In Person / Desa Van Laarhoven
By SARA FEIJO
October 21, 2010 12:00 AM
Marion Institute Executive Director Desa Van Laarhoven discovered her interest in ecological living as a child growing up on the family's small farm in Lakeville. Later, she began to understand the relationship between the actions she takes and their effects on animals, other humans and the natural habitat. That interest helped steer her to study environmental science and biology at Stonehill College.
During her junior year, Van Laarhoven studied in Australia and was impressed with the country's advances in sustainable living. In her daily life, she tries to be more sustainable — gardening, canning, hanging clothes instead of using the drier, and using refillable containers. She also organizes the yearly Bioneers by the Bay / Connecting for Change conference in New Bedford, where some of the brightest professional minds in the field of sustainability and ecological living gather for lectures, teaching and interaction.
Q: How much time do you spend organizing the conference?
A: I probably spend approximately 25 percent of my time per year. Basically we have seven programs and the conference is only one of seven programs. We have 13 projects. So, I would say it's the one that devotes most of my time. As far as the rest of the team, we have two employees in particular that split their time, so 50 percent of their time goes to the conference all year long. The rest (of the employees) just pitch in the last month of the conference ... It's very, very gratifying, but it's really stressful because there are so many details with 100 workshops and presenters. One hundred people that we have to organize. When are they going to speak? When are they going to deliver their book signing? ... We're expecting this year approximately 2,000 attendees.
Q: How has the conference grown?
A: I would say it's grown very organically, meaning that it really had a steady growth and not just a boom. We basically outgrew the space at UMass Dartmouth. We were originally at UMass Dartmouth, from 2005, for three years. And then in 2008 ... we moved to New Bedford. Now, we're at a point that we're meeting maxim capacity for the Zeiterion Theatre. One of the things we really strive to do is to not have any economic barriers. People want to get to the conference; we want to get them there. So, we've made a lot of free and open-to-the-public events, as portions of the conference.
Q: What is the most important aspect of the conference?
A: I think it's a solutions-based conference and I think that's the most important thing. We try not to just talk about the issues without giving a solution. We try to provide solutions and avenues people can go and apply it to their own self and their own life. The part of this conference that is really important is that it is really diverse and it shows the connections and that we are all connected. I think depicting the connections between different facets of society, as well as humanity and nature, as well as health and healing, is connected to green business ... You can't take one of those things ... out of the equation and not affect the rest of them. Diversity is so important and is the key to life and the key to success.
Q: What is your vision of the world?
A: I have a lot of hope. I'm very idealistic. I feel as though we are at a very critical juncture and that we each have to take personal responsibility and accountability for our lives. We have to, as individuals, understand that we are truly connected to each other, and so my actions affect my neighbors. I think that the world wants to know that and there's so many amazing people out there; they just feel really overwhelmed. I'm excited. I think we're going to move to a really great place in the world. There's so much to learn from each other. Once we just put our egos in check, that we don't have all the right answers, but that we're open and we want to have a more just, love-filled world. It's a work in progress, continuing to put the positive energy out there. Our country has come a long way with a lot of beautiful things and it's really exciting. It's an exiting time to live.
Q: How do you relate these ideas to New Bedford?
A: New Bedford is the perfect place. It's so culturally rich. We try to make sure that New Bedford has a voice in the conference as well and make sure that New Bedford is part of the showcase as well as there to learn. I think that New Bedford has so much to give and so much for people to learn from. It's a really wonderful place. I've grown to love New Bedford so much more than I would ever imagined.
Van Laarhoven became executive director of the institute in 2007. The Marion Institute is member based and non-for-profit. It seeks solutions to root-cause issues, social justice and sustainability. The Bioneers by the Bay conference is Oct. 22-24. For information, visit www.marioninstitute.org.
Random thoughts about life and gardens from the Southcoast of Massachusetts near the shores of Buzzard's Bay.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Connecting for Change
For the last two days I have attended a conference sponsored by the Marion Institute, Bioneers by the Bay – Connecting for Change. It is about sustainability and social action. Thanks to the Marion Institute I attended on a partial scholarship. It is rather expensive to attend the conference but the MI made it very affordable. Thank you! I attended mostly to learn about agricultural practices and sustainability. What I saw was much more than that. They have a very vibrant youth initiative program. I was so impressed! I heard that at least 1,000 young people were in attendance. Of those that I heard comment at workshops and observed on the streets – we are lucky! This just may be Generation Heroes. They get it and not only that – they aren’t afraid to speak up and be heard. Their courage is awe-inspiring. They will make a difference.
This conference draws people from all over the country but mostly the East Coast. And leastly (new word?) Greater New Bedford. I took a trolley tour of new, sustainable, green buildings in New Bedford. Of the 30+ people on board I think less than 10 raised their hands as coming from Greater New Bedford. Maybe because residents didn’t think a tour of their own city would be informative. But I found out about the Coalition for Buzzards Bay’s new green building, about UMass Dartmouth’s brand new location for a future green job training site, about Beaumont Solar – a former sign company turned solar engineers who operate out of a building that uses 0 electricity from the grid. I also learned about POWER, a youth program that encourages social action in terms of green technologies and community action. I feel I know New Bedford. I did not know most of these things.
Today I went to a workshop by Annie Leonard. She is the author of The Story of Stuff. The Story of Stuff is a wonderful little (20 minute) partially animated film about where our stuff comes from and where it goes. I first saw the film about 3 years ago. She now has many more films including The Story of Bottled Water, The Story of Electronics and more. One thing she talked about has really floored me. It seems there is a program sweeping the country called Recycle Bank. Municipalities have recycle bins with computer chips in them. When they empty the bin, the contents are weighed and the resident gets credit for the amount they recycle – monetary credit. At first thought you might say “cool!” But it really is a program that encourages consumerism. You purchase and recycle water bottles and get money credit to go back to Walmart or Target or wherever to buy more water bottles. I have one reusable water bottle that I refill from the tap. I have very little to put in the recycle bin. I do not get rewarded. Something is wrong here. The goal shouldn’t be to recycle more but to buy less in the first place. One of the frightening things Annie talked about was how Glenn Beck has often spoken out against her stand on less consumerism to point where she has received hate mail and death threats! That’s right – death threats for encouraging social activism! The FBI told her to stop publicizing her public appearances! Now why would someone whose vocation is to educate people on social action stop letting people know where they can see her???
She had audience participation. One woman spoke of a city program to clean up litter. She mentioned that today’s kids don’t have the “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” campaign that we had as kids. Annie pointed out that although it was a good message it really didn’t come from a good source. Seems it was the soda companies counter advertisement campaign to stop the bottle bills. They were trying to tell the public not to litter with their individual serving sized soda cans so they (soda co.) wouldn’t have to deal with taking back empties.
On a personal note I am basically unemployed. Couldn’t stand working for a company that had lost sight of its real mission. Although my landlord is bugging me to pay the rent and I don’t know if I will be able to pay phone, lights, etc. next month, I feel good about the decision to leave. I feel energized again. I truly believe that something good and right for me is around the corner. Let’s just hope I’m not homeless before it happens!
And the grand total from this year’s harvest is….182.73 pounds of food! Actually more like 200. I didn’t weigh cucumbers or garlic. The cukes along could easily have been 20 pounds! Already have next year’s garlic in the ground and I am experimenting with winter greenhouse growing. I have kale, broccoli, lettuce and carrots sprouting in the greenhouse. The chicken coop should be done this week and ready for new chickens. I’m hoping on 3 or 4. Can’t wait for fresh eggs!
Posted by Nina at 9:00 PM
This weekend I attended an amazing event: CONNECTING FOR CHANGE: A Bioneers by the Bay Conference Presented by the Marion Institute. After a fantastic weekend at Bioneers, I am recharged and motivated. Some of the best minds of our generation spoke to the 2000 folks, young and old, who spent the weekend at the conference. Van Jones, one of the Friday keynote speakers, spoke about an optimism he had, and exhorted the audience to not be down. In a memorable section, he compared hope to the desire to lose weight, and change to actually doing the work, day in and day out, to lose weight. Change is hard work, he said. Despite only spending six months working in the White House, Jones said it was still a fantastic opportunity to see how decisions are made behind the curtain.
One theme that was touched on by both Alan Khazei, founder of City Year, and Annie Leonard, creator of The Story of Stuff, was relearning what it means to be a citizen. Leonard said that we are not going to create a sustainable society by shopping, but rather, by working together and building community. Leonard later ran a workshop, in which she discusses principles of systems thinking, and engaged the audience to suggest leverage points where sustainability can be fostered. Khazei’s recent book, Big Citizenship, is one I am looking forward to reading.
Several successful entrepreneurs spoke about their successes; Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea, discussed Coca-Cola, organic tea, and the company’s recent guerilla marketing strategy; Eric Henry, creator of the sustainable company Cotton of the Carolinas, spoke of the challenges of growing both local and organic cotton, and a new business model called ‘Dirt to Shirt in 750 miles.’ David de Rothschild gave a keynote address about the Plastiki project, where he recently took a sailboat created from plastic bottles across the Pacific; Rothschild then ran a workshop for a group of 20 of us about how to create successful guerilla marketing campaigns. Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, and builder of schools in Afghanistan, spoke about his efforts, and produced a sustained two minute standing ovation.
There were several contributions from Rhode Island, as well. Adeola Oredola, Executive Director of Youth In Action, a non-profit organization run by Providence teenagers, spoke about her own upbringing in Providence, and the reason she remains committed to improving the lives of children in her Washington Park community. Providence residents Michalle Saintil and Rudy Cabrera both performed some of their inspiring spoken word verse.
Bioneers is so big that one cannot experience the entire conference: at any one point there are simultaneous workshops and speakers, plus local businesses and demonstrations. The Marion Institute, organizers of the conference, did an amazing job. One of my favorite opportunities was lunch, catered by a local restaurant, with opportunities to engage fellow conference goers and speakers in conversation. The atmosphere was intimate and open. I made lots of exciting connections.
One moment of the conference shocked me and gave me pause. One of my biggest inspirations, and a leading figure in changing the way we consume, told us that they recently received death threats and are under FBI protection, after ongoing criticism by Glen Beck. I don’t want to mention the name here, but it reminded me both about the seriousness of the problems we face, and the power of those that resist change. However, listening to Greg Mortenson, Diane Wilson, Alan Khezi, Van Jones, David De Rothschild and Annie Leonard speak about what they as individuals have accomplished, it was clear to me that we all have power to make a big difference, if we can only get the courage to take the first step.
I can’t wait until next year!
To view the blog please visit In a Future Age
How can we connect for change?
I start this blog holding the question, "how can we learn more about our society and the current state of affairs as influenced by our past in order to better understand how to connect for impact and paradigm shift?" There are wonderful thought leaders who are creating change in their lives and surrounding communities. How can we, as a whole, do much more of this and connect these actions for greater change? How can these actions receive greater visibility so that people who are not directly connected to this movement (a movement of movements) see that positive change is happening and learn that their involvement is crucial. All voices are important.
Last week I spent two days at the Connecting for Change Conference sponsored by the Marion Institute. It is a regional Bioneers conference with the goal to "gather to embrace, share, brainstorm, network, heal, learn, teach, celebrate, recharge and connect for change. We will roll up our sleeves and harvest tangible, practical solutions to the specific challenges we face here in the Northeast and the world at-large."
The keynotes inspired energy to act and connect. How can the wisdom and knowledge of these speakers inform our ability to move forward?
Alan Khazei kicked off Friday morning's keynotes with his thoughts on "Big Citizenship: How Pragmatic Idealism Can Bring Out the Best in America." This is also the title of his recently released book. He co-founded City Year in 1988 and launched a new venture called Be the Change in 2007. His vision is to build a strong citizens movement. "No one changes the world by themselves." Even in our hyper-individualistic American society, it's good to remember that the Constitution does not begin with I. What is it again? "We the people..." When President Harry Truman left the office of the Presidency, a reporter asked him what it was like to be leaving the highest office in the United States. Truman replied, “I am not leaving the highest office. I am assuming the highest office, that of citizen.” Alan spoke of our need to reclaim our sense of common purpose as a nation. He envisions a different role for government in the 21st century that is more catalytic, more transparent and helps to scale up what works and shut down what doesn't. He called for more private-public partnerships and said that we, "can't afford to leave people on the sidelines."
Next up was Adeola Oredola, Executive Director of Youth In Action (YIA). YIA is a Providence, RI based nonprofit that empowers young leaders to create social change. She told her own story about growing up in an under-served community where she worked hard to get into Brown University, but upon her arrival realized that she has a lot of catching up to do. She is a proponent of integrated youth leadership and equal access to resources for success and change. YIA is run by the youth, decisions are made by the youth and they have created a Youth Bill of Rights to advocate for greater power to be placed in youths' hands as local decision makers. From a follow up session on YIA that I attended, it's clear that this passionate group of youths are making a positive impact in Providence.
Diane Wilson and self proclaimed "unreasonable woman" took the stage by storm. She is a firecracker! You may be familiar with her name; she poured an oil-like concoction all over herself in a hearing in Congress to protest BP's liability in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. She is a fourth generation shrimper and says, "we are tired of being dumped on." The gist of (and title of) her keynote is "being unreasonable will get us where we want to go and if it doesn't then we're not being unreasonable enough!" She quoted Edwin Louis Cole's famous thought about unreasonable men and changed it to read unreasonable women. I think we need to be inclusive, so the quote reads as follows, "Reasonable people adapt to the world around them; unreasonable people make the world adapt to them. The world is changed by unreasonable people." She said that to make a change it's important to get into the faces of the ones holding the power. "Ideas that scare you come from the heart" and it's important to follow those callings. Ghandi referred to it as soul power and the ingredient is commitment. "Sometimes being ignorant is a good thing - you don't know what you can't do." Diane was greeted by a standing ovation. It's hard not to stand up when someone is calling for each and every person in the room to awaken and respond to their highest calling.
Last but not least was Van Jones. Founder of Green for All, Green Jobs Advisor in the White House for 6 months and currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Van brought humor and a pragmatic approach to getting things done in the U.S. It's no joke that we have to get moving. Some statistics that Van shared during his keynote:
The Pentagon has scenario planning for stuff that's scarier than anything in Al Gore's film.
A third of Pakistan was under water this summer. A third of an entire nation!
An eighth of Russia was on fire this summer. Even Putin wants to do something about climate change.
We are becoming more culturally diverse, but less economically stable; "that's not a recipe for a common-ground, that's a recipe for a battleground, so we have to put America back to work to pull America back together." He spoke about change being harder than hope and backed it with a humorous analogy about donuts and losing 15 pounds. When you want to lose 15 pounds, you can make that decision, but enacting it takes time and commitment. And how easy is it to go and buy a donut even when you know it's not the best decision? Some days you fall off the bus, but then you get back on and keep persevering. That's the way change goes. Hope is seeing yourself in your mind's eye sans 15 pounds. Change is losing that 15 pounds. With change, there are good days and bad days. In politics, you have good years and bad years. Our energy workers are America's heroes. They risk their lives and lungs to provide America's energy. But America's future is not down those holes. If you want to see America's future, look up!
There are three ways to tackle change in America:
Top down - government
Bottom up - citizens
Inside out - us
He talked about climate policy in the United States and said, "you don't want to do cap-and-trade, fine, but you're not off the hook." He equated carbon pollution with general littering laws. If someone throws a wrapper on the ground, they will be charged a fine. You don't see shop owners throwing their trash into the streets. If a store owner is directed to pay for trash removal they don't say, "you are messing with my profit model." And when asked to pay for trash removal they don't scoff and say, "ha! ha! you must be a crazy socialist." The Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon pollution and they aren't a bunch of crazy hippies are they?
"The movement for hope and change wasn't built in the Iowa Primaries. Don't forget you inspired him (President Obama) first. And it was never 'yes he can,' it was 'yes we can.'"
Van Jones encourages participants to own the movement: "It was never 'yes he can' it was 'yes we can.'" On Saturday, the closing keynote was by Seth Goldman, Co-Founder and TeaEO of Honest Tea. He spoke about Honest Tea's 40% purchase by Coca-Cola and their impact as the first organic beverage to market in 1998. He shared a case study where Honest Tea set up tea purchasing kiosks around major U.S. cities over the summer. These kiosks were unmanned and they asked people to contribute a dollar into a box if they decided to take a beverage. Boston topped out as 93% honest!
So what happens when we take citizen power for a common purpose, integrated youth leadership, a commitment to soul purpose and change coming top down, bottom up and inside out and stir in good old American honesty as it comes from the public? We have a concoction for positive change coming from every town, every municipality, every rural area and every community all with the purpose of making this a better place for citizens. Hopefully this means work, life purpose, education, health care and community support are all in alignment.
And how is this all inspired? Interspersed through this conference was music, poetry, hip hop and spoken words. These mediums connect to people's hearts and inspire action and responsibility.
A couple artists worth mentioning: Christopher Johnson, Spoken Word Poet- All I have Is Now "How can I make this now the best now that it can possibly be?"
Rudy "Rudacious" Cabrera
ReadNex Poetry Squad
Do you have any inspirational artists you would like to share? Any ideas on how our social movements can gain traction to hasten change? Inspirational quotes or websites? Post them on the comments page.
To view the blog visit Resilient Youth Initiative
Aquaculture is currently the world's fastest farming sector with an average worldwide growth rate of 6 to 8 percent reaching a worldwide value of $86 billion in 2009. While the world's fish catch is estimated at 100 million tons and has been flat for a decade, aquaculture already represents an additional 45.5 million tons of fish protein. China produces 70 percent of the world's cultured fish. All countries producing over one million tons of fish protein are located in Asia (China, India, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia). Output of fish farms has increased by 30 percent since 2000, driven by growth in Asia and Latin America, especially Chile. The Europeans have been switching their diet increasingly towards seafood to the point that the European Union already represents 60 percent of the world's import of fish and shellfish.
Aquaponics, a combination of fish farming and water-based vegetable farming is still in its infancy, but represents the highest growth niche in the aquaculture business. This technique provides an option to produce protein in water scarce regions such as cities and dry zones. The symbiotic relation between fish and plants secures that the fish waste is a nutrient for plants, while filtering water. Waste from plants is used to feed earthworms, which provide feed for fish. One kilogram of fish feed produces 50 kilograms of veggies and 0.8 kilogram of fish, a most efficient conversion. Aquaponics uses between 80 and 90 percent less water than traditional fish and vegetable farming.
Australia is the leader in what is called backyard hydroponics. A company with the same name sells 300 units per year permitting to generate chemical-free fish and vegetables in the backyard. The Chinese pioneered fish farming 2,500 BC, Hawai'ians farmed fish already a 1,000 years ago. The Aztecs used aquaponics around the same time to provide food security around their capital city. Aquaculture and aquaponics are still in their infancy in the United States, but are likely to grow rapidly in the years to come.
While on one hand wild fisheries are overexploited, aquaculture can cause damage to the environment and endanger the health of people. Aquaculture is a known threat to coastal zones. About 20 percent of mangroves have been destroyed since 1980 mainly due to shrimp farming. A farm with 100,000 salmon discharges more manure than a city of 30,000 inhabitants. Farms often supply fish with antibiotics to prevent disease and apply chemicals to control the flees which infest the animals, especially salmon. Other fisheries will treat fish with hormones as to induce a sex change creating a male only population. Prof. Li Kangmin from Wuxi, China, studied aquaculture for decades and realized that it converted itself into a major contributor to pollution. Whereas he would have expected industry to be the major culprit for water-based contamination, he realized that in China 57 percent of nitrogen discharge and 67 percent of phosphorus emissions were caused by agriculture and aquaculture. He also realized that antibiotics and chemotherapeutics in aquatic systems turned into a major source of pollution for the increasingly scarce water supply. He concluded that since Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been making great contribution to the health of the Chinese people for thousands of years, it could also contribute to a healthy aquaculture.
Prof. Li noted that the mortality rate of SARS in China was only two thirds of the world average and the maximum cost of TCM took only one tenth of Western medicine. He set out to study the application of this health control system to fish farming. The application of TCM has been used to control fish parasites in ancient times, and now has proven its effectiveness in the overall management of fish farms. Prof. Li notes in particular that TCM is readily available, commonly used as a treatment of aquatic animals, repellents for parasites, growth stimulants, nutraceuticals to strengthen immunity of the fish, to reduce stress and even to improve meat quality. Since TCM are based on natural resources that are part of biodiversity, the promotion of these components offers a change to protect endangered plants and animals in China.
The First Cash Flow
While the trials and test in China are convincing, the first cash flow overseas has been generated in salmon farming. The issue of contaminants in farmed salmon gained world attention when a study published in the journal Science reported that researchers found higher levels of PCBs and dioxins in farmed fish than in wild species. However, cultured organic Atlantic salmon shows significantly less amount of dioxin and PCBs when compared to fish rested in the Science study. These facts motivated fish farmers around the world to study alternatives to the chemical controls, embracing TCM as a basis, while reducing costs and securing lower risks.
The certification of sustainably farmed fish produce has been limited to "chemical-free" or "hormone-free". While this is certainly a step forward, it is expected that a label stating that the health of the fish is secured through "Traditional Chinese Medicine" would gain market acceptance. As homeopathy and traditional medicine gains prominence around the world, the use of a guarantee that natural medicine has been the basis of food production would indeed be an innovative approach. While TCM cannot always prove the same "cause and effect" as Western medicine prescribes, it is known to have less unintended consequences and as such offers an integrated approach that ensures not only the quality of the fish, but also the health of the consumers since none of the ingredients will remain persistent and active over the long periods of time. It is probably an opportunity for the West to meet the East and ensure food security for generations to come.
For more information please visit: http://www.blueeconomy.de/
A Sense of Familiarity
by Brian O’Rourke
As returning Bioneers, we see many of the same faces as in previous years at the Connecting for Change Conference. We know that we will enter the Zeiterion Theatre every morning for three days and experience a multitude of informative and inspirational speakers and performers. We will sit at lunch tables with friends, old and new, over vegetable quesadillas, red pepper and parsnip soup and cider (all locally grown and organic). We look forward to afternoon workshops where solutions are made tangible to the average person. And yet there is nothing average about any of this. On the other hand, it feels amazingly familiar.
Once again in the exhibitors’ tent, 3rd Eye Unlimited demonstrates its original approach to youth activism and organizing, SEMAP promotes local foods and business, Phoenix Composting Toilets and Ben’s Bins keep us pooping for a purpose with proven energy and resource conservation, the Mastate Charitable Foundation continues its amazing educational and environmental efforts with a rural Costa Rican community, and Baker Books offers some of our favorite reading materials to be signed by the event’s keynote speakers, who are often available for discussion and friendly handshakes or hugs.
Underlying messages and themes have a similar taste too. Life is worth living, especially if we can do so in an interconnected, healthy and happy way. In order to achieve that, we must identify the issues that stand in its way, to find solutions to those issues, and to make those issues accessible. We need to move as a group, not as individuals.
Cool breezes are beginning to pick the changing leaves from New Bedford trees. It’s a beautiful sight that keeps many of us visually contented this time of year in the northeast. It is familiar, but that does not mean that the ideas laid at our feet can be raked and left for the next season. There is an entire year between these conferences. We are making connections, but they are meaningless without action. Our familiarity may bring us comfort, but friends are supposed to have each others’ backs. Let’s stay connected and create change to discuss with our new friends next year at lunch.
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