Sons & Daughters Jansen continues his crusade

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Jacob Jansen
Central graduate Jacob Jansen, who was one of several students who launched the school’s composting efforts, remains an activist for the environment. He now attends Loras College in Dubuque.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

A 2016 Central graduate credits a high school class with sparking an interest in sustainability that he now plans to make his life’s work.

“Ms. Gritzner’s global science class really inspired me,” said Jacob Jansen. “In fact, I took the class twice; I loved it so much.”
The class exposed Jansen to a variety of environmental issues ranging from invasive species management to overpopulation to recycling. He worked on numerous projects including implementation of a composting system. Jansen and others involved in that effort received a Governor’s Environmental Excellence award for their work on the project, which was a first-of-its-kind in the state.

Jansen’s interests continued to be nurtured at Loras College in Dubuque, where he will be a junior majoring in politics and sociology. Last year he was hired as s student sustainability worker. That opportunity led to a summer internship with Good Neighbor Iowa, a statewide public initiative aimed at reducing the use of urban pesticides. Jansen, son of Jim and Joleen Jansen, Elkader, recently spoke on the topic in Elkader.

“Basically, my role is trying to get residents, childcare centers, institutions, and parks to commit to reducing their use of pesticides on lawns,” Jansen explained. “I’ve sent a lot of emails, made a lot of phone calls, had face-to-face meetings and given presentations to get our program’s information out to the public.”

Good Neighbor Iowa uses “pesticides” as an umbrella term for all grass chemicals like insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Research suggests these chemicals are harmful to children and can cause health effects ranging from skin irritation and rashes to behavioral disorders and even cancer. These possible side effects have caused the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend that “children’s exposure to pesticides should be limited as much as possible.”
Urban pesticides also negatively impact water quality and pollinator health.

“Grass isn’t a cash crop,” Jansen tells his audiences. “As a society, we continue to put these extremely harmful pesticides in our community to keep our yards aesthetically pleasing. So it comes down to green grass versus healthy children, pets, pollinators and urban watersheds. Dandelions and violets aren’t harming anything but pesticides are.”

Following Jansen’s Elkader presentation, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the Elkader Inn and several residents signed the Good Neighbor Iowa pledge to refrain from urban pesticide use.
Jansen will soon return to Dubuque for fall semester. Again this year, he will be a student sustainability worker. In that role, he has already increased Loras’ recycling rates and organized a food waste audit. He and other students will work on a project to compost cafeteria food scraps, an effort similar to the one Jansen helped to implement at Central.

Jansen plans to attend graduate school after finishing his academic work at Loras. He’d like to remain in Northeast Iowa when he finishes his education. He says that working for the City of Dubuque as sustainability director would be his dream job.
“Helping solve environmental issues through sustainable practices is my vocation,” Jansen says. “Everyday, its more apparent how society’s daily decisions are impacting the future of the next generation. I think what motivates me is the fact that there is time to change the way we currently live, so there is a better tomorrow. I know daily actions like the clothes I wear, the car I drive, the food I purchase, how I vote, all have an impact. Yes, these decisions are very minor, but collectively we have the power to fix the mess we created. So in a sense, that’s what keeps me motivated.”

More information on the effects of urban pesticides is available at goodneighboriowa.org.

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