The theme of our Building a Land Ethic Conference in June is “Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide.” Aldo Leopold warned of the “spiritual danger” that comes with “supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery.” But if there is a danger in neglecting our common connections to the land through food, we also have great opportunities to strengthen, through food, the relationships between our urban and rural communities. On the third day of the conference, Saturday, June 24, Aldo Leopold Foundation Senior Fellow Curt Meine will moderate a panel exploring this theme.
Dr. Meine will open the session by reviewing Aldo Leopold’s work and words on food, agriculture, and the land ethic. Mary Berry, founder and executive director of the Berry Center in Kentucky, will discuss the work of the Center in putting Wendell Berry’s writings to work in support of farmers, land-conserving communities, and healthy regional economies. Michael Howard, founder of Eden Place Nature Center in the heart of Chicago, will describe how Eden Place has used an awareness of food to help establish green community space, provide educational opportunities, and enhance community health and well-being. Jay Salinas, co-founder of the Wormfarm Institute (our neighbors here in Sauk County, Wisconsin) will share the Institute’s efforts, through the arts, to connect culture and agriculture along the urban-rural continuum.
Curt Meine (moderator)
Curt Meine is a conservation biologist, historian, and writer. His biography Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work was the first full-length biography of Leopold. He received his bachelor’s degree in English and History from DePaul University in Chicago and his graduate degrees in Land Resources from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition to his work with the Aldo Leopold Foundation, Meine also serves as Senior Fellow with the Center for Humans and Nature, and as Research Associate with the International Crane Foundation. He is Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is active locally as a founding member of the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance in Sauk County, Wisconsin. During his conservation career over the last twenty years, Meine has worked on projects involving topics ranging from biodiversity conservation planning, sustainable agriculture, and international development, to crane and wetland conservation, prairie restoration, and development of community-based conservation programs. Meine is a recipient of the Bay Foundation’s Biodiversity Leadership Award and the Quivira Coalition’s Outstanding Conservation Leadership Award.
The Berry Center Executive Director Mary Berry and her brother, Den Berry, were raised by their parents, Wendell and Tanya Berry, at Lanes Landing Farm in Henry County, Kentucky from the time she was six years old. She attended Henry County public schools and graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1981. She farmed for a living in Henry County starting out in dairy farming, growing Burley tobacco, and later diversifying to organic vegetables, pastured poultry, and grassfed beef. Mary is married to Trimble County, Kentucky farmer Steve Smith, who started the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farming endeavor in the state of Kentucky. The Berry Center was started in 2011 to continue the agricultural work of John Berry, Sr. and his sons Wendell Berry and John Berry, Jr. John Berry, Sr. was a staunch advocate for small farmers and land conserving economies. His sons took up his work and have continued it. The Berry Center has now taken it up and is focused on issues confronting small farming families in Kentucky and around the country. Our focus may shift because of need, but it will not move from what we believe to be the central issue of our time: the need for a healthy and sustainable agriculture in this country.
Michael Howard is the founder and executive director of Fuller Park Community Development in Chicago. In 1997, he was concerned about serious lead poisoning problems affecting the neighborhood children. He did some research and discovered that Fuller Park contained the highest lead levels in the city of Chicago. As a community leader, he wanted to make some serious changes for the sake of his family and his entire neighborhood, and he decided that this work would start with the illegal dumpsite located across the street from his home. Two-story mounds of waste encompassed the entire three acres of land. Howard acquired the deed for the land and involved the community in a three-year clean-up of the dumpsite. With the help of many volunteers, over 200 tons of trash was removed from the site. Those were the trying first days of what is now called Eden Place. In May 2004, Eden Place was honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Chicago Wilderness with the Conservation and Native Landscaping Award for their creative use of natural landscaping to support native plants and animals that contribute to the region’s biodiversity. That same month, Eden Place was filmed for a PBS documentary called “Edens Lost & Found,” which profiles activists and organizations in Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Chicago who are attempting to “improve the quality of life and public health by encouraging community and civic engagement through the restoration of their urban ecosystems.”
Jay is an artist, farmer, and educator. In 1995, together with his partner Donna Neuwirth, they started the Neu Erth Wormfarm, a CSA based in Reedsburg, Wisconsin now going into its 23rd season. In 2000 they formed the Wormfarm Institute, a nationally recognized nonprofit whose mission is to integrate culture and agriculture. Wormfarm creates a range of community cultural events like Fermentation Fest & the Farm/ Art DTour and hosts an artist residency on a working organic farm. Jay has worked to support the development of sustainable agriculture in urban and rural communities across the nation working with both Growing Power in Milwaukee and the Farley Center’s Gaining Ground project in Madison. Trained as a sculptor, Jay has developed and implemented successful art curricula for artists, youth and at the university level. He has also taught innovative farming techniques to farmers across the nation and continues to work with growers with diverse backgrounds and abilities to build sustainable food systems. Born in and raised near Chicago, Jay holds a BFA from University of Illinois, Champaign/ Urbana and an MFA from the University of Cincinnati.
Conference registration is open through June 8.