Student-led activism: Making sustainability more accessible

Drake Elder Bruner

Growing up in rural Edneyville, Drake Elder Bruner did not hear a lot of talk about sustainability.

“The older generations where I’m from typically either don’t know what it means, or they shrug it off as an obstruction to their way of life,” says Elder, a senior at Brevard College. “My generation, especially those who attend college after high school, have a much stronger awareness of what sustainability is.”

In the face of that kind of generation gap, Bruner thinks he and others like him can be most effective by encouraging others to be aware of their environmental impacts and by finding ways to move away from single-use products and fossil fuels.

“I am about to start a masters program in landscape architecture at North Carolina State University,” he says. “My goal is to come back and help the surrounding area develop in a sustainable way by making environmental planning accessible to a wider range of social classes.”

Below, Xpress speaks with Bruner about food waste, gardening and building community.

The interview has been condensed and lightly edited. 

What environmental or sustainability efforts on your campus are you most proud of?

One really awesome way that Brevard College intends on becoming more sustainable is by the construction of a school farm. Not only will it provide fresh produce for the campus cafeteria, but it’ll also allow them to recycle the food waste that is produced every day. The most meaningful contribution made by the new farm will be the locale that it provides for community outreach and education. This makes me particularly proud because of my strong background in and connection to the local food system and the countless pounds of produce that I’ve provided to local restaurants and farmers markets as a kid.

As an activist, how do you keep yourself motivated in light of the lack of meaningful efforts to combat climate change?

I don’t get discouraged because of a lack of action by others. Haven’t we all been told that if we want something done, we must do it ourselves? The way I see it, this situation is no exception. We shouldn’t rely solely on the government to fix issues such as climate change or the poor conditions that our communities are riddled with, but we should also remember that no man is an island. There are a great deal of people who are passionate and willing to contribute to finding solutions. I strongly believe that if the right people with the right minds get together, we can find ways to work together with the government in order to solve these problems.

What’s one thing you would like to see Xpress readers do to promote sustainability in WNC in the coming year?

I would like to see the readers not only eating but also producing more locally grown foods. If we find ways to make the food system more efficient, more productive and more resilient to changes in the climate, then we have already won several battles. Steps toward this goal could look like growing your own garden and educating others about the benefits or building your own farm/homestead. I am completely confident in the strength of our mountain inhabitants, and I look forward to the day where common goals such as this lead us to true sustainability and revitalizes genuine communities.


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About Justin McGuire
Justin McGuire is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate with more than 30 years of experience as a writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Sporting News, the (Rock Hill, SC) Herald and various other publications. Follow me @jmcguireMLB

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