Interviews with EcoLogicians

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EcoLogician: One who supports, protects and restores the health and balance of ecological systems for the benefit of those systems and the organisms in them including the people. Otherwise known as: An EcoLogic partner, community collaborator, employee, intern, donor, supporter, and/or friend. An EcoLogician (sounds like “physician” or “magician”) recognizes that a healthy ecosystem depends on the successful health and interdependency of its many organisms—including the people!

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EcoLogician Juana María García:

Impassioned Community Collaborator at EcoLogic Project Site in Totonicapán

Juana Maria Garcia, a teacher, volunteer, and advocate

Juana Maria Garcia, a teacher, volunteer, and advocate

Juana María García lives in a small community with her parents in the Tenerias sector of Totonicapan, Guatemala where EcoLogic has been working since 2002. Juana works as a primary school teacher at the Canton Chuicaxtun school in Chiyax having graduated from the University of San Carlos with a degree in education in 2008. Juana first learned about EcoLogic in a community assembly run by the 48 Cantones, EcoLogic’s local partner in Totonicapan, and immediately wanted to volunteer to help protect the forest and support her community. At 25 years old, she is an articulate and impassioned advocate for the ecosystem where she lives. “I think Totonicapan has the most beautiful forest in the entire country, with many different and unique species, and it is deeply important to protect it for the future,” Juana observed. “Simply put, the forest is the fountain of all life, and we would be lost without it.” In late June, Juana talked via Skype about her experiences as a volunteer and a teacher with EcoLogic Communications Officer Lee Shane and Guatemalan Program Officer Francisco Tzul.

Tell us about your first experience with EcoLogic.
JMG: In May 2011, I went with a group led by Francisco to visit the nursery used to raise trees for reforestation. The manager, Don Agustin, showed us different kinds of tree seeds and seedlings, and demonstrated how to plant seeds in starter trays and care for them. I was very impressed with the greenhouses EcoLogic had helped us build, including the modern irrigation system—I had never seen one before. A few months later I returned as a volunteer with a group of high school students to plant trees in the Totonicapan forest.

What was that like?
JMG: This was a great experience, as the younger generation was learning about the importance of reforestation—they need to lead the way in forest conservation in the future. It happened during the rainy season last summer, when EcoLogic staff organized several tree planting outings. There were more than 500 students aged 13-15 years from three different schools. We planted more than 8,000 trees including white pine, red pine, alder, and Guatemalan fir.

Sounds like a lot—you didn’t do it all in one day, did you?
JMG: Oh, no! I went three different times with different groups of students. On each day the students were first trained on planting techniques. After that they were divided in groups of 50 each, and then paired up. Each pair took a tray of 24 plants and then moved into the areas that needed to be reforested. I was in charge of supervising the distance between trees and the diameter of holes dug in the soil. There was no need to water the seedlings because we were in the rainy season. It only took us about four hours each day that we did it.

I also went once with Fernando (EcoLogic field technician) and the members of the water board of the 48 Cantones (the water committee for the area)—Almost everyone in Toto tries to volunteer to reforest in Toto—that is our tradition that goes back more than 800 years.

You have also helped to build fuel-efficient stoves, right?

Juana conducting a stove assessment

Juana conducting a stove assessment

JMG: Yes, this last winter I worked with EcoLogic to help build stoves for 75 families. The beneficiaries were in five communities and I primarily worked in Cuchanet. I collaborated with the group—mostly women of the households—to build the stoves. A mason supervised us, but we did everything as a team. We mixed the cement, lay the adobe and the bricks, and built the inner chamber. The chamber is built in a special way which helps the air move and reduces the amount of wood needed to keep it hot. Finally we put on the chimney, and gave the stove a special coating of sand and cement, and then the owner had to wait 30 days for it to dry and “settle” before she could use it.

The owners are taught how to maintain the stoves including what can be burned and what can’t be. For example, most people don’t know that burning plastic is dangerous for your health and for the environment. Fernando, the EcoLogic technician, also teaches how to keep the stoves clean, and why flies are bad for the food, as many people don’t understand this. So there is a lot of health and hygiene information that is talked about, too.

Do you think the people appreciate the stoves and will use them in the right way?
JMG: I do think so, but I think EcoLogic is smart in the way it asks people to make commitments to get a stove. Each family not only has to help the others in the community build stoves, but they also have to agree to plant at least 50 trees nearby, as a way to help the forest for the wood the family is using. And many also help by volunteering in the greenhouses and tree nursery. They ask for two work days from every stove recipient. These are ways people see the value of the stoves immediately, and also see the connections between the stoves and making the forest healthier.

One other topic: you are a teacher and you have been working with Isabel Carrio, the EcoLogic ArtCorps Fellow in Totonicapan. Tell us about what you are doing.
JMG: About once a month, Isabel meets with a group of about 35 primary school teachers. We are jointly developing exercises that incorporate art to use in our classrooms to teach children about the environment and sensitize them to its importance. I apply the ideas and lessons in some of the classes I teach. We go out into the forest to take hikes and we incorporate drawing, dancing, and writing poetry and stories into our classwork.

Someday I hope to incorporate some of these ideas and techniques into working with adults because I think there are opportunities there as well. And I want to work with people to help them learn how to protect the soil when they raise their crops—how to use natural fertilizers and systems and locally found natural pesticides instead of industrial chemicals. This is something I think people do not think enough about here, and we need to do more.

Is there anything else you would like to say?
JMG: I want to thank you all in the United States because you are working to help us from far away, and we are very grateful because we do not have the resources without your help. I hope you will work with us for many years to come.

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What Makes an EcoLogician?

“I believe this place called Earth is a great habitat and experiment. We have everything we need to live. I live my life trying to impact the environment more positively than negatively so ALL SPECIES win.”

– Barry Draper, New Hampshire, USA

Above is one of the many great responses we received to our January 2012 contest that asked the question, “What makes you an EcoLogician?” Congratulations to our five winners who each received an autographed copy of fellow EcoLogician Frances Moore Lappé’s latest book EcoMind. Please stay tuned for more EcoLogician interviews coming your way, and take the opportunity then or anytime to share with us your thoughts about what it means to be an EcoLogician. As respondent Joyce Frohn told us, “Only by working together will we have a chance to save ourselves,” or as EcoLogician Karen Cowen points out, “Every living thing in our world is worthy of respect and stewardship!”

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EcoLogician Frances Moore Lappé:

A conversation with the writer, activist and EcoLogic supporter

Frances Moore Lappé is a well known writer and activist who first became known in 1971 for her groundbreaking book “Diet for A Small Planet” which argued persuasively that the industrial food system was largely responsible for world hunger and food insecurity, not natural disasters or environmental limits. In 2001, she founded the Small Planet Institute with her daughter, Anna, to promote a world-wide movement toward “Living Democracy.” They define Living Democracy as an ethos in which “citizens infuse the values of inclusion, fairness and mutual accountability into all dimensions of public life” leading to a just and sustainable society.

Frances Moore Lappé with EcoLogic co-founder Shaun Paul

Frances Moore Lappé with EcoLogic co-founder Shaun Paul

In August 2002, Frances Moore Lappé traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa to attend The World Summit on Sustainable Development—otherwise known as Rio+10 or the Earth Summit. She stayed with friends from Vermont who had brought together a group of visitors to share a place to stay for the week. There, over breakfast, Lappé and another attendee, EcoLogic co-founder Shaun Paul, struck up a conversation. They had much in common including a passion for social justice and a commitment to protecting the natural world. They were also both living and working in the greater Boston area, and Lappé had recently begun looking for new office space for her nascent organization, the Small Planet Institute. As it so happened, EcoLogic had extra space to offer. Thus began a mutually beneficial relationship between the two organizations which has provided camaraderie, a cross-pollination of ideas, and as Lappé observes, a “fecund work environment of mutuality and respect.”

No doubt that many EcoLogic supporters know you as an author—of 18 books now!—and a speaker and an activist. How would you characterize what you do and why?
FML: My life’s mission is to help people find their power, so they can engage in the world in a meaningful way. Unless we can see what is the causal pattern creating needless misery, it is very hard to feel that our individual actions add up to anything. People say, “I’m just a drop in the bucket,” and disparage themselves and their impact. The Small Planet Institute counter is, “Hey, buckets fill up really fast on a rainy night.” So my whole life has been devoted to helping people see the “bucket” of Living Democracy emerging so they can believe in the power of the rainstorm.

RS11427_frankie_compressedSo almost ten years ago now, you moved into a shared office space with EcoLogic. You’d worked largely in private spaces before. What was the change like?
FML: It was easy. I immediately felt so aligned with the goals of EcoLogic, because it seemed to me—and still does—that what EcoLogic does and how it does it, is the expression of all the different elements that I try to describe in Living Democracy. EcoLogic is not just about the ecological dimensions and land considerations, but also encompasses the social dimension—how people relate to one another, make decisions that are inclusive, and take action. You can’t have healthy ecological communities without healthy social communities. All of that requires learning. Agroforestry is learning. Finding new and sustainable ways to do things is learning. EcoLogic actively creates a learning culture about the land, and flora and fauna. And for almost ten years our shared office space has provided a living example of our principles, not to mention the cross-pollination of ideas that happens, and the camaraderie and celebration of our similar purposes. And we also have fun sometimes, too!

Obviously we’re fans of the prefix “Eco” and the meaning of “ecology” it conveys, but tell me about the reasons you titled your latest book, EcoMind?
FML: I went to a huge conference a few years ago with persuasive speakers and a massive amount of information about the global environmental crisis, and I came away so heavy hearted it felt like I was wearing a suit of lead. I realized that if I felt this way—and I’m a cheerleader for “we can make this change”—then how much more paralyzed must other people feel? So I wanted to learn about the assumptions underlying the way we think about things. I focus on our frames of thinking about particular issues which are often articulated and understood through metaphors that either free us towards solutions or constrain us. I realized a lot of our metaphors are still locked in the mechanical world view—what I call the “scarcity mind”—which says that reality is made of distinct entities that are not interconnected and that are fixed. We’ve “hit the limits”, as an example, that is a quantitative “more or less” way of looking at something rather than a systems view focusing on the interaction of all elements. I realized that even our way of thinking about ecology is not ecological.

So you wanted to help people change how they view the problems?
FML: Yes, the reason for the book is to try to answer the question, How do we think like an ecosystem? As an example, in ecology everything is both cause and effect, both acted on and an actor. From this perspective, you recognize that human beings are organisms, too. And so just like a tree that depends on its environment and responds to it, humans are the same way. We can be kind and magnificent and cruel and barbaric. What are the conditions that bring out the best, or bring out the worst? With every organism it depends; many people can behave nobly even under adverse conditions. But we don’t know until we’re put to the test, whether we’re the majority that will go along with evil or not. So we have to create the conditions—the environment—so we’re not put to that test.

How do EcoLogic and Small Planet interconnect?
FML: I wanted to say that having co-started two organizations before Small Planet Institute—I’ve been so aware of the culture of organizations. EcoLogic is an organization that creates a culture of mutual respect and accountability, exactly what’s proven to bring out the best in our species—I feel like I’m a beneficiary of that every day: a work community where the norm is mutuality instead of finger pointing. I’m not privy to everything EcoLogic does, of course, but I think you all have internalized some of that idea, that our problems are not because of the bad egg—we all have a role to play in creating a working environment that is conducive to achieving our goals and improving the world. I see EcoLogic embodying that in the work you do, helping to foment cultures of learning, questioning, and mutuality, not just pointing the finger at the other guy. You don’t just bring resources to a place you work, but this culture of learning and cooperation, so that the people you work with feel responsible. Why am I aligned with EcoLogic? You do everything I write and talk about! You integrate Living Democracy principles into your projects. That’s why my partner, Richard Rowe, and I have been long-time supporters and donors to EcoLogic. And why I hope Small Planet and EcoLogic have another ten productive years together!