Congratulations Oran!

2012 Essay Contest

Winner - 1st Place

WGUSA - 2012 Essay Winner 1st Place

How could my community (Germantown, MD) become sustainable? What resources are already here to help us and how could we use them?

- by Oran Lichtman (Seneca Valley HS)

Sustainability, is it a step in the past, or a giant leap into the future? The answer is both. Back when food was not generally shipped from overseas and farmers brought their produce into town in the back of their truck, to sell it in the market, food was produced and bought locally. This not only supported the local economy but it also was a step towards sustainability. In present day Germantown we not only have local farms, we also have community supported agricultures to help us be sustainable with our food.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a program where members pay for a share and receive fresh produce every month during the growing and harvesting seasons. In Germantown we have The Button Farm Living History Center, and in nearby Clarksburg is the Red Wiggler Farm. These Farms not only benefit their members but their reach extends into the community. At Red Wiggler the mentally handicapped work at their farm and in payment they receive a share of crops, along with their paycheck. The Button Farm provides programs for youth and adults to educate them about plantation life back in the 1850’s. Both farms benefit could extend farther if the members included the entirety of Germantown. If all of the stores bought produce from the two farms the price would drastically decrease for the buyers. They would not have to pay for fruit and vegetables that included the price of long distance transport, fuel, and any other parts of the process to bring them here. As an added bonus the taste would improve because the produce would be fresher and of an heirloom variety bred to specifically grow in this area. Heirloom crops are crops from seeds that are passed down from generation to generation with taste and aesthetic attributes all of its own due to a genetic mutation (i.e. fish peppers and Brandywine tomatoes). The farm’s worth could also extend into the school systems and ultimately help fight adolescent obesity. If a school, for example my school, Seneca Valley High School, bought a plot of land in a CSA we could start an agricultural program to help harvest and maintain the crops. Once harvested, we could bring in a culinary expert and train the food service staff, then start a culinary arts and restaurant management program to use the crops and cook for the students. This would not only bring good taste in the cafeteria but it would provide nutritious and healthful foods for all of the potential student buyers.

As far as sustainability goes, energy is a much more challenging resource to change and make sustainable due to its need for a strong infrastructure. However, there are already the beginnings of an infrastructure for electric vehicles. Already hybrid and electric cars are being sold at a Toyota and Chevrolet dealerships. Electric cars are beneficial because they produce no harmful gasses, but they are really clean if the source of their electricity is clean. In Germantown there is no infrastructure yet for a clean energy source like nuclear or hydrogen, so my community has to settle for coal produced electricity, but since electric cars do not release any noxious gasses so are therefore relatively clean. Although they are not as clean as they could be it is still progress towards sustainability; slow progress but progress nonetheless. Where electric cars and hydrogen need infrastructure to support it there is one energy source that we have been growing for millennia that does not – wood! Wood and other such carbon based matter, not animal based, can be used in a contraption called a gasifier. In a gasifier the organic matter is burned at very hot temperatures with minimal oxygen to produce carbon monoxide and hydrogen in a mixture called syngas or wood gas. Gasifiers have a wide range of applications. With a few modifications the gas can be used to power a non-diesel vehicle with 100 percent syngas. Diesel vehicles can take syngas as well but they need a diesel and gas mixture. Gasifiers can also be used to power heat pumps for both air and water. These not only run off of wood, a renewable resource, but the only byproducts given off are water and a small amount of carbon dioxide. This means not only is it mostly clean, but it is also an energy source that is readily available to the masses. Using this will both help the environment and cut your energy bill too.

Germantown can become sustainable if we make a community wide commitment to pay into CSAs and try to use easily accessible energy sources like gasifiers. Right now there exists CSAs that help the community in many ways. There are also many renewable energy sources, other than gasifiers, that Germantown can benefit from such as geothermal and solar energy. The resources are there for us to become sustainable we just have to help them grow and integrate them into our daily lives and build the infrastructure to be able to support them. In order for us to take the leap forward to sustainability we must go back to the basics and see what more we can learn.



Principles of gasification. (n.d.). Retrieved from clean-tech-energy/principles-of-gasification/

Victory Gasworks. (n.d.). Popular questions. Retrieved from

biomass engineering. (n.d.). What is Gassification. Retrieved from


About us. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved from Red Wiggler Farm website:

(n.d.). Button Farm Living History Center. Retrieved from

the information I found was scattered throughout the website