If you could help save wildlife and their habitats from destruction, would you do it? What if it involved traveling to a far-off location to live in relatively primitive conditions, work long hours, and complete difficult, sometimes dangerous, tasks? Oh, and you might have to pay to do it.
Is that your idea of a good time? Then Ecotourists Save the World is a book you’ll want to read.
In partnership with the National Wildlife Federation, writer Pamela Brodowsky has compiled an extensive resource of volunteer opportunities to protect wildlife around the world. You’ll find, as the subtitle says, “More Than 300 International Adventures to Conserve, Preserve, and Rehabilitate Wildlife and Habitats.”
In the introduction, Brodowsky writes,
Did you know … one in three amphibians, nearly half of all turtles and tortoises, one in four mammals, one in five sharks and rays, and one in eight bird species are now considered at risk of extinction? Habitat destruction, exploitation, pollution, and climate change are taking their toll on our world’s species and the places that they inhabit.
The cool thing is, you can do something about it. (We all can.) In Ecotourists Save the World, you’ll learn about opportunities to volunteer doing a host of interesting tasks in amazing places, like Brazil, Bolivia, Scotland, Thailand, Fiji, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Greece, Peru… And, in North America, you can serve in British Columbia, Manitoba, California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and more.
A Fee for Your Service
In all locations, you have to provide your own transportation to get there.
Some groups charge no fee participation at all. In exchange for your service, you may get accommodations (though these are not described in detail, so be sure to ask if comfort and amenities matter to you), meals, ground transfers, and sometimes “in-country emergency support” — and let’s not forget training.
At other sites, you’ll pay significant fees in addition to volunteering your time. But if you were planning a vacation, you’d have to budget for food and accommodations, anyway.
If you’re wondering why someone would pay for the privilege of volunteering, consider this: There are significant costs associated with training, feeding, and housing people. For every dollar a refuge or wilderness program has to allocate to support volunteers, that’s a dollar taken away from the work they could be doing to help the animals.
Choosing a Project
Take a quick flip through Ecotourists Save the World, and you’ll find volunteer opportunities galore. But it will take much more than a quick flip to decide on the one that’s right for you. Each entry provides the following details to help you make a considered decision:
- Category (conservation, preservation, or rehabilitation)
- Dates & Duration
- To Apply
- Field Notes
The Field Notes section is especially useful, as you’ll learn “whether the project is suitable for families, groups, and/or solo travelers; any age restrictions; special skills or other requirements needed to participate; cautions or warnings for safety and comfort; and, in some instances, recommendations of local sites to visit and activities to enjoy while in service.”
Just a Sampling
Following are a few of the 300 projects you can choose from. If any of these whet your appetite, pick up the book to learn the details. (It sells for US$18.95/$23.50 CAN.) But before you make any plans, read the warning on the copyright page. In essence, the message is: There are potential hazards; for the best experience, be prepared and be careful.
Saving Kenya’s Black Rhinos: “Volunteers manage the local vegetation — the main food source of the black rhino — and observe the animals to improve further conservation efforts…. Location: Nairobi, Kenya…. Cost: US#2,850 for 15 days. Fee includes accommodations, meals, and training…. Field Notes: Participants must be at least 18 years old…. in good physical condition and be able to walk long distances.”
Lost World Expedition: “Participants assist scientists with fieldwork, conducting observational surveys to determine [the jaguar’s and the puma’s] distribution patterns in one of earth’s most threatened ecosystems… [and] conduct interviews in local communities… Location: Curitiba, Brazil…. Cost: US$1,690 for 12 nights. Fee includes accommodations, meals, training, and in-country emergency support…. Field Notes: No specific skills are required. The program is open to all ages. Participants must feel comfortable hiking through mountainous terrain. Positions are suitable for families, groups, and solo travelers.”
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge: “Volunteers help with research projects focused on endangered animals, conduct surveys of local bird populations, and help with sea turtle recovery projects (including nest relocation efforts and species inventories)…. Location: Rio Hondo, TX [USA]…. Cost: Free in exchange for service. Full RV hookups are provided…. Field Notes: Positions are suitable for families, groups, and solo travelers. All ages are welcome.”
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge: “Volunteers help replant and maintain native coastal plants, and work on public educational campaigns that focus on wildlife conservation. Participants may also lead tours…. Location: Kilauea, HI [USA]…. Cost: Free in exchange for service. Accommodation is provided…. Field Notes: This project is suitable for families, groups, and solo travelers.”
Elusive and Unknown Cat Project: “Participants help record leopard sightings and collect data on the distribution of leopards and their prey throughout the region. Volunteers also help document interspecies interactions among the leopard, wolf, and striped hyena…. Location: Dhofar, Oman…. Cost: US $1,950 for 12 nights. Fee includes accommodations, meals, ground transfers, project orientation, training, and support…. Field Notes: There are no specific skills or age requirements that need to be met for participation int this project, but volunteers must be able to walk great lengths and over mountainous terrain. Positions are suitable for adult groups and solo travelers.”
Elephant Orphanage: “Participants assist with daily elephant bathing duties, cleaning and maintaining enclosures, and hand-feeding of the extremely young. The Elephant Orphanage is home to many young elephants that are lost or abandoned by their mothers. Here the elephants are fed, nursed, and taken care of by professional handlers and volunteers. This project is a rare opportunity for those interested in working with elephants….. Location: Kegalle, Sri Lanka…. Cost: US$650–$953 for 1–3 weeks; extended stays are available for an additional fee. Fee includes accommodations and three meals per day. Airport pickup and transfers are additional…Field Notes: No special skills are required to participate. Positions are suitable for adult groups and solo travelers.”
Dolphin Conservation Project: “Participants … work alongside marine biologists in teh Ionian Sea. Volunteers contribute to a research study of the behavioral patterns, ecology, and conservation status of the aresa’s dolphin population… learn and contribute to all aspects of fieldwork, including observation techniques and photo identification procedures….. Location: Greece…. Cost: US$850–$1,000 for 1 week. Fee includes accommodations, meals, ground transfers, orientation, training,and in-country emergency support…. Field Notes: Participants must be at least 18 years old…. in good physical condition and have the ability to speak English. This project uses inflatable boats for observation needs and sun exposure is at a maximum. Positions are suitable for adult groups and solo travelers.”
Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge: Volunteers help collect native seeds for replanting in an effort to recreate the pre-1800s prairie ecosystem. Participants also work to maintain the park’s hiking trails and assist with general refuge maintenance projects…. Location: Prairie City, IA [USA]… Cost: Free in exchange for service. Housing is provided…. Field Notes: Training is provided on-site. Positions are suitable for families, groups, and solo travelers.”
If you do head off to an ecotourist, volunteer adventure — whether one described in this book or another you’ve found on your own — please write and let us know.
The Small Print
Blue Planet Green Living received a complimentary copy of Ecotourists Save the World. Other than the review copy, we received no compensation or incentive for reviewing the book. No one influences the content of any of our reviews other than the writer. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.
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April 12, 2010 by Julia Wasson
Filed under 1% for the Planet, Activists, Blog, Brazil, California, Children, China, Donations, Education, Environment, Front Page, India, Kenya, Lesotho, Profiles, Schools, Slideshow, South Africa, Students, Tonga, Volunteers
After the 1992 civil unrest in South Central Los Angeles, a small grassroots group began an after-school program to show the children living in the area that diverse members of their community cared about them. Teresa Henkle Langness, who later founded Full-Circle Learning, was among them. “Over time,” Langness says, “we began to see that what these children needed was to be a part of a community, to be a part of the solution, instead of feeling like victims of society’s ills.”
Langness adds, “When we began to incorporate character themes linked to local and global service within each lesson plan, the students’ scores suddenly began to leap. They became much better students, much better people. They began to teach their parents conflict resolution. Outside organizations in the community began to benefit from their work. Families wanted to replicate the model and began asking us for help in doing so.”
Today, Full-Circle Learning provides a full preschool-through-high school curriculum in 13 nations. Langness told Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL), “The mission of Full-Circle Learning is to help young people embrace their role as humanitarians and change agents. We do this through educational programs that integrate and expand students’ character strength, academic excellence, creative capacities, and conflict resolution skills.”
We asked Langness to tell us more about the program, which depends on donations to provide services to the low-income children they serve around the globe. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
LANGNESS: Every learning unit has character and community service as the bookends. The skills they’re learning become vehicles for transforming the self and transforming the community. We need to look at our ability to problem-solve, to collaborate, and to let our curiosity and creativity be guided by our altruistic instinct.
In Full-Circle Learning, we measure these altruistic identities even while we are teaching the skills that allow young people to grow up as collaborators, thinking of ways to apply these skills to reduce worldwide pandemics, to prevent wars, to understand issues as important as climate change.
Within every Full Circle Learning curriculum you will find activities that address environmental themes, poverty, public health, girls’ education or other current social themes affecting humanity around the world.
We train teachers in the strategies to create a learning environment and a supportive peer culture. We help students become benevolent world leaders —in their classroom, in their families, in their communities, and in their work communities — leaders whose work is not driven by ego, but by compassion.
BPGL: How do you do this?
LANGNESS: One way is by connecting students with classrooms around the world. Whenever they do a local project, they also do a global service project.
At the same time, students in America will be doing a project on hunger in their community, or studying their environment. The students correspond back and forth, challenging each other.
They begin to see global issues through a local lens, yet honor those across the ocean who are addressing similar problems. They don’t grow up thinking that they have all the answers — or, that they have all the problems.
BPGL: When did you begin to involve schools from other countries in the project?
LANGNESS: I had some foster children in other countries who I was just helping with a little bit of funding and writing letters to them. My own children were growing up and didn’t have time to write letters anymore, so I said to our students, “Would you please write a letter to So-and-So in Kenya or to this girl in Indonesia and give her a little encouragement?”
The kids overseas would take these letters to their school, and would send us back artifacts. We would then do a project for them and send them a challenge. And these back-and-forth challenges began to become a deep and rich part of the learning.
I realized, what was helping these students overseas and in the American classroom to feel really engaged was to realize that skills needed to address problems in an urban city in the United States are really not that much different from those needed in their own communities.
They may be different on the surface, but when you really go down to the core, what we’re talking about are basic human needs. They can learn so much by honoring the wisdom and the tenacity of students in other countries facing similar issues in different ways.
Now we’re in 13 countries on a regular basis with global exchanges. Of 26 projects, there are some projects we manage and help provide funding for, and others we just provide mentorship, training, and the curriculum. Still others, we just provide online mentorship or whatever is needed.
Very few of those we serve, in the United States or abroad, have funding to pay for what we give. If a school can pay for the printing cost or the books, that’s about as good as it gets. Mostly they can’t reimburse us for that either.
BPGL: Are all of the overseas schools connected with a U.S. partner classroom?
LANGNESS: The curriculum states that they be connected to a school in U.S. But some connections happen more smoothly than others. In some cases, we might recommend that they partner with a different country — maybe somebody who already speaks the same language or somebody for whom, if they decide to physically mail something, the postage might be less. Everybody is connected with somebody, but not all the countries are equally responsive.
BPGL: Which grades participate?
LANGNESS: It can be anybody, in preschool through high school. For instance, in Tonga, some of the teachers are more facile with English and with this model of education.
So some of them have taken the lead and said, “Our grade level will be the one to send something this time.”
Some others hang back and do more local projects. It’s up to the school to take a certain amount of initiative in determining how they will do it. Smaller schools always do a school-wide approach.
BPGL: When you talk about local projects, are those projects connected to your curriculum?
LANGNESS: Absolutely. When you do a Full-Circle Learning project, it should permeate the culture of the school. For example, at the school in Zambia, from the minute they received the training, they changed everything that they were doing.
Every class has a new identity. As second graders, you might call them the Forgivers, if they’re struggling with conflict resolution. Kindergartners might be the Helpers. Fourth graders might be the Humanitarians. And the things they do in the community to connect to their learning have some bearing on the identity the teachers are fostering in the students.
If you have guest presenters from the community, you showcase their careers in relation to the particular habit-of-heart, as we call it.
BPGL: What is a “habit-of-heart”?
LANGNESS: It’s a character trait, but we also want them to know it’s something that they can make habitual — not an innate virtue that they do or do not have.
Each habit-of-heart relates to what they will eventually do with their lives, to the skills they learn throughout their school days, to their home life, and to what they might do for the theme we’re studying.
The second graders in the Healers class in one of our Los Angeles charter schools did a homelessness project. They had read Finding Grace: The Face of America’s Homeless, an award-winning photography book by Lynn Blodgett that featured pictures of homeless people.
So they learned to make beautiful portraits of their favorite homeless face from the book. They put that on the front of a sandwich sign. These were homeless people from all over the country, but a lot of them were from the local area where they live.
On the back of their sandwich board, they put the real picture from the book. And they marched with 17,000 people to advocate for the visibility of homeless people and for their plight.
Gentrification of the downtown area was displacing a lot of homeless people who had nowhere to go. Many of the old hotels, which functioned as shelters, were being closed or upgraded. Now the homeless were pushed out onto the street, and the police were putting them in jail. People were asking the City Council to find a better solution.
So the children looked at the statistics of homelessness in the city. How many were homeless? How many were homeless because of joblessness? How many because of mental illness? How many were elders who couldn’t afford housing?
The children met as a group and discussed what they would do if they were the City Council. They wrote essays. They turned the statistics into bar charts. They took the portraits and made color Xeroxes. They put these all in a book.
They had met the mayor on their march, and he had patted them on the head. Later, they sent one copy of their book to the mayor and reminded him of this challenge to do something about homelessness. They sent the other copy to their global partner in India. And they said, “Here’s what we’re trying to do to help the poor in our community. What are you doing?”
BPGL: What did the children in India do?
LANGNESS: Their habit-of-heart theme had been advocacy. In India, the children had been studying respect — and sympathy, because a girl in their class had passed away. After receiving this challenge, they talked about who in their community was poor.
In India, of course, there is no safety net; your children are your social security plan. So if you lose a child or are childless, you basically grow old and poor with nowhere to go.
They decided to do their project for orphaned grandparents. They wrote a beautiful book of essays about respect and sympathy, and they made beautiful artwork with recycled objects. They turned pencil shavings into flowers. They used toothpicks and types of beans that we don’t have here, and flower petals — everything you can imagine — to make beautiful pieces of art.
Then they put some of the art in the book that they sent back to America. Some they put in books for the orphaned grandparents. They made food. They made music. They exchanged kisses for blessings, because the grandparents have nobody to bless.
The Polaroids they put in the books brought us to tears: They are bowing down on the ground, prostrating themselves, and then getting up and giving kisses to the orphaned grandparents. And the grandparents are blessing them.
The teacher in Los Angeles kept the book in the classroom for a long time, because the students wanted to go back and look at that book again and again. They all wanted to learn the Tamil language and get on a plane and go to India. It was so profound to see what effect it had on them.
BPGL: How does participation in Full-Circle Learning affect the children you work with?
LANGNESS: This is an area of gang conflict, not an easy area of town. That’s why the charter school is where it is. Some of the children had been homeless. So it was a really interesting experience. It’s so much easier to get outside yourself and beyond your own problems when you see how children across the world are dealing with poverty in their communities.
We talk a lot about that. We say, “Here’s how you can afford to travel: Go to college, then join the Peace Corps.” A lot of them have the idea that the only way they will ever do anything is to join the military and get their education that way.
The parents of the original program challenged us to start a charter school so that their children could sustain this kind of education throughout the school day. We told them how much work it is to start a charter school, especially a K-8 charter school.
They said, “That’s okay. We’ll help. We’ll be the founding families.”
And we said, “You realize, by the time we finish this process, your children will no longer be young enough to attend it.”
And they said, “That’s okay too.” So their children have done the work to start it. They’re now in high school, and they are the Alumni Club. They help enroll students, do outreach, and do service projects.
BPGL: How is Full-Circle Learning most different from other programs?
LANGNESS: Schools spend so much focus on teaching students what to learn, and in some cases teaching them how to learn, but not why to learn. We give students a purpose for learning.
Maybe that’s the distinction between this and other models. Not only does it help us address the world’s problems, it also helps us unlock the potential in the child.
I have a story to illustrate this. A guest presenter talking to second graders was linking compassion with his work as an orthopedic surgeon. He talked about what he does, fixing broken arms and legs and so forth. He also talked about the math and science classes he took.
A year later, a journalist interviewed a third-grade girl and asked what she wanted to be. She said, “Oh, I want to be an orthopedic surgeon, of course.”
He asked, “Where did you get that idea?”
And she said, “We have a lot of people coming through here, but this one presentation helped me understand my interest in math and science.”
Now this girl was from a foster home of nine kids. She was very shy. She had no role models at all who had anything to do with math or science, or anything academic. She said, “I thought these were just throwaway subjects, and I was never going to use them. Now I understand why I need to apply myself. Now I know my purpose in life.”
Years went by. She was very quiet about this. Her mother called me when the girl was in the ninth grade. She said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. This girl has found an article in the paper about a new orthopedic magnet high school, and she wants me to enroll her. I had no idea she has an interest in this, but their enrollment is closed.”
I said, “You didn’t know why she’s been working so hard in math and science all these years? Take her down there and show them her grades. They’ll enroll her.”
And they did. Now this girl is in a premed program, and is getting scholarships to be an orthopedic doctor.
So that’s the example of linking the purpose in life and the altruistic inclinations of the heart with plugging somebody into the community in ways that match their natural gifts. At an age where you don’t know the possibilities yet, to explore as many of those possibilities as you can gives you a better impetus for choosing something that fits later in life.
BPGL: How are the kids in your program doing on state exams?
LANGNESS: The district challenges charter schools to meet and exceed the test scores of the surrounding schools with a similar demographic, and they challenge us to bring the scores up about 4 percent a year.
In our charter school, Full-Circle Learning Academy, we got a baseline score in year one. In year two, we took the exams again. The scores went up 145 points. That’s about 19 percent. That’s almost unheard of.
BPGL: What are your fund-raising needs right now?
LANGNESS: Both the international projects and the local projects have dire needs right now. Making a contribution to the general fund would allow us to support both and to allocate the funds based on how much comes in.
Publisher’s Note: Full-Circle Learning is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Donations by U.S. taxpayers are deductible to the fullest extent allowed under the law. Donations may be made on the FCL website.
Full-Circle Learning is a nonprofit member of 1% for the Planet. If your business is a member, too, consider making your annual donation to support this worthy group.
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Though it’s still August, it’s not too early to start thinking about events that will take place next spring. Odette O’Reilly wrote to tell us that plans are already in progress for the second annual Big Green Festival in Chorlton, South Manchester, England. From all that we hear — and the delightful photo gallery posted on the website — this year’s Festival was a great success. But it takes a lot of dedicated people to make it all come together as seamlessly as the first one did. If being in the thick of the action appeals to you, now is the time to step forward and volunteer. Read on to learn more. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
The wheels are in motion once again for the second Chorlton’s Big Green Festival, which will take place on Sat 27 March 2010.
Nobody could have predicted the success of April’s festival, which brought in more than 1,500 festival goers, and saw the likes of a bicycle parade around Chorlton, wheelie bin displays, a solar/wind powered sound system, swap shops and a foot stomping ceilidh, as well as guest speakers, eco workshops and live entertainment.
The phenomenal turn out really brought it home that there is a huge desire within the community to tackle green living issues head on and explore what choices we have, in making small changes to our lives.
Once again, the festival will aim to draw in local businesses, musicians, residents and organisations to make the day as fun packed and informative as possible, and to showcase all that is green in Manchester. We also aim to expand 2010’s festival by introducing an evening of guest speakers and holding an open forum on Thursday 25 March, which will be followed by the main event, held on Saturday 27 March.
The first planning meeting for the festival is to be held at 7.30pm on Thursday 10 Sept at St Clement’s Church, Chorlton. We’re looking for as many enthusiastic volunteers as possible to get involved this year so we can generate new ideas and get some fresh perspectives. Let’s make the next festival bigger and better and accessible to all!
For more information contact – Odette O’ Reilly:
Chorlton’s Big Green Festival
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The National Engineers Week Foundation’s 2009–10 Future City Competition is an opportunity for bright middle school kids to use their creativity, and their math and science skills to solve a very real problem: providing an affordable living space for people who have lost their hoe due to a disaster or financial emergency. While the following press release is targeted to the Chicago area, schools around the U.S. are encouraged to participate. The competition begins in September, but the organization invites schools to sign up now. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
WASHINGTON DC, June 2009 – Designing affordable housing for those most in need is enormously complicated. But how to do it while adhering to LEED recognized green building standards, with an emphasis on energy efficiency and a low carbon footprint?
That’s the challenge for Chicagoland middle schoolers as they prepare for National Engineers Week Foundation’s 2009-10 Future City® Competition.
Now entering its 18th year, Future City Competition invites seventh and eighth graders nationwide to create the cities of tomorrow and encourages interest in science, technology, engineering and math through hands-on applications.
“Future City motivates students to learn more about the possibilities and opportunities for careers in engineering,” said Leslie Collins, Executive Director, National Engineers Week Foundation. “As they participate in the competition, they realize that engineering is exciting and creative and that they can use what they know to make a difference in the world. Helping young people discover what the field has to offer is a critical step in insuring that the engineering profession continues to grow in the years ahead.”
Themed Providing An Affordable Living Space For People Who Have Lost Their Home Due to a Disaster or Financial Emergency, this year’s Future City Competition will attract more than 33,000 students from 1,100 middle schools in regions located across the country. Participating students will be asked to design a model of their city using SimCity 4 Deluxe software, provided by Electronic Arts, and then build a physical model of the city using recycled materials. They will also write a research essay describing their design and a second narrative outlining the key features of their city.
The regional competition gets underway with the new school year in September and culminates with the regional finals in January. One winning team from each region qualifies for a trip to the national finals in Washington DC, which will take place during Engineers Week, February 15-17, 2010. The National Finals Grand Prize winners receive a trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, provided by National Finals host Bentley Systems, Incorporated. The second and third prize winners receive $5,000 and $2,000 scholarships for their schools’ technology programs.
“We learned that engineering is more than just making sure that buildings work the way they are supposed to,” commented Tom Krajnak, 14, a member of the 2009 Grand Prize winning team from Bexley Middle School in Bexley, Ohio. “Engineers are involved in every aspect of building a city. We discovered how necessary they are and now we know the reasons why.”
Registration deadline for schools nationwide is October 31, 2009 but, to help students get an early start before the close of the current school year, Future City is offering early registration to interested students. Future City is also looking for professional engineers (and architects) who may be interested in serving as mentors. For information, school registration, or to volunteer in the Future City Competition, visit www.futurecity.org.
About Future City Competition
The 18th Annual Future City Competition, for seventh and eighth grade students, is held from September, 2009 through February, 2010. The National Future City Competition is sponsored in part by the National Engineers Week Foundation, a consortium of professional and technical societies and major U.S. corporations. Major funding comes from Bentley Systems, Incorporated, Ford Motor Company and Shell.
About Engineers Week
The National Engineers Week Foundation, a formal coalition of more than 100 professional societies, major corporations and government agencies, is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers among young students and by promoting pre-college literacy in math and science. Engineers Week also raises public understanding and appreciation of engineers‘ contributions to society. Founded in 1951, it is among the oldest of America’s professional outreach efforts. Co-chairs for 2010 are ExxonMobil Corporation and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Imagine you’re the head of a family. You’re out of work. Or maybe you have a job that pays minimum wage. Maybe you’re an immigrant, trying hard to adjust to a new country, new foods, new customs — all on a limited income. Or, perhaps someone in your family has a serious illness, and your struggle to pay for medical care leaves little to spend on nutritious food for your children and yourself. In this harsh economic climate, for many people, eating a diet of organic foods is as much a fantasy as a taking a trip to Mars.
As incomes drop and food budgets shrink, food choices shift toward cheaper refined grains, added sugars, and vegetable fats. The first items to drop out of the diet are usually healthy foods – whole grains, lean meats, dairy products, vegetables and fruit. Energy-rich starches, sweets, and fats, many of them nutrient-poor, frequently offer the cheapest way to fill hungry stomachs. — Can Low-Income Americans Afford a Healthy Diet? Adam Drewnowski and Petra Eichelsdoerfer March 2009. A publication of the University of Washington Center for Public Health Nutrition
For the past ten years, Laura Dowd, founder and executive director of Iowa-based Local Foods Connection, has been helping low-income families improve their diets. Each week throughout the growing season, Dowd and a group of volunteers in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and Des Moines ensure that their clients — low-income individuals and families — each receive a box of fresh, organic produce from a local farm.
Local Foods Connection, a nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization, enrolls select families in community supported agriculture (CSA) programs in their nearby area. Donations from the public, from private corporations, and from grants fund the purchase of healthy food for the families and, at the same time, provide a consistent income stream for the farmers.
But just giving people food without helping them improve their eating habits is not enough, according to Dowd. Local Foods Connection provides a number of ways for families to learn about the importance of organic foods, how to prepare the foods they receive, and how to create a healthy diet. “We’re changing [our clients’] buying habits and improving their nutrition,” Dowd says. “We teach them different ways to get organic food, how to rethink their food budget, and the impact of diet on health and the cost of health care. For most of our clients, someone in the family has medical problems.”
Dowd, a transplant from a Midwest suburb, volunteered on an organic farm in the late 1990s in exchange for produce. She began talking with farmers about how to help low-income families and individuals purchase fresh, organic foods. Initially, she purchased a single CSA membership to share with others less fortunate. “This is not at all what I expected when I started,” she says. Today, Local Foods Connection supports 30 families and 10 non-profits with CSA shares.
Social service agencies, such as the Free Medical Clinic, the Domestic Violence shelter, and the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) refer qualified clients to Local Foods Connection. But the free food comes with expectations: In addition to receiving food and instruction, Local Foods Connection clients volunteer in the community. When they do, they earn points. “We have 15 different activities clients can do to earn points,” Dowd says. Volunteer activities available to clients for earning points include:
- Read a book from the recommended book list and write a review
- Watch a movie from the recommended movie list and write a review
- Visit a farmers market
- Share a recipe with Local Foods Connection
- Take a cooking class
- Send a thank you card to their farmer
- Volunteer on an organic farm
Clients can use the points they earn toward new kitchen equipment to help them prepare healthy meals.
Soon, Dowd says, Local Foods Connection will establish a graduation program, so that families can become “independent consumers,” no longer relying on the support they now receive.
Local Foods Connection also donates boxes of food to social service agencies, such as Head Start and the local Crisis Center Food Bank.
“We do not accept donations of food from farms,” Dowd says. “We pay full price.” The policy helps support small, organic farms, which often have a difficult time competing with mass-production. An exception to this policy occurred this week, however, when Scattergood Friends School gave the Local Foods Connection 40 dozen ears of corn from their bumper crop. Local Foods Connection passed along the corn to the families and their partner agencies.
Five dozen of those ears went to the local Head Start group, in addition to their regular share, which they use to give the children nutritious meals. Dowd reports that one of the Head Start teachers said, “I’ve been working here 17 years, and I’ve never been able to give our kids fresh corn. This is the first time. It’s always been canned or frozen.”
Community volunteers who want to support Local Foods Connection often do farm work at CSAs in the area. Their labor earns financial credits for the organization, which it exchanges for CSA shares. In past years, volunteers have earned Local Foods Connection CSA credits ranging from $200 to $1200 for their labor. These labor contributions are essential to reaching more people in need, according to Dowd. Students at the University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College can fulfill an environmental science class requirement by volunteering on one of the organic farms on behalf of Local Foods Connection.
Asked how she got started in this venture, with a degree in comparative literature and no social service or accounting experience, Dowd says, “Anybody can do it. Just start small. But start with the idea that you have to be willing to let it change and develop. You don’t have to conquer the world with your first project. Start by accomplishing a small task.” (Perhaps “anybody can do it,” but I suspect they will need boundless energy and a huge heart.) Dowd’s long-term goal is “to have low-income people feel welcome and be active in the local food movement.”
Local Foods Connection survives through the group’s own hard work and the generosity of others. If you’d like to donate to the group or to volunteer at a CSA farm on their behalf, please visit the Local Foods Connection website at www.localfoodsconnection.org. For information about the photographs in this article, contact Dowd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It had not rained in Iowa City for eleven days. We had been experiencing a cooler than usual June, with day after day of amazingly great temperatures and low humidity. I should have known it wouldn’t last.
Iowa weather usually acts like a spoiled child and demands constant attention. The minute you look away, it will catch you in snow without a coat or a thunderstorm without an umbrella. Or the temperature will rise 30 degrees in a few hours and put you in a dripping sweat because you’re not wearing shorts. These are facts of life in Iowa. I forgot. I lowered my guard. I did not schedule a rain date.
For months, I had been focusing on creating a Fourth of July, New Orleans-style, second-line, jazz funeral march. This was to be a symbolic funeral for the Iowa River, held by volunteers from our Facebook group, Save The Iowa River (STIR). The planning went on: a casket, pallbearers, news coverage, musicians, music, marchers, signs, bottles filled with water from the Iowa River, parade permit, first aid kit, parking, tables, tent. When the word rain came to mind, I just told myself that there would be lots of umbrellas at the march anyway, in keeping with the motif; so, if it did rain, everything would work out just fine.
As the funeral day grew closer, I checked Weather.com a few times. I remember seeing sunny skies all week long, and a 50 percent chance of rain on Saturday. Only 50 percent! Okay, so I’m the eternal optimist. My glass is always half full. Even if it did rain that day, what were the odds that the 50 percent would include the hours from noon to 1:30?
Besides educating the public about the pollution in the Iowa River, we had another purpose for holding the parade. A friend of mine, Kevin J. Railsback, is an award-winning videographer. He wanted to use the footage of our funeral march in his full-length movie about the Iowa River.
Two of our dedicated interns, Jazmyn Whitman and Eleanor M., helped us put up posters around Iowa City. Then the four of us set up shop in City Park the week before the Fourth, pulling buckets of water out of the Iowa River, filling 900 recyclable bottles with very nasty water, and capping them. We hauled the five tubs of bottles to our home, washed the outsides to sanitize them, dried them and applied labels to each bottle. All this took a total of about forty hours, counting everyone’s input — much more than I had imagined.
Just to give you some insight on how to plan a New Orleans-style, second-line, jazz funeral march for a dying river, first — and most important — is the casket. You have to call every funeral home in the county. You have to beg.
If you are very lucky, like I was, you will find a funeral home director who is also an environmentalist. Dan Ciha, of Gay & Ciha Funeral and Cremation Services is the kind of guy who wants to build a completely green cemetery. No formaldehyde, no expensive caskets, just wrap your beloved in their favorite blanket and bury them in the good earth. I love this guy.
He must have a soft spot for the Iowa River, too, because he didn’t just deliver us a casket the day before the parade, he delivered us a beautiful wooden casket, handmade by the Trappist monks at New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque. This one was a work of art, sculpted from native pine trees that they had harvested. At the abbey, they milled, dried, hand planed, and assembled the wood, then painted the casket with a light coat of varnish, praying all the while. It was stunning.
But there’s one thing about borrowing a wood casket: If Ciha ever wanted to sell it to a client after the parade, we could not get it wet. Saturday morning, we went back out to the Ciha funeral home and picked up a plastic casket cover.
The next very important element you need are pallbearers. I had called about a dozen strong, healthy, muscular, male friends, who I thought might have an environmental interest in the Iowa River — and who might get out of bed on a Saturday morning on the Fourth of July. That final criteria could have eliminated all of them. I figured I needed at least twelve pallbearers to carry the casket six blocks. That way, we could trade off, as the men got tired.
If everything went wrong, and say, it rained really hard that day, and not a single pallbearer showed up, I fully expected I would have to carry the casket myself. I had a two-wheeler ready just in case I had to roll it up the hill like a Fed Ex delivery man.
Probably the next most important prop for this funeral was the music. I had started contacting musicians two months earlier. I called, emailed, and wrote letters to about 50 different musicians. Each one was a fine artist, I am sure. Some I knew, some I did not. The first ones I contacted played every instrument that you would typically see in a New Orleans-style funeral march: trombone, trumpet, tuba, and saxophone.
The Iowa City Jazz Festival planners had told me I could hold our parade from noon to 1:30, because they wanted us to be finished playing when their concert started at 2:00. Almost every musician I talked to had already been booked at other gigs for the Fourth of July in other cities, or they were planning to march in that morning’s parade in nearby Coralville. Many of them thought they would be too tired to do both events, and many were afraid they could not travel the distance in time for a noon start for my parade. I got many well wishes, but very few commitments.
I found a band of five New Orleans-style jazz musicians from Davenport, who would play for $2,000, and a local group, who would play for $500. I had no budget to work with, but I verbally committed to booking the local band for the lower price anyway. Three days before the event, they canceled for a better offer. I began to worry.
If no musicians showed up, I figured I could use a boom box and just blast jazz music as we marched. I visited a friend at West Music to see if maybe there were other musicians in town. We seriously considered the following alternatives: banjo, ukulele, guitar, harp, violin, cello, marimba, steel drums, accordion, and harmonica.
At that point, my New Orleans-style jazz parade might have turned into a classical/Latin/folk/rock funeral parade. Maybe I could start a new trend. I took the list of names and phone numbers anyway. Before I left the store, I bought 20 kazoos as a last resort. Things weren’t looking too good.
When I got home, I had an email from a sousaphone player, John Manning. He said he was definitely going to be there. I had a band! I ran back to the music store to buy him some sheet music for “Down By The River Side” and “When The Saints Go Marching In.”
Friday evening before our parade, as I was walking around the Jazz Fest, checking out traffic patterns and security issues, I stopped and watched a group of very talented high school musicians. One particular saxophone player’s solo stood out. As Nathaniel Dean came off stage, I offered him a card and invited him to play at the march the following day. He very politely took the card. As he disappeared into the crowd, I wasn’t sure if I would ever see him again.
I was worried about the build-up of clouds and a weather report that now showed a 75 percent chance of rain the following day. At midnight, it started raining.
My experience with Iowa rainstorms tells me that, if there’s lightning, thunder, wind, and dramatic clouds, the storm may be violent, but it will pass in a few hours. But, if there’s a solid gray cloud mass, no thunder, no lightning, and a steady drizzle, it’s likely to last a long time. This was a drizzle. I checked the radar on Weather.com at 1:00 AM. The map showed the whole state was completely shrouded with rain, and the cloud formation was barely moving. Things were looking bleak.
At 6:00 AM, I was back at the computer, looking for any breaks in the clouds. A large mass of clouds was heading straight east, down Interstate 80. When I put the map in motion, to predict the future progress of the storm, it indicated that there might be a break in the clouds by noon. That was all I needed. Hope!
At 8:00 AM, the phone started ringing. Half of the pallbearers called to cancel. “My car’s in the shop.” “I have a sick kid.” “I don’t feel well.” “I lost the keys to my truck last night.” You would have thought an epidemic had struck every person, car and set of keys in the county. The other half made the mistake of asking me first, “Are you still doing this thing?”
My answer was a resolute, “Yes!” I was counting on the radar I had seen. I frantically sent out emails to as many friends, relatives, musicians, and pallbearers as I could, telling them to hold true. The rain was going to stop. This funeral was going to happen.
By 11:00 AM, I was not so sure. While my friend Robert Garabedian and I set up the “rain tent” at the starting point, I was still receiving phone calls, mostly cancellations. It was still raining like crazy at 11:30, as my wife, our intrepid interns, and the casket showed up. 11:35. 11:40. I was beginning to look for my two-wheeler.
At 11:45, a few pallbearers, my son, my daughter and her husband arrived. I felt relieved when John Manning came walking in with his sousaphone. At 11:50, a few friends, a few more pallbearers and Nathaniel Dean, the young sax player, arrived. Now, we would have harmony! At 11:55, a television film crew and a newspaper reporter, more marchers, and more pallbearers drizzled in with the rain.
We had the minimum necessary to march: six pallbearers, two musicians, a casket, several people, the film crew, and a news crew. It was still raining.
Jazmyn and Eleanor handed out umbrellas, wooden spoons (our symbol for Save The Iowa RIVER — STIR), kazoos, sample bottles of the Iowa River and a written summary of what ails the Iowa River. At noon, our wet duo was sufficiently tuned up, the pallbearers lifted the casket, and we were off!
As I moved along the parade line, I looked into the faces of friends with matted hair, and water dripping into their eyes, a sousaphone player with an open umbrella bursting from his bell, a sax player wailing the blues with true suffering in his eyes, and six hearty, wet pallbearers, marching in step, rocking the casket to the music. I counted about 40 good, kind souls marching with me, and I didn’t hear a single word of complaint. Not one.
The sousaphone player stopped blowing while climbing the rather steep incline of the Jefferson Street hill. He asked if it we could march the rest of the way in silence. Before I could answer, twenty kazoos came alive with the fervor of a scene from The Music Man. “When The Saints Go Marching In,” complete with piercing lead solos, complex harmonies, a thundering base line, key changes, and long-held high notes, never sounded so good. I was stunned. And it was still raining.
We finished the march at the entrance to the University of Iowa‘s Pentacrest, at the west end of Iowa Avenue. We played more songs. We watched as the wet photographers and the wet videographers moved around us to get the best shots. We all signed a large letter to the governor of Iowa, our wish list of legislative action points, and we handed out bottles of Iowa River water to passersby. We dried off the casket and loaded it into my car.
Slowly, as if everyone did not want to appear to be giving into the rain, these kind souls and stalwart environmental activists departed. I shook their hands. I hugged them. I thanked them. I said goodbye.
And now, as I write what I remember of that day, I realize that I may have personally invited several hundred people to this event. Ten thousand may have read the invitation in the newspapers. Forty showed up to march in the rain. Together, we stirred the waters to get attention for the plight of the Iowa River. And I am eternally grateful.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
In 2005, drawing extensively on community involvement and large-scale volunteer participation, Project GreenHands planted more than 25,000 trees in tsunami-devastated coastal areas of Tamil Nadu. In 2006, PGH volunteers planted 856,000 trees in just three days, securing the project a place in the Guinness World Book of Records. By the end of the 2008 planting season, PGH had planted a total of 7.1 million trees and introduced a newly designed model of agro-forestry among the farmer community. The Project’s current aim is to inspire and support the citizens of Tamil Nadu to plant an astonishing total of 114 million trees statewide, adding 30% more to the existing level of green cover in Tamil Nadu.
Isha Foundation, founded in 1992, is an entirely volunteer-run, international, nonprofit organisation dedicated to cultivating human potential. The Foundation is a human service organisation that recognizes the possibility of each person to empower another — restoring global community through inspiration and individual transformation.
Makur Jain is a BPGL contributing writer living in India. She interviewed Sadhguru, the founder of Isha Foundation, which supports Project GreenHands (PGH).
BPGL: Sadhguru ji, what are the benefits of humans connecting to the natural world that surrounds us?
SADHGURU: Human well-being and environmental care are not two different things. There is nobody who isn’t concerned about human well-being or the well-being of a life. It is just the scale and scope that varies from person to person. Anybody can understand that he needs to take care of the very environment in which he lives. Taking care of well-being, human well-being, does not just mean eating well. One has to take care of everything that concerns our lives. Is there anything on this planet that doesn’t concern your life? Whatever happens to this planet happens to you.
So when we talk of well-being, it is not just about taking care of your physical body. You take care of the very body of the earth because your body is just a part of that. Without taking care of the atmosphere and the ecological situation around us, how can we live well? This whole idea of “something is human, and ecology is something different,” is a very distorted and polarized idea of life.
We need to understand that everything that you produce, buy, and use in your life is something that you are digging up from the planet. Every little bit, whether it’s a safety pin or a car or a machine, you are only digging it up from this planet. It’s not an endless planet. It is a limited planet. We can use it to a certain extent, and right now we are gobbling it up at a tremendous pace. If there is no compensatory activity on the same scale as we exploit whatever we use on this planet, then we have a recipe for disaster.
When this is so, as we go into this economic possibility, if we have any sense, we need to somehow regulate it ourselves. If human sense doesn’t prevail, then nature will take its own course of action to correct the imbalances. But that’s going to be very painful for human beings when nature takes this action.
So, one of the simplest ways to prevent or to reverse this process is that we bring back sufficient green cover. The aim of Isha’s Project Green Hands is to bring back 30 percent green cover, at least, in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India, to start with.
Right now, there is a phenomenal response to the project. Unfortunately, this is happening not because of our love for nature or life around us; it is only because of survival instincts. We realize that if we have to survive, we have to take care of a few things. But now, at least, with the fear of disaster and the instinct of survival, people are beginning to do something.
If you really want to bring about well-being, an important thing is that you don’t think of trees and plants and life around you as just another means to enhance your life. You should see and respect them as life; it’s very important. Biologically, it is said that trees don’t bleed like you, so they are not related to you. See, relationships with family and friends are arbitrary and often inconstant. But every moment of your life, what trees exhale we inhale, what we exhale they inhale. This is a constant transaction. There is a very intimate bond between a human being and plant life. This is a constant relationship that nobody can afford to break or live without. So our closest relative is plant life. If one experiences that, there would be a deep sense of love and involvement with plant life.
Whatever you may be doing, you must plant trees, because you can’t live without oxygen or food or water. In the Indian culture there are temples for trees, people worship trees; it’s a very common practice. It is not a question of a custom. It came from a certain experience and understanding. It is a certain depth of experience and understanding — you understand that whatever nurtures your life is worth worshipping. So, because people understood that trees are very much a part of nurturing their lives, they worshipped them. Every village had a tree that was worshiped at one time. Now, we have become so insensitive that we have removed all that.
It is not about nurturing nature. You don’t have to nurture nature; it is nature that nurtures you. We think we nurture nature, but we’re only destroying and misusing nature, so we must take compensatory action.
What needs to happen — what is happening — is too little. Much more needs to happen, because the rate at which we are exploiting the resources of this planet is too high. Unless we really do the necessary compensatory acts, we aren’t going to find a solution. So this is the choice that all of us have to make, every generation of people has this choice that you are either a part of the problem or part of a solution. I think as a generation, if we have any sense, if we can pitch in for the solution, it will be a sensible way to live, a more intelligent way to exist on this planet.
BPGL: Have you noticed that the act of planting trees creates community among people to coordinate the effort? If so, are those connections and relationships maintained?
SADHGURU: The process of creating community spirit has to be initiated before the tree planting happens, otherwise the project will quickly find its limitation, as it so often does in many tree-planting projects. Over the past 25 years, at Isha, we have developed a unique way of approaching a rural community through Isha Yoga Programs and Community Games. It revives the spirit of the community and creates the necessary momentum among stakeholders to undertake a community project on a large scale and for the long term. A tree-planting project helps to gather the community around a project that makes sense for each participating group, organisation, or individual. In the long run, activities of post-planting maintenance, livelihood opportunities, other natural resources management, etc., will reinforce and increase the relationships among stakeholders.
BPGL: What have been the latest initiatives since 2007?
SADHGURU: By the end of the 2008 planting season, we planted a total of 7.1 million trees and introduced a newly designed model of agro-forestry among the farmer community. Project GreenHands has gained significant support from national and international corporations such as Suzlon Energy Ltd, Yves Rocher Group, EADS, TTK Ltd etc.
BPGL: How do you maintain and care for those millions of trees?
SADHGURU: To create a sustainable green cover, the trees become the responsibility of the tree planters, with the support and supervision of PGH field teams and volunteers. In each location where we initiate planting, PGH ensures that a sufficient number of Isha volunteers are on the ground to support the project implementation and ensure the follow up of post-planting activities.
BPGL: What are the greatest problems and challenges you face in the coming year?
SADHGURU: On the social level, the greatest challenge is to transform awareness campaigns into an urge for action. That is why at Project GreenHands, our work starts by exposing the villagers to tools that will help individuals to reach a higher level of consciousness. Only then can major implementation happen.
At the project level, the challenge is to raise the necessary resources to implement the project in a short time span, in order to create an environmental impact and reverse the process of degradation of natural resources. Tree planting projects need to raise labour, land, and funds simultaneously. Thanks to 25 years of work among the rural community of the state of Tamil Nadu, Isha can raise millions of volunteers and access their land. Labour and land represent about 70 percent of the resources needed for the project. The need for cash (the remaining 30 percent of rescources needed) to fund the production of the saplings, the logistics of the project, and its management is the limiting factor of expansion today.
BPGL: How do you measure the results of your success and impact?
SADHGURU: The result is measured in terms of increase in the state green cover, participation of the community and of strategic partners. Year after year, PGH conducts research studies and pilot programs to improve the monitoring of the project and assessment of its social impact. For example, in 2008, a partnership with Planet Action — the not-for-profit initiative of Spot Image — was initiated to look at the use of satellite imagery and GIS to monitor the development of the green cover over years.
BPGL: Are there models of similar projects being done in other countries?
SADHGURU: There are hundreds of tree planting projects around the world; but so far we have not identified any other initiatives like this that are carrying out any tree planting projects at such a scale through the mobilization of the entire community.
BPGL: Are there plans for planting other types of plants, shrubs, flowers, or food-bearing plants, such as fruit trees or vegetables?
SADHGURU: Apart from timber, trees can provide flowers, fruits and vegetables, spices, medicine, fodder for livestock. We adjust our tree selection according to the planting context; for example, medicinal, fodder, and spice are promoted through our agro-forestry model on farmland; whereas fruit and vegetable trees are promoted in residential areas. In 2009, we will expand the planting of fruit trees on a larger scale by combining the nutrition campaign run by Isha Outreach’s health division with the distribution of free fruit trees for households.
BPGL: How do you determine which trees to plant in a certain area? Is there research that goes into determining this?
SADHGURU: Botany, cultivation of trees, and management of forest are areas where knowledge has been accumulated for a very long time. PGH has an advisory board including botanists, forestry and organic farming experts, and forestry colleges. We also get support from international experts and organisations that have experience in tree planting in many different ecosystems all over the world.
BPGL: What advice would you have for communities to duplicate your efforts in their area?
SADHGURU: The capacity of mobilisation of the community and a strong large scale involvement at a grass roots level are key factors for the success of organisations wanting to duplicate such projects. This can be achieved over years or through the establishment of a strong committed network of existing organisations.
We have found success comes through this holistic approach to environmental restoration. We promote strategies for the sustainable use and management of the land, which are rooted in the rural culture. The result is environmental and socioeconomic sustainability. Through its activities, Project GreenHands aims to inspire people around the world to appreciate the true value of trees and the vital role that they play within human environments.
For more information, contact email@example.com or +91 9443057562.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
February 23, 2009 by Miriam Kashia
Filed under Blog, Cancer, Climate Change, Colorado, Environment, FDA, Front Page, Green Living, Health, Iowa, Kansas, Nutrition, Profiles, rBGH, School Lunch, Texas, Volunteers
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi.
Caitlin Seeley, 23, from Boulder, Colorado, decided that hand-wringing about climate change and other environmental crises was not going to work for her. She wanted to “be the change,” in Gandhi’s words, rather than waiting for someone else to fix the world’s environmental problems. So, she joined the non-profit, activist group, Green Corps, and is busy “being the change” every day. “Organizing as a career, as a job, enables you to make an important impact on lots of people, communities, and the world,” Caitlin said in her recent interview with Blue Planet Green Living.
“Green Corps is the Field School for Environmental Organizing. It’s a non-profit organization funded by grants and by the other agencies and groups for whom we do the “on-the-ground” organizing. It’s a year-long training program, where 30 to 35 recent college graduates are taught the skills they need to work on grassroots organizing campaigns for some of the most important environmental issues we’re faced with right now. We’re working on climate change, clean energy, land conservation and other similar environmental problems. It’s an opportunity to get the skills to do grassroots community organizing and then actually work on and run campaigns to address some of these issues and start to make changes happen.”
BPGL: How did you get involved with Green Corps?
SEELEY: I graduated from Oberlin College last May. During my senior year, I was trying to figure out what to do next. I knew I wanted to work in the non-profit sphere doing something to make things better in our world. I was lucky that a Green Corps organizer came to our school and had an informational session. When I looked at the description of what an organizer was, I knew that was something I could do. I decided to apply and went through the interview process. As I proceeded, I realized this was something I really wanted to learn to do.
BPGL: What is the Green Corps training like? Do you spend time in class, or get out in the field from day one?
SEELEY: The first part is three weeks of classroom training in Boston. We all live together, go to classes every day, and get trained in all the basic skills of organizing. Among other things, this includes learning how to gather petitions, how to run meetings, how to run press conferences, all the skills you need to do this job.
In addition, we had people who came in to talk with us about specific environmental issues — the big topics that are on everyone’s mind right now. For example, we had IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists give us briefings on climate change. The activist Judy Bonds spoke to us about mountain-top removal in West Virginia. Lois Gibbs, who was the community organizer in Love Canal in New York, told us about her campaign, which is an Erin Brockovich-like story. The Executive Director of Environment America (EA) spoke to us about campaign strategies. A wide range of people from across the whole environmental movement talked with us and shared their experience and skills. It was an amazing learning opportunity.
The rest of the training is “on-the-ground” campaign work. This involves going out and working on grassroots campaigns. Green Corps organizers work on three to five campaigns every year. We work with non-profit environmental organizations, which contract with Green Corps for organizers to run their field campaigns. These organizers work with the contracting organization as well as with our Green Corps staff to develop strategies and implement them in the field, working in different communities across the country.
BPGL: With three to five campaigns, you must move around a lot during your year with Green Corps. How do you adjust to each new community?
SEELEY: When Green Corps organizers move to a new place, we take the first week to focus on entering the community. We take time to find housing, get set up in our offices, and make connections to people who can help us get to know our new community. We reach out to different groups who have worked with us before or who work on environmental issues and might be able to help orient us and connect us with groups or individuals who could be helpful. During this time, the goal is to get a sense of the area — what people are thinking, what they are taking actions on, what is culturally important for the community. This helps us figure out the best way to reach out to people and ask them to get involved in these campaigns.
BPGL: You mentioned that the Green Corps is working on clean energy. Has any of your own work been related to clean energy?
SEELEY: Yes. While I was in Texas, I was working to get the Mayor of Abilene, where I was working, to sign onto my coalition in support of incentivizing solar power and energy efficiency. After meeting with him, I called his office every single day to see if he had made a decision. He kept saying that he needed more time to look into it, but I wanted him to sign on before our press conference, so that I could announce his endorsement. At 4:45 the day before my press conference, I called him one last time, and he told me that he would sign on!
BPGL: It must have been quite exciting to get mayor of Abilene to support your efforts. What are some other memorable experiences you’ve had in this job?
SEELEY: Green Corps Organizers worked in Missouri during the fall to pass a Renewable Electricity Standard on the November ballot. It passed at 66%, and now the utilities must generate 15% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2021. I worked with a team of eight Green Corps organizers to register 5,000 youth voters and collect 23,000 supporter cards from people pledging to vote ‘yes’ on the Renewable Electricity Standard.
One part of our campaign in Missouri was to distribute 100,000 lawn signs across the state. Because they were printed in Kansas City, the task of distributing them to the other organizers across the state was given to my co-organizer and me. What this meant was that we had to drive a 26-foot long Penske moving truck across the state, carrying 80,000 lbs. of lawn signs to four cities in one weekend. It was a pretty wild experience! While in Kansas City we also petitioned the line at an Obama rally, where 75,000 people showed up, which was pretty cool.
BPGL: Now that you’re in Iowa, what issue are you targeting?
SEELEY: This is my third campaign this year. We’re working with Food and Water Watch, which is the organization that fights against corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources. We are launching the School Milk Campaign, with the goal of giving schools across America the clear choice and the right to buy milk that is free of rBGH, an artificial hormone.
I really wanted to work on this campaign because I have always been interested in agricultural issues. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much our agricultural system is impacting our environment and all the tolls agriculture makes on it.
A lot of people have been asking me why we’re working on the issue of artificial hormones in milk if we’re “Green” Corps. They think it is more of a human health issue than an environmental one. But it is really both. It’s about human health, animal welfare, and the environment.
People get involved for all these different reasons. I was really excited to be assigned to this campaign. I’m in Iowa City because we’re targeting the key legislators here. Iowa is a key state in this fight because of its prominence in the agricultural industry.
BPGL: Why is rBGH in milk considered a human health issue?
SEELEY: rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) is injected into cows to increase the rate of milk production. The problem is that it has links to cancer. When you inject rBGH into cows, it increases the amount of another hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which survives digestion and pasteurization, causing increased rates of IGF-1 in humans. Increased levels of IGF-1 have been linked to increased rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.
IGF-1 also harms the cows. They have higher rates of mastitis — an infection in their udders — which then requires increased use of antibiotics, accelerating the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can transfer to humans. This, in turn, increases the potential for antibiotic residues to end up in the milk or meat.
BPGL: I understand the rBGH has been made illegal in some other countries, but our Food and Drug Administration hasn’t banned it in the United States. Are you working toward that as well?
SEELEY: Not directly. rBGH has been banned in most other industrialized countries. The entire European Union, Japan, New Zealand, and Canada have all banned the use of it. The FDA here has decided not to ban it, because they say the research linking the use of rBGH to health issues isn’t conclusive.
Where we’re at right now with the rBGH fight in America is that 15% of farms use rBGH, and over 40% of industrial factory farms use rBGH. These are the farms producing most of the milk supply. But consumer demand is going down. More and more dairy companies don’t want to buy milk with rBGH anymore.
The school lunch programs are the final battleground. Schools have such limited funding and, therefore, limited options about where to purchase their food. A lot of times, they have to buy milk produced with rBGH, because it is the cheapest option for their bids. They are the last market for this milk, so if we can get the schools the right to buy hormone-free milk, there won’t be a market for this milk. Then dairies will have to go rBGH free.
BPGL: Why is our own FDA ignoring the research that other countries find compelling?
SEELEY: There have been studies done across the USA and across the world about this issue, which have shown pretty clearly that there is a connection between cancer and rBGH. I think part of the problem is that our FDA views this as an animal drug. The one test that was done in the USA, upon which approval was based, was done on rats – a very short 30 day study. There have been a lot of people who have objected to the way it was tested and approved. It is unclear exactly what happened.
BPGL: What actions are you taking in Iowa to combat the use of hormonal additives in milk?
SEELEY: Our main targets are the legislators. Representative Loebsack is on the Education and Labor Committee in the House. That committee deals directly with the Child Nutrition Act, and that piece of legislation lays the rules for how schools buy their food and milk for lunch programs. We are trying to get language in the Child Nutrition Act that says schools have the right and choice to buy artificial-hormone-free and organic milk.
We’re working in 8 different states across the country, targeting legislators and asking them to support this language and to champion the issue. We want them to make it important. Senators Harkin and Grassley are on the Senate Agriculture Committee that will deal with it afterwards. We are building grassroots support to get them to take on our position.
Other actions in the works include collecting 1,000 petition signatures. We’re going to generate 100 phone calls into legislators’ offices asking them to support rGBH-free milk in the schools. We’re building up a lot of media attention by holding a press conference, soliciting letters to the editor, submitting opinion editorials, and holding editorial board meetings with different newspapers, asking them to write about our concerns. So we’re doing a lot to raise the visibility and educating people around this issue.
We’re holding district meetings to lobby Congressmen and -women, and bringing in members of our coalition of organizations and different groups to talk to them about why this initiative should be supported. That includes farmers, parents, physicians, food-related groups, and a wide range of others who support getting rBGH milk out of school lunchrooms.
Locally we’re working to pass a resolution in the Iowa City Community School District that says they pledge to only buy hormone-free milk. As a matter of fact, that is something they are already doing, which is great. We want to use that as a sign to our congressmen that it is important to people in Iowa City and should be important to them as well.
BPGL: It sounds like you’ve been making some good progress.
SEELEY: Yes, there have been a lot of people who have been supportive and active on this campaign, who really care about this issue. We’re moving forward quickly.
BPGL: What projects are other Green Corps volunteers working on?
SEELEY: Right now we have a group working with Environment America on their Re-Power America Campaign. They also worked to pass the federal Green Stimulus package. We have a group in Oregon working to pass a statewide Green Initiative package, which would provide increased funding for public transportation, reducing carbon emissions within the state, and some other similar beneficial changes. And some Green Corps volunteers are working with an organization called Corporate Accountability International. They are running a “Think Outside the Bottle” campaign, which is fighting against corporate control of our public water resources.
BPGL: What will you be doing after this project is finished?
SEELEY: I’ll have one more campaign. With Green Corps, we always work in a summer canvass office, raising money, which is such a huge part of a non-profit. It’s important to build our infrastructure so we can continue to do this work. I’m not sure where the office will be — we keep moving around. I’ll do that for the summer and then graduate from Green Corps in August.
BPGL: How has volunteering with Green Corps benefited you in terms of your own experience and your own life path?
SEELEY: Throughout my life, I’ve always known that taking care of the environment was important, that we need to protect our earth and our natural resources. But I had never really taken action. I was aware, but never did anything about it.
I’ve been able to learn so much about what is really going on, about all the problems we’re dealing with. I realize this is something that is highly important affecting all of us, not just something for “green hippies” to be concerned about. This is affecting all of us on so many levels: It’s affecting our health, our politics, our economics, and the survival of our planet. It’s a widespread problem. So it makes sense to me that this is the area where we need to be focusing our actions and really be putting our energy into dealing with these issues. We’re running out of time.
I feel really lucky to have been able to learn about these things, and to work on these campaigns to create changes. As I said before, I always wanted to work for a non-profit to do something to make this a better world. The more I learn about organizing, the more I know it is the best way to make the biggest impact, by building up people power.
What we need to do right now is to influence our legislators and get the corporations of the world to stop abusing our environment and make changes. We’re the ones who ultimately need to get this message across and stop some of the worst atrocities that are creating global climate change. Learning how to empower and activate people and give them the tools they need to accomplish this is the best thing we can do to build volume and have our voices be heard.
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