This is our fourth installment of the “Where I am in my environmentalism journey.” Today’s feature comes from one of our newest members!

BY ANN NEWLAND

My first memory of environmental consciousness occurred in the 1960s, in Mr. Nyman’s grocery store in Minneapolis. I was fascinated by the collection, return, and reuse of pop (AKA soda) bottles. It struck a very young me as a beautiful and efficient system. I was moved when my third grade teacher read aloud the Little House in the Big Woods. The self sufficiency and minimal waste generated by the Wilder family impressed me. Living in close proximity to the prairie and spending a day at a historic Prairie School heightened this intrigue. 

The contrast between historic prairie life and my ’60s lifestyle became apparent. I observed a rare section of native prairie in my home town, enclosed in fence designed to protect that little patch. I was dismayed by row upon row of milk packaged in waxy cartons displayed in the refrigerator section of a larger grocery store. This was all destined for the trash, and I was struck by the contrast with the glass milk bottles we returned to a dairy to have refilled. I saw the benefit of reusing at an early age. 

My parents grew up during the Great Depression. Even while working and raising a family, my father kept a small garden, and my mother made efforts to minimize waste. We frequently enjoyed picnics in state parks outside of the city. I developed a lasting love for the natural world. These early experiences were formative in the development of mindful consumption, an awareness of the effects of my choices on the earth.

In college, I studied in the forestry department, participated in an environmental club, and spent many hours outside enjoying the beautiful southwest Virginia mountains. During a break from college I landed a job with an EPA contractor, procuring vehicles for an EPA emissions compliance testing program. I deepened my environmental commitment. 

I returned to college in the late ’70s with a renewed goal of graduating – as well as becoming a steward of my portion of the planet, minimizing consumption, and living close to the Earth. I switched majors and later graduated in the Nutrition and Foods program. During our studies, my partner and I lived in an ancient farmhouse and raised a big garden and chickens, having learned about minimalist country living from the elders in our community. 

I was aghast as I read an assignment on meat production and slaughter. I became a vegetarian for a combination of reasons; environmental, health, and ethical considerations about the inhumane treatment of animals. Reading the book Diet for a Small Planet was life changing. There is mounting evidence, as published in Nature, that the greater the use of plant-based foods instead of animal-based foods included in a diet, the lower the environmental impact.  

While raising a family, we continued our efforts to stay true to our environmental stewardship. I worked in public schools, the majority as a fourth grade teacher, for 25 years. When the opportunity arose, I opened the eyes of my students to environmental issues. Most of the actions I have taken to reduce my and my family’s environmental footprint have been personal. We raise many of our vegetables, select local organic foods, subscribe to community supported organic agriculture, minimize energy consumption in our small home and by our choice of vehicles, consciously restrain consumption, compost, and recycle, including many years prior to curbside pickup. Since moving to DeKalb County, we’ve taken the opportunity to select solar or renewable sources to power our home. 

I’ve had lapses but have made it a priority to fulfill my lifelong mission of stewardship of the Earth, minimal consumption, conservation of natural flora and fauna, reuse, and recycling. I’ve found my home with the Climate Action Team following our relocation to Decatur and decision to join UUCA. With the help of the CAT, my environmental journey has grown to include collective action in addition to continuing my personal actions. I am grateful to the CAT for the opportunity to grow and to deepen my journey.

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JOURNEY WITH US: The Climate Action Team is for you because, well, the planet needs your urgent action – and we need each other as we navigate these changing times. Learn all about the group here,  and check out our minutes and take action table, our lending library and the Carbon Offset Fund. You can also request to join the Climate Action Team on Realm. Contact Jon Reese to connect to the CAT and join us for our next Zoom meeting on Monday, April 15, at 7:30 PM at this link.