Reporting from Plymouth of the West

Out here in San Diego, a.k.a. the Plymouth of the West, at the Environmental Grantmakers Association 2012 State of the States Policy Briefing, over a hundred environmental funders from around the country are gathered to listen and talk about the best thinking from across the nation around the intersection of civic engagement, social justice, and environment.  We’re here learning, collaborating and drinking in inspiration for the hard work ahead.

There are a remarkable number of folks here from the Chesapeake Bay talking about their innovations, including a slate of smart and forward thinking people working on Maryland’s Genuine Progress Indicator –an alternative measure of progress that takes into consideration equity, social well being, and environment.  In case you were wondering, Maryland’s progress has flatlined due to the increasing gap between rich and poor according to one of our panelists, Daphne Wysham of the Institute for Policy Studies.  I wasn’t the only one who noticed the strong presence of the Chesapeake Bay.  Our friends at the Choose Clean Water Coalition are here talking about their work and Maryland’s Off-Shore Wind campaign was recognized for its potential to catalyze seismic shifts for our clean energy future.

While Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay are clearly on the forefront, beneath the spirit of optimism and hope, I sensed that our community is bracing and gearing up for the even heavier lifts just around the corner.  There is deep recognition that everyone is working as hard as they possibly can.  And we know it’s not enough.

Fortunately, there are a few bright lights on the horizon.  The most successful efforts at lasting change are boldly led by the communities with the most at stake.  Asian and Pacific Islanders in San Francisco are mobilizing in unprecedented numbers to inform and influence the dialogue about climate change in California and Washington, DC.  Seattle’s most economically disadvantaged are working collaboratively with environmental activists to build urban gardens for sustenance and green homes for shelter.  San Diego’s vastly diverse communities are saddling up for a major power shift in conservative southern California.   These success stories are reinforced by a study just released by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Cultivating the Grassroots:  A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders, by Sarah Hansen.  As I head back home to Maryland, I’m thinking about our power base for the Chesapeake Bay and who might brilliantly lead us.

Empowering your Fork

Every moment you have choice — a choice to pay attention, to keep your mind steady, to act on what you believe in and walk your walk.  My yoga teacher repeats this phrase over and over to her students.  I was reminded of her mantra at the 13th annual Future Harvest-Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) conference held recently in Landsdowne, Virginia. Future Harvest-CASA is a network of farmers and people who care about real food and the folks who produce it in the Chesapeake Bay region.  This year’s gathering attracted a surprising number of up and coming young farmers that showed up searching for innovative farming techniques and marketing tools, political empowerment, and a network of kindred spirits.  What popularized as local food culture and back-to-the-earth mentality is moving rapidly towards a political movement with energetic and civilly disobedient farmers taking a lead role.  Listen for yourself how food activism is making its way from farm fields to the legislature –check out this inspiring podcast of Baltimore radio favorite, Marc Steiner, hosting a lively panel of advocates at the conference:  Will Morrow of Whitmore Farm, Joan Norman of One Straw Farm, Lucie Snodgrass of Future Harvest-CASA, and Brian Snyder of Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.