Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

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By Cameryn Aliya Burnette, Co-Founder and Vice President, Howard University Water and Environment Association

Going green can be difficult to commit to due to the sheer variety of choices you’re faced with in the process. I was confronted with many new questions when I first went green. Natural materials or cruelty-free? Do organic labels matter? and Am I really bout to drop a band on just one dress? I dived into sustainable living headfirst so you don’t have to.

Here’s my list of first steps to going green. These steps are designed to take some of the pressure off any aspiring earth-warriors who would love to be doing a little more to help the cause but don’t exactly know what doing a little more looks like. If that sounds like you, you’re in the right spot – and there’s no cliché stuff like “turn off the water while you brush your teeth.”

Get with like-minded people

Great minds think alike! There are other people out there with ideas on how to live more sustainably. Find a thread on social media, a club on your campus, or a group that meets for dinner monthly. Eco-living looks different for different people, and this is a way to find out how others best incorporate sustainability in their daily lives.

Buy reusables

I know y’all know what reusable water bottles are, and you should be using those, but I have to put you on to reusable plastic bags, reusable straws, and travel utensils. Yes, it is a little extra work to wash these things after using them. But, in addition to reducing pollution, you will save money usually wasted on plastic bags and utensils. Reusables pay for themselves. You won’t need to replace them until they break!

BYOB! Plastic is bad for the earth and you look so much cuter carrying a cool canvas bag back from Barnes and Noble or Trader Joe’s than you do with a bunch of plastic bags.

Here are some honorable mentions for the category of things-that-shouldn’t-be-disposable – cleaning rags, shaving razors, and menstrual products. Paper towels, plastic razors, and pads are things you forget at the store and always seem to run out of during an emergency. The reusable alternatives will last you longer and save you money.

Thrift your wardrobe

Ethical/sustainable/artisan boutiques are hella expensive. There’s a reason that you mostly see influencers and celebrities wearing Reformation. Luckily, there is an alternative you are very familiar with: thrifting! I could go on for years about why you should ditch the mall for a Value Village next time you go shopping, but here’s the bottom line: 1. You save money. A thrift store fit costs 10 dollars on a bad day. 2. You look good. Follow trends if you want, but you will find more unique, one-of-a-kind items at a thrift store. 3. Less stress. Thrift store clothing has already been tested out by someone else, so you won’t have to worry about color fading, garment stretching, or texture changing. 4. Thrifting is fun! Really, there’s no way thrifting can go wrong, so there’s no reason not to get into it already.

Make a shower playlist

This is my favorite sustainable baby step, even though it’s the most basic! Yeah, we need to save water by taking shorter showers, but having to watch the clock or set a timer detracts from the whole experience. The best way to track how long you’ve been in the shower is to make a playlist with 3-5 songs with a total run time of however long you need to get clean. My standard playlist 10 songs, 37 minutes long, and when I hit “Summertime Magic” (song 4), I know it’s time to get out. You can make multiple playlists to spice up your routine or make the same songs part of your everyday routine. Disclaimer: I am not advocating for half-hour showers, but I got a lot of 3c hair to clean, comb, and condition, so best believe I need that extra time on wash days.

Living an eco-friendly, sustainable lifestyle is about transitioning to living within a set of principles, not just a few actions. It will take more than a day to fully commit to this lifestyle and everyone’s circumstances will not allow them to be ‘100 percent green’.

Everyone will have a different opinion on these suggestions. The lifestyle is about doing what’s feasible for you. Any step, even a baby step, is a good step! The bottom line – continue to educate yourself and remember change doesn’t happen overnight. Get out there and find how to make it work!

Cameryn Aliya Burnette is an undergraduate student at Howard University studying Civil and Environmental Engineering. She is the co-founder and vice president of the Howard University Water and Environment Association. Have friends, will travel: She’s a native Houstonian, but you can find her running through the streets of any major city, from New York to Berlin, with her crew.

Photo Credits: Pexels, Ecodallaluna CC-BY-SA 2.0, Cameryn Aliya Burnette

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By Nicole Bateman, DC EcoWomen Board Member

Nearly two years ago, I arrived in D.C. from Seattle. Fresh out of graduate school, I was anxious to become active in a community of environmentally minded people in the District. DC EcoWomen was immediately recommended to me by a former graduate school colleague. During my first event, the Fall Meet and Greet, I spoke to one EcoWoman about recycling and composting and then another about in the ins and outs of proposed carbon pricing models in Washington state. I walked away knowing I had found a community of (nerdy?) women with a passion for these issues to match my own. Within a year of becoming involved with the organization, I was so completely sold on its mission that I applied and was fortunate enough to be selected to join the board.

As we celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of DC EcoWomen’s first EcoHour this month, it’s important to reflect upon all the organization and its members have accomplished. Since that first EcoHour, more than 150 EcoHour speakers have shared their professional insights and expertise with nearly 5,000 EcoWomen.

But the organization has also grown beyond its signature event. EcoWomen have learned how to write an eye-catching resume, negotiate salary with confidence, master public speaking, and communicate their professional brand at our many professional development workshops. Our mentor dinners have also given members an opportunity to meet with and learn from environmental women leaders in a more intimate environment.

Professional development is great, and central to our mission, but DC EcoWomen also knows that actually experiencing the environment we all care about reminds us why this work matters. We encourage our members to get outside with events like the Anacostia River tour and foraging in DC. And with events like clothing swaps, bike workshops, and sustainable food and drink events, EcoWomen have an opportunity to live our eco-values.

What else does DC EcoWomen do? Well, there are book clubs, holiday parties, fitness fundraisers, board meet-and-greets, and so much more. Nearly 100 DC EcoWomen members like me decided to get involved with the organization on a deeper level and have served as board members!

Although the organization has expanded to engage more women in more ways, we have not lost sight of the goal of DC EcoWomen’s founders, Leda Huta, Alicia Wittink, and Tracy Fisher, as they organized the first EcoHour – to create a space for women in environmental fields to build relationships. Those relationships are still the centerpiece of our work and we look forward to the next 15 years of building.

Nicole Bateman is on the research team at the Brookings Institution. She is passionate about protecting natural places and the people who enjoy them through equitable and science-based environmental policy. Nicole has a Master’s in Public Administration, with a specialization in Environmental Policy and Management, from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington.

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By Leda Huta, EcoWomen Co-Founder and Endangered Species Coalition Executive Director

More than 15 years ago, my friend Alicia Wittink and I hatched a plan to launch EcoWomen. We recognized a need in Washington, D.C. for a space to build relationships among women in environmental fields. While it was in its infancy, we roped in our friend Tracy Fisher to help grow the organization.

We had heard that other efforts to do something similar had sputtered out. But there wasn’t much to lose, except perhaps our pride. We organized the first event – the very first EcoHour – and invited our first speaker—Alisa Gravitz, CEO of Green America. We had no idea if anyone would show up. But 15 or so women did. Today, there are more than 5,000 women in the DC EcoWomen network, and 1,000+ women who attend the chapter’s events each year. There are also four more EcoWomen chapters around the country.

The best decision we made was not allowing the organization to become personality-driven. We didn’t want it to succeed or fail based on one person. We took succession planning seriously, making sure that many women played leadership roles, so that any one of us could step in and chair our board. And we always had exceptional, powerhouse chairs of the board.

We quickly created a volunteer board of talented and hard-working women. The discussions and decision-making processes were always energizing. It felt great to be in the presence of these women and jointly grow an organization. The organization’s strength has always been this diversity and collaboration. It is a community based on openness, respect and connection. And it is a model of leadership that should be expanded.

Our signature event was, and has always been, the EcoHours—happy hour with a dose of eco-inspiration from veteran women leaders in the movement. We had some of the most extraordinary speakers—one of the first female National Park Service rangers, the first woman to have a whole neighborhood transplanted because of toxic pollution, and the first Minister of the Environment in Iraq’s Interim Government. We also had accomplished women speakers who went on to play even more important roles in protecting our environment—continuing to become a Member of Congress or the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Hearing from these heroes gave us hope and they still do today.

Now, EcoWomen is stronger than ever, with amazing leaders taking charge. It is so much bigger than Alicia, Tracy, and I envisioned it could become. It offers women so much, not only in building their professional networks, but also in creating community. Environmental work is hard. This community is incredibly restorative. These smart, cool, funny and able women really do have the power to change the world.

Leda Huta, EcoWomen Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition, has 25 years of environmental experience, managing grassroots, national, and international projects. At Endangered Species Coalition, she leads staff across the country in protecting imperiled wildlife, from the charismatic gray wolf and grizzly bear to less visible species, such as Rusty patched bumblebee. Previous to her role at the Endangered Species Coalition, Leda was the Acting Executive Director for Finding Species, an organization that uses photography to advance wildlife and wild lands conservation. Through this work, she had the good fortune to spend time in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Her work at Resource Conservation Alliance protected forests using a “markets” strategy, working with university presses to shift to eco-friendly papers. Leda has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in environmental science and environment and resource management from the University of Toronto. She is currently studying environmental law at Vermont Law School. www.huffingtonpost.com/leda-huta/

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By Stephanie Gagnon, U.S. Country Manager for the Climate Scorecard Project

At the American Association of Geographers (AAG) annual meeting last April, I gave a presentation on how the U.S. could approach global climate negotiations using market-based solutions. My session also included two male presenters and one other female presenter, each of whom engaged with global climate issues and negotiations, and each presentation was followed by time for questions from the audience.

Although my presentation had focused less on the science of climate change and more on policy approaches to global environmental negotiations, I found myself confronted in the Q&A session by a member of the audience, who aggressively challenged me on the science of climate change and claimed that climate change was neither happening nor human-caused.

Once I had recovered from the shock of being aggressively challenged on the veracity of climate change science at a session specifically focused on climate change, I found it interesting that I was the only presenter this man had chosen to use to advance his climate change denial. Hadn’t he had the option to challenge the men who presented before me? Why use a presentation about policy rather than about science to make this point?

In speaking with other female presenters at the conference, I realized I wasn’t alone. Almost all of the other women I spoke to recounted similar experiences in which men publicly belittled their research and findings regarding climate change but didn’t challenge their male colleagues. This was particularly worse for women of color or who identified with other minority groups. Women across the field have reported gender-based harassment at steadily climbing rates.

The phenomenon of men ignoring or challenging women in the sciences is not by any means a new one. In 2015, the hashtag #distractinglysexy trended on Twitter in response to a male Nobel laureate’s comment about his female peers. Men have been using women’s genders to silence them on issues across the board for centuries. But in the area of climate change, a relatively new field of research and activism, the silencing of women takes on a different connotation. Rather than being isolated to a toxic-masculine gatekeeping of STEM fields, it feels more like an attempt to put women in their place, to remind us that once, not so long ago, we would never have been allowed into this space.

The demographic of this kind of harasser fits almost perfectly with the demographic of climate deniers in the U.S. Studies have shown that in general, white, politically conservative males from rural areas who are confident in their understanding of scientific concepts are the most likely demographic to reject mainstream scientific consensus on climate change. And this demographic is the same demographic that is running online harassment campaigns to silence female scientists.

In fact, I would argue that the same underlying factors are at play that both feed into climate denial and motivate the gendered harassment of women. Climate denial is built upon a solid rejection of the “mainstream,” which is seen as an elitist attempt by minorities to grab power from the majority. Climate deniers tend to see attempts to regulate carbon pollution as attempts to infringe on their freedom – this perpetuates the fear that, for example, the government will use climate change as an excuse to tell them which car to drive. This interpretation then feeds into the fear that women will use climate change as an excuse to force men into the domestic work often stereotypically reserved for women.

So how do we combat this insidious sexism that creates an unsafe environment for female climate change professionals?

Toxic masculinity is a major factor at play. Addressing this issue at its source by making men feel safe to express themselves in ways outside the traditional paradigm of masculinity could help men feel less personally threatened by female researchers’ success. Additionally, helping white men in rural areas who may feel left behind by the decline of American manufacturing could help them to feel more included in the climate change conversation. By changing messaging around climate change solutions so that it focuses on opportunities to create a better future rather than limits we should impose on our modern way of life, we can work to address fears that climate change policy necessarily means giving up the things we love. Additionally, working in programs for economic advancement, like training and job placement guarantees in the renewable energy sector, could help create opportunities in areas where current policy only accelerates plant closings.

It is not the responsibility of the scientists who are targets for harassment and silencing to address the issues that enable their harassers. Instead, it is our role as a society to work to create safer spaces for all people producing research and policy recommendations so that we can hear them and learn from them.

Stephanie Gagnon is the U.S. Country Manager for the Climate Scorecard Project. She is passionate about bridging the gap between research and action in both policy and technology to combat climate change. In particular, she focuses on climate change communication strategies to engage key actors around the issue of climate change mitigation.

Photos: Miki Jourdan CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Tracy CC BY 2.0

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By Martha Bohrt, environmental advocate

In my interest to find out how people understand being impacted by climate change, in all parts of their identity, I became aware that, for women, there is an added layer that makes the topic intergenerational. Current mothers worry about the future of their children, as do those considering having children.

It must be noted I am not suggesting that only women are concerned about the state of the world for future generations. I know that, regardless of gender and/or interest in parenthood, this is a concern for many. What I think is worth highlighting is the additional emotional load carried by women when evaluating reproductive choices.

In the race to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change, there are no winners, only losers. However, as the negative impacts of the current climate crisis become more evident, it is also clear that certain groups will carry the burden more heavily.

Initiatives like Zero Hour, for example, organize around the idea that young people should have a say in the development and implementation of environmental policies, since they are the ones who will have to live longer with the consequences of such policies. Women-centered environmental movements like WEDO and GenderCC have brought to the forefront the additional obstacles faced by women in dealing with climate change impacts due to existing gender inequalities.

Networks like Conceivable Future are organizing around the very idea that climate justice is reproductive justice. The mission of the organization focuses on two demands: “the right to make reproductive decisions free from massive, avoidable, government-supported harm; and the demand that the U.S. end fossil fuel subsidies as an act of commitment toward our generation and those that follow.” It promotes testimonies from women evaluating whether to have children considering the climate crisis. It also organizes events in which women can share their experiences in making these decisions.

Make no mistake, these networks aren’t encouraging population control and not having babies. They are merely drawing attention to the fact that, for our generation, the climate crisis is a big, negative factor when viewing the future. According to Conceivable Future, “there is a lot of sadness and anger around this issue for many of our generation. Whether we decide to have children or not, the future looks very uncertain, and we urgently need to meet, discuss, and organize for the well-being of ourselves and our families, however they are composed.”

Full disclosure: I am not considering having children. But learning about organizations working at the intersection of climate issues and women’s issues has really pushed me to think about how I am affected by the climate crisis in areas that I have not considered in the past. Many of my lifestyle choices are impacted by my desire to help decrease my carbon footprint. I use public transportation, I compost, I avoid plastics, etc. So, I wonder, if I were grappling with this decision, would I take this into consideration?

While I don’t have an answer, I would like to pose the same question to you. How does climate change impact your life choices, from choosing light bulbs and appliances, to the more intimate choices that define part of your humanity?

I truly believe solutions to this tough topic can only be found through an exchange of ideas and experiences. I look forward to reading yours!

Martha Bohrt is a professional working to promote the ideal of public service beyond the public sphere, into the private and nonprofit sectors. Martha has worked with local, state, and transnational agencies to advance environmental projects on air and water quality improvement, as well as environmental resilience.

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By Reshmi Mehta, Revel In It founder

We all know that the fashion industry is pretty harmful to a lot of people and the planet. Yet somehow, there are little to no readily available avenues to enable us to change our buying and producing behaviors. So, here’s my starter guide to mindfully interact with clothing in Washington, D.C.

Clothes you have

Learning to love what you have is step #1. We all have our own way of getting better at this step. If you have thoughts to share, write them in the comments! Learning to care for what you love is a way to level up.

Caring for your clothes means doing what you can to prolong the life of your clothes. Like washing them only when you absolutely need to, and learning the way they should be cleaned. Understand what those symbols on the care labels of your clothes actually mean here! There’s actually a lot on the internet about keeping your beloved items wearable. Check out some useful articles here, here here, here and here.

But, this list is about accessible resources to us in D.C. So, when you run into tears in your clothing, or find yourself in need of a hem, mending is the way to go! There are some fun and quick ways to mend your clothes in our city. FabLab is a D.C. public library initiative that hosts free mending and sewing 101 workshops in libraries around D.C. Soon it will have a permanent physical space with instructors and sewing machines and more! This will be free and accessible to anyone with a library account. The space is set to open later this year.

Fellow community members take action by hosting their own mending workshops around D.C., like the folks who teach classes through their Sew Queer series. Their workshops are sometimes free and sometimes cost $. Do you know of any other free or low cost mending workshops in D.C.? Share your knowledge in the comments.

Then, there are more in-depth workshops for those who want to invest in yourself a bit more and build-up your skills in mending and sewing from scratch. The Stitch Sew Shop in Alexandria is a beautiful space that holds sewing patterns to purchase, and has an impressive array of classes and workshops, but be ready to spend some $$. Another pricey-but-worth-the-skills workshop is the occasional embroidery and sewing 101 workshops hosted by The Lemon Collective up in Petworth. I bet there are more workshops like these in D.C., and the broader DMV, so feel free to leave information on those in the comments too.

Clothes you don’t want anymore

Knowing that you don’t like a piece of clothing is great! Learning to responsibly get rid of those items is the hard part. One way you can get rid of them, and find something new to you, is to swap! I host seasonal clothing swaps through my community organization called Revel In It. I look for different venues around the city to host in, and I make them free and open to all, like really free – no money or clothing are required to participate. The next one will be at the West End Library on Saturday March 23rd, from 1-4 pm.

Other swaps have been known to take place at Potter’s House and different venues around D.C., as well as through the organization Swap DC. Their swaps require a low up-front cost to participate.

You can also donate your unwanted clothes to organizations that are serving our community. Great examples include Martha’s Table, Dress for Success and Casa Ruby. Each organization has its own needs in terms of types of clothes, so check-out their sites for more information.

Finding new clothes

The best way to shop ethically and sustainably is to thrift. D.C. has some great options, like the Mt. Pleasant boutique Rosalia’s, which has a decent selection, specifically for work wear, winter coats and menswear. Bonus: there is a fabulous seamstress in house! I also swear by Second Story Boutique on Georgia Avenue, which is actually a consignment shop as well, and holds a constant rotation of eclectic feminine wear. Tell me your go to thrift shops in the comments.

As for buying brand new in D.C., the options are slim. There’s some homegrown brands like Mimi Miller that design and produce their garments in the District, as well as some other brands that are showcased at the Steadfast Supply shop. The great thing about locally made items is that you can find the makers’ information and ask more questions about their production processes. Another exciting local venture is Lady Farmer, a brand run by a mother daughter duo who are experimenting with a farm-to-closet business with their farm just outside D.C.

But let’s be real, a lot of us shop online from businesses that are not local, and definitely not ethical in their practices. To help sift through all the noise, I created a Facebook group for my D.C. community, and beyond, to share our ethical and sustainable finds and to learn to mindfully interact with our clothes together. Come join the discussion!

Some more information on what “ethical” and “sustainable” clothing is, resources to help you when buying online, and more, are below.

Resources

Reshmi Mehta is an international development and social impact professional currently in DC and leads the community organization, Revel in It, a slow fashion enabler. You can find her at coffee shops around the city, searching the web for more opportunities to advocate for slow fashion and a decent espresso.

Photo Credits: fashionrevolution.org & Reshmi Mehta

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By Whitney Ricker, FEMA contractor and climate justice advocate

It’s common knowledge at this point; women (on average) are more likely than men to be affected by climate change. This fact usually conjures images of women in the Global South who will face extreme hardship due to severe famine, migration, and violence caused by the impacts of climate change and de-stabilization. Children who grow up in these situations will likely be at a large disadvantage due to poor economic conditions, and physical and mental health issues stemming from their struggles.

While these are important issues to think about on a global stage, it can be easy to overlook what is already happening in our own backyard. Read on for more information on the connection between women, children, poverty and climate change.

Poverty Among Women and Children in the District

Women in the District face homelessness at a higher rate than their male counterparts, and over a quarter of children live in poverty. While residents in Washington, D.C. become wealthier on average, the gap between the haves and have-nots also grows. For instance, the housing prices within the District have risen to $602,500, with no signs of going down. Gentrification continues to push families and individuals out of neighborhoods, which leaves a large number in poverty. The statistics below show the bigger picture – the populations that now live under the poverty line:

Extreme Weather and Climate Change in the District

Flooding is expected to be a major issue facing D.C. in the coming decades. As land in the District sinks and increasing sea levels raise the waters of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, extreme flooding events will inundate further inland, including portions of Anacostia, the Tidal Basin, and the Southwest Waterfront. Inundation can lead to issues, including storm drain backups and potential sewage overflows, especially in sections of the city where old infrastructure has not been updated.

Climate change is increasing extreme weather events. As poverty grows within the District, extreme weather will cause intense, new challenges for those who face poverty. During the summer months, Washington, D.C. is subjected to the “Urban Heat Island Effect,” which is when urban centers experience higher temperatures than surrounding areas during extreme heat events. Numerous factors contribute to this event, such as dark pavements absorbing heat and less greenery to deflect heat and cool down surrounding areas.

During the hottest months of the year, increased temperatures can have severe health impacts, especially for expectant mothers, children, the elderly, and those who in poverty.

The health impacts include the following:

  • Severe dehydration
  • Dizziness/fainting
  • Respiratory illness
  • Cardiovascular illness
  • Heat stroke

Research has shown correlations between extreme weather events and an increase in overall violence. Extreme heat events are correlated with increased rates of violent crime, especially in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods. Women and children are more likely to experience sexual violence, abuse, and exploitation following all types of natural disasters. In 2018, violent crime had decreased overall in D.C. However, a natural disaster could quickly change the trend.

How to Help

On a large scale, it will take social reform, healthcare reform, and many other measures to ensure that women and children in poverty in Washington, D.C. are prepared for the impacts of climate change. Here are a few ways that you can help daily.

Volunteer – There are dozens of shelters and food banks across the D.C. region, along with other organizations dedicated to helping women who have suffered abuse and/or other trauma. If you have time, here is a list of shelters in the District. Along with volunteering at shelters, volunteering with children/teenagers who live in harsh circumstances can have a positive impact for years to come.

Help those you encounter – Instead of giving money to those you see on the street, consider giving them a nutritious snack, or carry around a cold bottle of water to give to someone on a hot day. A small act could be a lifesaver to someone living on the streets.

Donate – Shelters are always in need of supplies, food, and clothing to distribute. Consider cleaning out your closet or buying a few extra items at the store to donate to local shelters.

Advocate for children and education – Advocating for a good education, especially around the connection between poverty and climate change, can have big impacts on a large scale.

Whitney Ricker is a recent graduate of James Madison University, where she studied Geographic Science with an emphasis on Environmental Conservation, Sustainability, and Development. She is currently employed as a FEMA contractor, and when she isn’t advocating for climate justice, she can be found watching documentaries and British TV shows at home.

Photo Credits: allenran 917 CC BY 2.0, Daniel Lobo CC BY 2.0, Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño CC BY 2.0, Ajari CC BY 2.0 and Elvert Barnes CC BY-SA 2.0

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By Kelsey Figone, local food system and sustainability advocate

I asked my sister to describe an entrepreneur for me. “A man, obviously…he’s in front of a whiteboard, pitching an idea.”

This is our stereotype of the entrepreneur, a man that we simultaneously glorify and mock for his contributions to the changing face of business. But the entrepreneurs I’ve met recently are quite different. They look like women wearing durable pants and driving tractors. They talk about risk and cash flow, but they also talk about gravity-fed irrigation systems and weed control. They slice open a sun jewel melon in the field and pass around tastes during a break in harvesting. They know numbers and long days at work and competition, but they also know what it’s like to “live a life in tune with natural cycles.” These entrepreneurs are women farmers.

I met Liz Whitehurst, farmer and owner of Owl’s Nest Farm in Upper Marlboro, MD, three years ago at the Petworth Farmer’s Market. I joined her community-supported agriculture (CSA) program and our friendship ignited my interest in food and local agriculture.

I’ve carried that interest in my move to Oregon this year, where I met Brenda Frketich via her farm blog. She is the third generation to farm her family’s 1,000 acres of grass seed, hazelnuts, and various other seed crops.

These two women may farm at different scales and with different growing practices, but they are similar in that they both own and operate their own business.

So, what does it mean to be a modern-day female entrepreneur in agriculture? Liz and Brenda shared their experiences with me, and these are their realities.

Agriculture as business

Make no mistake, these women aren’t homesteading or “going back to the land” – these farms are their businesses. Agriculture, in many ways, is the opposite of nature because it harnesses the land for human needs.

“It is easy to romanticize this off-the-grid thing, but I’m totally ‘on-the-grid,’” Liz said. “I’m running a business, number one, that has employees and pays taxes like everybody else. Still, it’s beautiful that it’s not just that.”

While Liz manages her business solo, Brenda’s operation is a family endeavor. Brenda and her husband took over her parents’ land. Right now, the office work is chiefly her responsibility and she does a lot of farming with her three children in tow. The day-to-day of her job often focuses on planning, forecasting, and other typical office and financial activities.

While she grew up on the farm, she hadn’t looked at the farm as a career until mid-way through college. “I knew a lot about harvest because that is when I worked on the farm the most,” Brenda said. “But I had no idea about all the work that went in, year-round, to growing a crop and running a business.”

Women in agriculture

It’s clear that owning a farm shares many aspects of other, more mainstream, entrepreneurial endeavors. Unfortunately, one of those aspects includes a historical resistance to women owners.

“When I first started, I had multiple women approach me, saying that their dads wouldn’t let them farm because of the physical labor side of things,” Brenda said.

She initially encountered some physical barriers, such as adapting equipment to quite literally “fit” her or accommodate her when she was working alone. Now, she feels a lot of that has changed because of “how far farming has come with the use of technology.” “Something as simple as a cell phone has allowed me to stay a lot more involved ‘on the farm’ even when I’m home with my kids,” Brenda said.

She feels part of a generation and a region that has mostly accepted women farmers and encourages women not to despair. “We go to meetings where we are the only woman,” Brenda said. “We joke about it, and we move on because we all know it doesn’t really matter, the soil doesn’t care, the tractor doesn’t care, the plants don’t care. And if a guy does care, then that’s on him.”

Liz admits that she occasionally encounters male farmers who mansplain and assume that she needs help, even some “cool, progressive men.” Still, she doesn’t let it discourage her. She capitalizes on those perceptions of herself as weak and lets them give her a hand, thinking, “whatever, if you’re going to help me out!”

Support for farmers

Neither Brenda nor Liz will deny the incredible help they’ve received from family, mentors, and the broader farming community. Their parents supported them in different ways, with direct farming experience and land, or financial support to purchase a farm.

Today, they go to meetings, workshops, and retreats, where they can learn about the latest technology and methods from peers. They connect with other farmers at farmer’s markets and make trades for massages or meat or a crop that wasn’t successful. They cooperatively buy seed or equipment with neighboring farmers to capitalize on economies of scale. They also respond to inquiries from other young women farmers looking to get started, in order to keep that community going.

Liz views her role as a mediator between the land and the people. This mediator role helps her CSA grow and keeps human interaction at the center of her work. For both Liz and Brenda, farming is more than the land and its plants. They cultivate communities.

Considerations for new farmers

It’s important to note, though, that farming is a challenging field to break into. Both Brenda and Liz are white women, and were steeped in agriculture before deciding to make the career switch themselves. Like Nichelle Harriott’s blog post in January and Leah Penniman’s recent article on Civil Eats point out, communities of color may associate agriculture with slavery and sharecropping.

Also, don’t discount the financial barriers to starting a farm, with its high up-front cost and land access challenges. Most U.S. farm households bring in significant income from off-farm sources, with either a spouse or another family member working an off-farm or off-season job.

“It’s good to look seriously at your relationship with money and things,” Liz said. “If you’re going to be a farmer, you’re not going to be rich, I don’t know any rich farmers.”

Despite the challenges, Brenda and Liz are proud of the work they do every day. They’re entrepreneurs in their own right. As fewer people choose to farm, the population grows, and society increasingly values urban-centered desk jobs, their role in our food system is important. They need our support and investment, just like any other entrepreneur. Consider that the next time you go grocery shopping!

Kelsey Figone designed and implemented international engagement programs with PYXERA Global in Washington, DC. While living in our nation’s capital, she was a passionate advocate for strengthening and diversifying local food systems. She recently moved back to the Pacific Northwest where she is excited to delve into local issues of food and sustainability.

posted by | on , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on DC’s Ambitious New Renewable Energy Law: 7 Things You Need to Know

By Lauren Meling, digital strategist and DC EcoWomen member

A lot of frightening environmental news have made headlines lately. But, just before the end of 2018, there was a big positive story that made headlines around the country and happened here in our area. As a DC EcoWoman or supporter, you may have heard that DC’s going to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2032. There’s actually a lot more to this story than just the applaudable headline. Here are seven of the most interesting takeaways.

  1.  It’s the most ambitious clean energy transition in the country

The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 mandates DC energy providers to source 100 percent renewable energy by 2032, and replaces a previous target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2032. And before you ask — nuclear energy is not considered a renewable energy in this rule.

Unlike some other cities, DC is legally required to meet the mandate. It is not a voluntary ambition. The law will require its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to be 100 percent renewable by 2032. It means DC will be one of the first large cities to join the 100 percent renewable club, which already includes several smaller cities and towns, and will beat larger areas like California or Hawaii by several years.

DC is able to meet this accelerated timeline because it does not produce much energy within its borders. It relies on electricity generated elsewhere and transmitted in the PJM electrical grid.

  1. Utilities were on board

In a statement, Pepco Holdings called it “an important step toward advancing the cause of clean energy for the benefit of every ward in the District of Columbia.”

Surprised? I wouldn’t blame you. But what’s unique about this law is that utilities will be financially penalized for missing incremental renewable energy targets — fines which will go toward supporting renewable energy development. As GGW puts it:

The burden falls on utility companies to meet benchmarks for renewable electricity—or pay a price. Every year, the city sets renewable energy standards for companies to hit that increase incrementally until they reach 100 percent in 2032. What happens if companies don’t meet those standards? The city requires electricity suppliers to make compliance payments into D.C.’s Renewable Energy Development Fund (REDF).

An important note: If you don’t want to wait until 2032, or if you live outside the District, you can purchase clean energy credits through a provider like Arcadia, Clean Choice, or others. Learn more (PDF)

  1. Solar production will rise to 10 percent by 2045

As of 2015, solar energy only produced about 1 percent of DC’s electricity. That’s not surprising considering the urbanized environment only encompasses 68 square miles. While there’s little potential for large-scale solar farms, there’s still enormous possibility for rooftop solar on buildings, large and small, across the District.

DC already provides subsidized rooftop solar through its Solar for All program. The new law will provide energy bill assistance to support low- and moderate-income residents. Thirty percent of the additional revenue collected will be put aside for programs like weatherization and bill assistance for low-income households, as well as job training in energy efficiency fields. At least $3 million annually will also be allocated toward energy efficiency upgrades in affordable housing buildings. Win-win-win!

  1. Transportation is going renewable, too

Transportation is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in DC (22 percent). Other cities/areas have passed similar laws but gave themselves longer timelines, and/or did not include transportation. What’s particularly exciting about DC’s new law is that by 2045, all public transportation and privately-owned vehicle fleets in DC will not produce GHG emissions. “Privately-owned fleet vehicles” means that if you’re transporting over 50 passengers, it’s got to be zero-emissions.

While ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber are not included, they are required to create a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan. Private vehicles, meanwhile, are not covered.

  1. Even existing buildings are included

DC already ranks first for leadership in energy and environmental design… or rather, it would, if it were a state. Buildings, however, are still the largest single source of GHG emissions in the city (74 percent). Major cities have made headlines after encouraging new buildings to include green roofs or rooftop solar. What’s different about DC’s law is that it includes provisions for existing buildings to increase their energy efficiency, rather than placing the impetus on new construction.

In fact, there’s a fantastic resource called Benchmark DC, which displays the energy and water usage and ‘grade’ of major buildings in the District.

  1. It funds DC’s green bank

The new law also helps fund DC’s green financing bank, an important, if not headline-grabbing, way to support renewable energy and other sustainable initiatives. An additional assessment on dirty energy sources like natural gas will fund the green bank with $15 million per year in 2020 and 2021, and $10 million per year for the next 4 years. These funds will go towards financing programs for energy efficiency or renewable energy projects to lower energy costs. This includes anything from roof repairs, insulation, installing new windows, to solar panels for homes.

  1. It’s all part of a bigger picture to address climate change in our backyard

The vision of Sustainable DC 2.0 is to make DC the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States in just 20 years. The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 is just one part of the overall Sustainable DC 2.0 vision, which also has plans of action for nature, transportation, food waste, climate resilience, energy, water, and more, including the recent ban on plastic straws and foam takeout containers.

Some questions still remain

While everything listed above is a positive development, several questions still remain. What exactly will Lyft and Uber do to reduce GHG emissions, and how will they be held accountable? Where does WMATA fit into this — will the Metro also need to be powered by renewables, as it encompasses operations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia and is governed by the WMATA board and not the city council? What will become of the Capitol Power Plant? For some great insight, check out Greater Greater Washington’s recap.

To end on a positive note, an analysis based on a previous version of the bill estimated it would result in a 50 percent reduction of GHGs. A new analysis has not yet been released, but if it’s anywhere close to that, we are on track to meet the recommended reduction in GHGs that climate scientists have recently called for by 2030. To take a closer look at the plan, visit Clean Energy DC’s interactive microsite.

Are you excited about this development, or do you have concerns? Comment below to discuss this topic.

Lauren Meling has dedicated her career to finding what exactly it takes to make people take action online to serve a cause. She uses her digital strategy experience and skillset combining email marketing, social media, search engine marketing, website optimization, and content creation to engage online communities in meaningful action to confront some of the most challenging crises humanity faces today. She may not be a superhero, but she plays one on the internet.

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Under the Sea this World Wildlife Day

By Macy Placide, Protect Our Species Campaign Manager, Earth Day Network

On March 3, people around the globe will celebrate World Wildlife Day. The day focuses on the world’s wild animals and plants, while taking stock of Earth’s biodiversity. It is a significant day dedicated to nonhuman life forms and provides an opportunity to amplify nature’s voice.

This year’s World Wildlife Day theme, “Life below water: for people and planet”, aims to raise awareness of the incredibly rich and diverse array of marine life and the critical role that marine resources play in our lives, and the lives of others across the world, each day. This is a fitting and critical theme to address, given the current threats facing our oceans and marine species. Climate change, pollution, habitat loss, overexploitation, and illegal fishing are major drivers that are destroying ocean life and putting delicate marine ecosystems at risk of a tipping point.

Wildlife Crime

This year’s theme reflects the intimate connection between people and the planet, especially our dependence on a healthy ocean ecosystem. Yet, as we endeavor to safeguard and preserve these systems, human influence has caused significant, and potentially irreversible, damage that is leaving our seas in a state of impotent decline. Human exploitation is directly responsible for the leading causes of marine species demise. From coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific to sharks on the high seas, there is no corner of the ocean that human activity has not impacted.

Human appetites have put tremendous pressure on fishing populations. A whopping 90 percent of global fish stocks are exploited to meet growing demand and growing populations, creating big problems for the future of global food security and the security of life in the ocean.

Various criminal activities are also pushing fish and other marine species closer to the brink of extinction. The vaquita is one species caught in the crossfires of crime. Spanish for “little cow,” this harmless porpoise is one of the world’s rarest marine mammals found only in the Sea of Cortez. However, due to the illegal methods used to catch the totoaba, a unique type of fish caught for its swim bladders that are a popular delicacy in parts of Asia, vaquita porpoises end up snared and killed by ghost nets meant for totoabas. With only a dozen vaquitas left, efforts to prevent the animal from vanishing Earth have not been successful. For a greater look at what’s going on behind this sad story, check out this interview and harrowing new documentary about the vaquita that won the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Stories like the vaquitas reflect the devastating reality of the illicit activities that plague our oceans. Yet, the perpetrators involved also have direct links to other nefarious crimes, including drugs, arms and human trafficking. On land, other wildlife crimes, including elephant and rhino poaching, also have significant ties to corruption that fuels transnational organized crime and terrorist organizations like al-Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The Dark Side of Technology

If it seems things can’t get worse, advances in technology have propagated the growth and acceleration of wildlife crime across numerous platforms, including the internet, smartphone apps, and social media. Technology and globalization have made it easier than ever to commit, and get away with, dark and illegal activities at unbreakable speed. From online sales of wildlife and fish products, to advertising live endangered species as pets through the illegal pet trade, it has become increasingly challenging to turn the tide against wildlife crimes.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a talk from the founder and director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center (TraCC), Dr. Louise Shelley. During her talk, she shared a glimpse of her new book, “Dark Commerce: How a New Illicit Economy Is Threatening Our Future.” It examines the complex and hidden presence of many illegal online markets, including wildlife crime, and  affirms that the business of dark commerce on the web undermines the safety and security of the global community. The event offered a sobering look at the “dirty side” of the internet and offerred ways in which the global community can respond to the challenges in this space. You can find more information about the book here.

A Future for Wildlife

Whether its crimes on the web, in the ocean or on land, there is not a “one size fits all” approach to tackling the daunting, and often tragic, realities that face wildlife each day. Yet as dark as these times may seem, with so many other issues our world faces, there are unprecedented efforts and initiatives to fight and win the war against wildlife crime.

World Wildlife Day offers an opportunity for you to be a voice for animals! There are so many ways to get involved and there are events taking place all over the world. For those in the District, you can join Preserving American Wildlife in celebrating the day by attending their rally, which includes a host of distinguished speakers and educational activities. If there is one thing you can do this year, speak up and defend a future for all wildlife!

Macy Placide is a graduate from the School of International Service at American University, where she received her Master’s degree in Global Environmental Policy.  She recently started working for the Earth Day Network as their Protect Our Species Campaign Manager.

Photo Credits: Pic 1 Henry Burrows CC BY-SA 2.0; Pic 2 Paula Olson, NOAA, public domain; Pic 3 Remko van Dokkum CC BY 2.0