By Derek Christianson, Brix Bounty Farm
Inevitably when folks are exposed to the work of Will Allen and Growing Power their response is, "Whoa, he's doing so much... composting with worms, aquaponics with tilapia and perch, economic revitalization, bringing healthy foods to inner city populations, and (pause) How can we do this in our community?"
Will Allen often reminds people if they take away one thing from his presentation, "It’s about the soil". But when asked directly during his afternoon workshop at Bioneers by the Bay, How can we start this good food revolution in our community?, he responded with, "Start with building relationships." Relationships are one of the keys to developing access to land in urban areas, and they provide the security in tenure that allows the community to begin to create the healthy soil. Fitting at a conference whose tagline is Connecting for Change, that Will would suggest in order to continue toward a good food revolution we must focus on our relationships.
I reckon its time we reaffirm our relationship to the soil and the wealth of nourishment it provides when cared for in a proper way.
If last night’s Kick-off Event for Bioneers by the Bay: Connecting for Change 2009 is any indication of how the rest of the conference will be, then color me happy. Well, maybe not happy. Awed might be a better word. Or amazed. Or stunned. The Kick-off featured messages from New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior scientist Dr. Lisa Suatoni, and Growing Power CEO and keynote speaker Will Allen. Hosted, sponsored and emceed by the Women’s Fund and their Executive Director, Kate Fentress, and Jennifer Grantham, coordinator of the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance, the event encompassed a broad spectrum of issues that face the New Bedford community – and indeed, all communities – in the upcoming decades.
Dr. Lisa Suatoni introduced the NRDC’s newly released short film, ACID TEST, which examines the growing problem of ocean acidification. As the film explains, a quarter of the world’s carbon pollution is absorbed by the ocean and turned into acid. This acidification, if continued unchecked, will have unwelcome consequences; specifically, seashells will begin to dissolve. For a city that is the number one fishing port in the US, and for which 75% of that revenue comes from scallops, this is a dire message indeed. As the significance of Dr. Suatoni’s research sank in, a palpable hush fell over the Zeiterion Theatre. If their thoughts were anything like mine, then they probably felt completely helpless in the face of such an enormous, global problem.
It is the work of innovators like Will Allen, however, that gives us the hope and the means to avoid such a catastrophic future. Allen, a 2008 MacArthur fellow, is at the forefront of what he calls the “Good Food Revolution.” Less than one percent of food in most cities is locally grown, he says, but he is making an enormous effort to change that. It is his vision to making healthy, locally-grown produce available in urban areas. At the end of Allen’s powerful slide show, documenting the last sixteen years of his work, I heard a man behind me murmur, “Wow.” Allen received a standing ovation – more than well deserved, as the revitalized audience (myself included) sallied forth to meet this year’s conference head on.
Bring it on, Bioneers by the Bay.
Free opening event to feature Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) new film ACID TEST and former pro-basketball player turned urban farmer Will Allen New Bedford, MA – October 7, 2009 – With the Obama Administration focused on creating a thriving green economy, the environmental movement is gathering at Bioneers by the Bay: Connecting for Change (www.connectingforchange.org) to urge increased personal and civic action for a more sustainable and equitable world. The conference will take place October 22 - 25 at the Zeiterion Theatre and other venues in historic downtown New Bedford.
The annual Bioneers by the Bay conference on the environment and social justice begins tonight with a documentary on ocean acidification, a byproduct of climate change that could be especially harmful for an area where the economy is so dependent on fishing, organizers say.
The short film, “Acid Test,” recently released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, will be followed by a discussion led by the council’s senior scientist Lisa Suatoni. The film will be shown at 7 p.m. at the Zeiterion Theater.
The kick-off event, which is free, also includes a talk from Will Allen, a former professional basketball player who now runs a farm in Milwaukee called Growing Power that provides food to the needy. Allen will also give a keynote talk and lead an urban farming workshop on Friday.
Desa Van Laarhoven, the executive director of the Marion Institute, which is a main organizer of Bioneers, said the conference is focused on finding solutions to climate change and bringing together different perspectives. An increase in carbon dioxide has a well-known greenhouse effect on the atmosphere, but fewer people know that it also raises acidity levels in the ocean, she said.
For a fishing industry like New Bedford’s, the effect could be devastating, Van Laarhoven said, because acidity can kill some fish species. Scientists “are realizing this is a huge issue,” she said.
The conference also includes talks and workshops on far-ranging aspects of the environment and social justice. One workshop will teach how to start a community bike shop, another will focus on organic beekeeping and another will examine eco-fashion, which takes old clothes and refreshes them with environmentally friendly dyes.
The list of speakers includes Robin Chase, the founder of GoLoco, a Web site for arranging carpooling, Paul Hawken, an author who has also run multiple environmental businesses, and Winona LaDuke, the director of Honor the Earth Fund, a group run by Native Americans that works to erase geographic and political isolation in Native settlements and raise money for Native environmental groups.
Bioneers, now in its fifth year, will also have trolley and walking tours around New Bedford, including brownfield sites and the waterfront. Most of the conference’s events take place at the Zeiterion or nearby downtown sites.
The conference has helped create collaborative approaches, including a breakfast series on sustainability that grew from a Bioneers panel discussion, said Kathleen Christianson, the project director for the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s sustainability office.
“It’s a really excellent opportunity for people in the area to hear some outstanding leaders in the fields of sustainability and social justice,” she said. “It always sort of surprises me because it’s a hidden gem and it really shouldn’t be hidden.”
With the Obama Administration focused on creating a thriving green economy, the environmental movement is gathering at Bioneers by the Bay: Connecting for Change (www.connectingforchange.org) to urge increased personal and civic action for a more sustainable and equitable world. The conference will take place October 22 through 25 at the Zeiterion Theatre and other venues in historic downtown New Bedford.
Before the conference begins on Friday, Oct. 23, the Zeiteron Theatre is opening its doors free to the public, Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. doors open at 6:30 p.m.) for a kick-off event, featuring some of the largest names in the green movement.
This year's event will highlight a wide array of issues surrounding climate change and how it directly affects the vitality of New Bedford, from its potential to transform our booming commercial fishing industry to our food systems. There will be a screening of the Natural Resources Defense Council's newly released short film ACID TEST, featuring Sigourney Weaver, followed by a discussion led by ecology and evolutionary biologist and NRDC senior scientist Dr. Lisa Suatoni. The film was made in an effort to draw attention to the virtually unfamiliar issue of ocean acidification. "Like global warming," cites NRDC, "ocean acidification stems from the increase of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution."
Due to today's increase in carbon dioxide, ocean acidification, known commonly as the other carbon problem, is transforming the chemistry of the ocean. New Bedford, the top US commercial fishing port in terms of volume and dollar value, is dependent on the ocean. The very shells of sea scallops, the organisms that have allowed this commercial success, could be threatened by increasing ocean pH. Maintaining the continuance of the commercial fishing industry is fiscally fundamental for all citizens of this city.
The kick-off event brings both climate changes effect on land and sea together with speaker Will Allen, and his contributions to urban farming. This will be a preview of Allen's keynotes and workshop on the first day of the conference, Friday, Oct. 23. Allen, founder and CEO of the urban based farm Growing Power, is at the forefront of the "good food revolution". The former professional basketball player and Maryland native has dedicated his life to the vision of making healthy locally-grown foods available in cities-a message which resonates with the New Bedford community, familiar with a lack of access to healthy organic foods.
The all encompassing event will be sponsored, hosted and Emceed by Kate Fentress, the Executive Director of the Women's Fund, and, Jennifer Marshall coordinator of the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance.
This is a non-ticketed, free and open to the public event.
The calm, blue walls and live plants decorating the Marion Institute underlie a web of tightly controlled chaos this autumn. A quiet, ongoing murmur of printers, telephones and clacking keyboards fills the air. Workers step spryly around two girls who sit on the floor, alphabetizing stacks of paper. The bustle holds a tinge of anticipation, and contains more than a touch of excitement. The reason, of course, is the upcoming Bioneers by the Bay: Connecting for Change conference.
The conference, now in its fifth year, will take place Oct. 22-25 in historic downtown New Bedford. This annual gathering covers several blocks and features a range of activities, including live keynote speakers, workshops, the Youth Initiative program, films, live music, art installations, a farmers market and more.
The conference is organized by a team of highly dedicated individuals and staffed by hordes of socially minded volunteers. The Marion Institute, however, has a secret weapon. For the second year, it is being assisted by a team of eight motivated young adults from the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), working full time to help pull off this October's event.
Affectionately known as "Kill Squad," this year's NCCC team is thrilled to be working for the Marion Institute. "Don't let the name fool you, though," cautions team leader Peter Czarkowski, 24, of Milwaukee. "The only thing we kill is apathy!"
AmeriCorps NCCC is a leadership program for 18- to 24-year-olds from all over the country. Team members commit to 10 months of service in areas such as education, environment, disaster relief and construction. In return for their work, they receive room and board, a modest living stipend and an education grant of nearly $5,000.
As their much-abused gray T-shirts and khaki pants testify, the members of this team are certainly no strangers to community service. Already in the midst of their ninth month, Bioneers by the Bay marks the fourth and final project of their service year. Kill Squad has already worked at several nonprofits, completing a variety of jobs that include mentoring at-risk youths in Georgia, helping rebuild homes damaged in Hurricane Katrina and demolishing vacant houses in Baltimore.
These workers hail from all over the country, and have many reasons for joining NCCC. "I plan on devoting myself to a life of service, and I wanted to see nonprofit work from all sides," explains Katherine Hypolite, 23, of Bloomfield, Conn. "If I will be organizing volunteers one day, then first I need to be a volunteer."
Hypolite's words come very close to describing her current job at the Marion Institute; she is one of two volunteer coordinators for Bioneers by the Bay. Her many jobs include organizing the small army of volunteer workers (NCCC team included) who will be dispatched to make sure the Connecting for Change conference runs smoothly.
She's not the only one with a heavy workload. The team has been easily incorporated into all aspects of the conference, helping with tasks such as registration, exhibitors, the Youth Initiative, ITT Tech and even compost.
If Kill Squad is eager to be stationed in Marion, that is nothing in comparison to how the Marion Institute feels about them. "We are thrilled at the Marion Institute to be continuing our relationship with the AmeriCorps NCCC program," exclaims Glenn Oliveira, events and membership coordinator at the Marion Institute. "Throughout our two-year relationship, the Americorps NCCC teams that we have worked with have been invaluable assets to our work. We really couldn't imagine putting on the conference without them."
As the conference looms ever closer, it is evident that the team is more than pleased to be spending their last round here in New England. They take their lunches daily outside to the Marion Institute's edible garden, augmenting their meals with handfuls of fresh cherry tomatoes and playing catch with a Frisbee. For a final project, this team feels that things couldn't really get much better.
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