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2014 Women’s Congress Part 2

Sandra Steingraber, biologist, author, mother, and cancer survivor, spoke about the current environmental crisis at the 2014 Women’s Congress for Future Generations on Friday, November 7th. She explains that there are two trunks to this tree of environmental crisis – the heat trapping gasses and the chemicals (health for us). The heat trapping gasses, such as CO2 and methane, are causing environmental issues such as droughts, floods, and half of the mammals of our parents generation gone. For us, these chemicals are causing major health effects such as, asthma, early onset puberty, cancers, etc.

Fracking_diagram“Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside.” states the Dangers of Fracking website. Sandra broke down the process of fracking, bringing our knowledge back to the water cycle. “Water is not disappearing though the water cycle, but it is disappearing through fracking. Fracking the water way down low in the earth, causing it to be stuck there forever.” The chemicals from fracking are destroying air by releasing harmful VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and contaminating our drinking water. “Halting the rapid changes to the climate system before we cross the ecological Rubicon requires the one rapid change that isn’t happening: a decision to leave 80% of remaining fossil fuels in the ground.” states the MSNBC article, Dialing 911 on Climate Change.

image-300x224Leading into the next part of the conversation, Sandra explain that she had been arrested for protecting a salt plant in Seneca Lake in upstate New York. Seneca Lake is home to the local agricultural system, growth of wine grapes (a 4.8 billion industry), and over in westbank a salt plant used for solution salt mining. Fracking (butane and propane) is taking over the salt caverns and creating a storage hub for these chemicals. Since October 24, efforts have been made to defend water from these chemical contaminants. Many community members are standing in front of the two doors to this salt mining plant and are defending Seneca Lake. A majority of these community members consist of elders and young mothers. Sandra told us a story of an man that brought his mother’s ashes to the site. It was her funeral and he said to Sandra, “She would have wanted me here.”

On the last day, I went to the workshop called, “Partnering to Build a Restorative Agriculture and New Relationships with the Land.” Description from the Women’s Congress booklet is shown below:

“More land will change in the next 10 years than did during the Louisiana Purchase. So, how do we get new farmers on the land growing perennial crops and healthy food? How do we create the economic, social, and mentoring pathways for them to be successful? How do we meaningfully engage urban people in this work? At Lily Springs Farm in western Wisconsin we are partnering to build an education and demonstration farm using permaculture design to restore habits to health and build a perennial-based food system that integrates land and people. As three women, we are taking a new approach to exploring these questions and in the process creating experiential learning opportunities for others. In this workshop we will share our goals and vision, what we’ve learned so far, and discuss innovative ways forward.”

Paula Westmoreland, Ecological Gardens and co-founder of Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate describes in order to health land, people and animals need to be back into the land. We need to get our hands dirty in the rural areas. To increase and fix food security, we need to link urban and rural. She reads a passage from the book, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer. The first part of the passage describes the bugs, weeds, and plant diversity that create a habitat for a garden. “More than people are fed by this garden, but there is enough to go around.” There is a metaphor that is described for the relationship between indigenous knowledge and Western science, the Three Sisters Garden. This garden combines the polyculture of ecological knowledge and framework from a variety of knowledges. “ They’ve all brought their gifts to this table, but they’ve not done it alone. They remind us that there is another partner in the symbiosis. She is sitting here at the table and across the valley in the farmhouse, too. She’s the one who noticed the ways if each species and imagined how they might live together. Perhaps we should consider this a Four Sisters garden, for the planter is also an essential partner. It is she who turns up the soil, she who scares away the crows, and she who pushes seeds into the soil. We are the planters, the ones who clear the land, pull the weeds, and pick up the bugs; we save the seeds over winter and plant them again next spring. We are midwives to their gifts. We cannot live without them, but it’s also true that they cannot live without us. Corn, beans, and squash are fully domesticated; they rely on us to create the conditions under which they can grow. We too are part of the reciprocity. They can’t meet their responsibilities unless we meet ours.”

This passage was a great overview of the conversation about restoration and fixing our previous damages to agriculture.  Paula explains there needs to be health and connection – health of the wildlife, the land, etc. and connection of people to the land, people to the plants, people to the animals, animals to the plants, etc. There is a whole ecosystem within agriculture – the nuts, the perennial vegetables, the animals, the bugs, etc. Food is based on the capacity of land, and we need to re-engage animals and the variety of animals on the land to help with soil health and carbon sequestration.  The land will rejuvenate with the change we need to make to connect ourselves to the landscape.

IMG_5464-768x1024Julie Ristau, Co-Director for On The Commons and President of PRI Cold Climate then directed that we need to repopulate areas, such as rural communities, to shift the paradigm. There are no incentives for a “small village” to build infrastructure for small scale agriculture. Strength in communities will increase the interest and passion to make a livable scale agriculture and create a diverse farms that are self-sufficient. The soil health is critical for our climate and we need to keep a relationship from person to land. “There needs to be a connection for the average middle class, not to invest in stocks, but rather invest in local economy.”

Nina Utne, Lily Springs Farm, writer, political activist, mother, and community-builder explained Lily Springs Farms. “From outdoor arts programs to demonstration permaculture design workshops, Lily Springs Farm is a fertile laboratory for exploring ourselves, each other, and the world around us. The farm is open for retreats, weekend getaways, workshops, summer programming, weddings, cultural events and just about anything else you can imagine.” She emphasizes the need for urban and rural linking to create the change in paradigm. “We need to change the infrastructure, building together the land and people.”

The closing ceremony included this following quote, “When up against obstacles, water flows around the obstruction, erodes it away, or water moves the obstacles with its power. A single drop of water as so much more power when it joins with others.”  The 2014 Women’s Congress for Future Generations conference brought together many minds and people that are staying connected and supporting each other in this work. We hope to create a livable future for generations that come after us. We need to build on and bridge between the concern of the environment and the action we are to take to deliver change to the environment.