At first, Brandon Johnson chose to study Environmental Science simply to avoid being just like his friends taking physics and chemistry. The Ames High School junior became a standout student, however, for an unrelated reason. During the course, taught by award-winning environmental science teacher Mike Todd, Johnson won the Project Localize national award for the most informative artwork.

Over the past several years, students in Todd’s classes have participated in Project Localize, an educational initiative from the Lexicon of Sustainability that “provides teachers and students with tools to map their food systems, identify local producers and their sustainable practices, then turn their findings into information artworks to share with their community,” its website says.

Johnson said the class opened his eyes to facts about climate change.

“Before this class, people would talk about global warming and I never knew how much damage we’ve been doing,” Johnson said. “Now I’ve seen the scientific concepts first hand.”

The Project Localize experience also reawakened Johnson’s passion for graphic design that sparked when he studied 4D art in ninth grade with teacher Shelli Hassebrok.

“I made the connection to how graphic design can tell a story,” he said. “In this case, I used graphic design to tell a story that has been a good experience for me and will help the community.”

For Project Localize, Todd matched Johnson with Lee’s Green Farm in Ames, whose owner is perfecting a process for growing food year-round.

“We were the first group to document the work he’s doing in his greenhouses,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he built on the basics of photo editing he learned in ninth grade and “self taught the rest, playing with the program.”LeesGreensBuild 5_7_15

“We were on our own to decide how to set stage for the story,” he said.  “I had to figure out how to use all the components–the background, the roof, the interior—to make the composite image.”

Later this summer, Johnson will travel with Todd to Washington DC to receive his award and tell his story to legislators.

“We’ll be going to the legislative sessions,” he said. “Legislators are invited to see our work and talk to us about our images.”

Johnson credits classmates who participated in Project Localize and the Lexicon of Sustainability for their spirit of collaboration, and for motivating each other.

Next year Johnson said he plans to take more art classes. And he’s going to try to go against the grain again.

“This class has raised my expectations about what I can do,” he said. “I’m going to ask if I can work with Project Localize again, if that’s permissible, even though I won’t be part of a class project.”

Other participants in Project Localize:

· Zoe Pritchard

· Fox Henson

· Tori Herber

· Austin White