same.