Staff reflections on Earth Day 2020

The Cuyahoga River was once so filled with pollution that it burned: now, it’s a place for recreation and respite. In the 1970’s, acid rain created dead zones in the Adirondacks where fish could not survive; today life is returning to the streams and ponds of New York. And in our own lakes we can listen to Loons calling, more numerous than they have been in decades. 

April 22nd marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It’s a great moment to celebrate the successful steps we’ve taken in protecting the earth and its communities, while at the same time committing ourselves to the hard work that still lies ahead. 

I asked my colleagues at Shelburne Farms, “What books and experiences influenced you to get involved in environmental work?” In their responses they talked about the joy of spending time with their families, or how a book helped put words to a feeling they had their entire life. A few themes emerged that made their stories universal, and at the same time incredibly topical: community, connection, and care.


Community

At this unique moment in history, we are all finding the networks of compassion that help us endure. We reach out to the people who support us, and who we support in turn. Our view of community is expansive, and includes our relationships to each other, as well as the natural world.

“Growing up, both my brother and I loved Wild Season (Allan W. Eckert) – a fascinating peek into nature’s connected creatures on a lake in northcentral U.S. When I asked him about it recently, it made me realize that my own love of the natural world is linked forever to my love of family, and my memories of endlessly exploring the woods behind our house; building forts, making sumac lemonade, tracking where the towhee sang, and, sometimes, reading and cherishing the same books.”

— Holly Brough, Director of Communications

“In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer discusses how all of our interactions with our environment are relational, and how we should foster caring, reciprocal, gratitude-filled relationships with our own habitats and all of the beings who inhabit them.”

— Maisie Anrod, Education Fellow

“My parents’ love and appreciation of nature influenced my own passion for protecting the earth. We didn’t have money for vacations, but they were always piling the six of us into the car for camping and fishing trips and making those full of adventure and discovery.”

— Betsy Rosenbluth, Project Director for VT FEED

“I had two unforgettable college professors, in Ornithology and Large Animal Medicine. They were incredible teachers; passionate about their subject and dedicated to making our learning experience dynamic, experiential, hands on, and absolutely fascinating!”

— Cat Wright, Family Program Coordinator

“One book that was published soon after the first Earth Day and had a strong influence on me was Small is Beautiful (E. F. Schumacher). It was exciting to hear an economist introduce the idea of developing “appropriate technologies” to support healthy community development and environmental stewardship.”

— Alec Webb, President


Connection

Although we may be physically distant, we find solace in reconnecting to the land and to each other. Our connections remind us that we are a part of something larger than ourselves, and with that realization comes reciprocity and responsibility.

“The experience that influenced me most was a three-year stint as a farm assistant on a small, diversified organic farm on the Maine Coast. I participated in the Earth’s natural cycles in a new way and I gained a lot of practical knowledge and humility that has shaped how I see others and how I teach students.”

— Andy Whitaker, Program Admin. Coordinator

“In college I had the experience of interning for an organization trying to protect Utah’s red rock Wilderness. While I had understood in a vague sense that environmental landscapes were in danger of being lost, this experience showed me the reasons why we were losing that land and how hard it is, once the land is lost, to reclaim and protect it.“

— Rebecca “Becky” Johnston, Development Asst.

“My understanding of what the environment is, and our place within it, expanded in a college class.  I came to know the environment as everything that surrounds us, and to think deeply about interconnection. In noticing the estuarine places where “human” and “nature” blend together—from schools to gardens—I believe we can imagine sustainable paths forward.”

— Maisie Anrod, Education Fellow

“I had an amazing teacher who taught most of our classes outside—in the woods, at the pond and in the fields. He inspired me to learn more about the natural world and cultivated my sense of curiosity and wonder. He also reinforced the teaching philosophy that the most meaningful learning can happen outside of the classroom walls!”

— Megan Camp, Vice President

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer has changed the way I look at the natural world and my relationship to it. She put in words what I have been feeling since I was a child and I love the way she intersects her indigeneity, her work in the field of science, and her experience as a person of the world, and weaves them all together in a such a beautiful way that you don’t even realize you’re getting schooled.”

— Courtney Mulcahey, School Programs Coordinator


Caring

Earth Day is about taking action and caring for the ecological communities that sustain us. The formative experiences that have shaped our appreciation of the natural world culminate in stewardship. In uncertain times, acts of caring shine especially bright. 

The Unsettling of America (Wendell Berry) influenced me deeply; especially his assertion that the ecological crisis is a crisis of character. I support people, communities and relationships on their path to stewardship.”

— Andy Barker, Project Director, Burlington City and Lake Semester

“Working at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Conservation Camps opened me up to ecosystems and interdependence in a real way, beyond just learning about it from textbooks. It was the first time I engaged with it all in an authentic way.”

— Courtney Mulcahey, School Programs Coordinator

“Growing up on Shelburne Farms gave me an appreciation for the lake, the land and animals, and wanting to do my part to keep our waters and planet clean and beautiful for future generations.”

— Jane Boisvert, Gift Administrative Coordinator

“The book that had the strongest influence on my environmental and social justice work was Diet for a Small Planet (Frances Moore Lappe). I was inspired by her belief that food can be the best teacher for understanding the role that political and economic structures play in influencing the health of the environment and communities.”

— Megan Camp, Vice President

“I was fortunate as a child to experience the life and work of a dairy farm in a beautiful part of the world and then grew up in the context of the social turmoil and growing environmental awareness of the 1960s.  This combination of experiences lead to my lifelong interest in working at Shelburne Farms to advance land conservation, healthy local food and energy systems, and supporting educators in developing community-based education programs for a sustainable future.”

— Alec Webb, President


Community, connection, and caring: these themes bolster our spirits as we commit ourselves to the ongoing work of stewarding the environment and looking after each other. As we look forward, we will find within ourselves the motivation to do something — anything — that makes our world better. 

Shelburne Farms is just one part of this journey; we’d love to add your voice to the story. What books or experiences have driven you to care for our planet? Add your response in the comments.

On behalf of myself and all the staff at Shelburne Farms, I hope you had a verdant Earth Day.

Simon

Books mentioned

Simon Schreier

Posted by Simon Schreier

April 22, 2020

Comments

Thank you! Wonderful post!
Loved reading this post! I also added all the great book recommendations to my reading list. Thank you!

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