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What happens when you organize over 28 small groups to discuss food values and issues, and include a local farmer or food producer in each one? Find out at the NWEI North American Gathering this year with our co-hosts, innovative organizers Judy Alexander, Dick Bergeron and Peter Bates.  They facilitated Menu for the Future small group discussions to support local farmers and educate eaters, and as a result local eaters changed their food choices, and the market for local food products expanded.

Thanks to Peak Moment TV, which is dedicated to building local reliance, you can meet our Port Townsend NWEI North American Gathering co-hosts by clicking here to watch a clip from their interview about their work creating more sustainable local food systems and a more vibrant, healthy community.

They’ll be offering a workshop during the conference weekend (September 15-18th) on Community Building, Sustainable Food and Neighborhood Activism, where they will share how in 2010 their local NWEI Steering Committee undertook an ambitious project to see if a tipping point might be reached in support of local food, farms, and farmers. NWEI, in partnership with The Port Townsend Farmer’s Market, The Port Townsend Food Co-op, and the Chimacum Grange, in a county of 30,000, launched over 28 Menu for the Future courses.

Each group had participant food producers informing the dialogue, from local farmers, fishermen, restauranteurs, cheese makers, and community gardeners, bringing home the message that being able to source our food locally is critically important for reasons pertaining to health, economy, ecology, and community.

Thanks Port Townsend for setting such an inspiring example of change!


We in the Northern Hemisphere marked the Summer Solstice and ushered in the beginning of Summer this past Tuesday at 10:16am PST,  giving us our longest day of the year.  And today marks what many call “Midsummer” – a time for celebration associated with the Solstice as well as with the onset of summer.  With ancient origins, Midsummer is a time for lighting bonfires, feasting, dancing, community festivals and generally welcoming in the long, warm days of summer with celebration.

For those of us steeped in the Earth Institute’s work, we know that acknowledging the passing of the seasons is also a way to deepen in our relationship to place.  Today we invite you to mark the new season in your own way.  Light a candle.  Step outside for a few minutes of sunshine.  Walk barefoot.  Marvel at the flowers in full bloom!

As Rachel Carson says, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.  There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”  – And so, we welcome the new season with renewed zest and inspiration to take responsibility for Earth.

We know that change can be tough. That’s why each fall the NWEI EcoChallenge makes it easy to recommit to your eco-friendly lifestyle and take your eco-consciousness to the next level.

The EcoChallenge is an opportunity to change your life for good. You pick a category—water, trash, energy, food or transportation—and set a goal that stretches your comfort zone and makes a difference for you and the planet.  The possibilities are endless and the collective impact is impressive.

Rich parked his car for two weeks. Mark went on a 100-mile diet. Carrie cut her family’s trash by 80%. Steve set up a grey water system and saved 150 gallons of water. Over the course of the two-week EcoChallenge the car miles converted to alternative transportation, waste diverted from our landfills, energy and water saved, and food sourced sustainably adds up to substantial impact.  But the impact doesn’t stop on October 15th when the EcoChallenge concludes because if you can stick with a new behavior for 14 days in a row, you’re a lot more likely to keep it up forever.

And that’s the exactly kind of change we’re looking to inspire!

The EcoChallenge is still 3 months away, but it’s the perfect time to start considering your next eco move. This October, we challenge you to choose one action to reduce your environmental impact and stick with it for two weeks.

Stay tuned for more information, stories from past EcoChallengers, and registration details coming this summer.

Our Spring EarthMatters newsletter was released in May. Click here to download your copy. 

Northwest Earth Institute from Portland Monthly on Vimeo.

We just learned of this sweet video from the Portland Monthly’s Light A Fire Award from 2010 (NWEI won the Sustainable Planet Award!).  Here is what Portland Monthly had to say:

Seventeen years ago, Dick Roy quit his job at a law firm to form the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) with his wife, Jeanne. Their goal? To inspire mainstream workplaces to initiate eco-friendly programs in the office. With the help of an NWEI volunteer, groups of about 10 people gather once or twice a week for an hour to discuss ways to take responsibility for both their own well-being and the planet’s. In the first year, 97 workplace groups signed up for the inaugural course, “Exploring Deep Ecology.”

“Nature isn’t just a place to go on vacation—it’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat,” says NWEI’s executive director, Mike Mercer. Clearly, the message spoke to the masses: this past year, 10,000 people participated in eight of NWEI’s programs, and courses are popping up all over the country in private homes, faith centers, nonprofits, and universities. NWEI also recently celebrated its second successful EcoChallenge, in which teams take active steps toward a healthy future by tackling two-week eco-goals like saving water, finding sustainable food solutions, and generating less waste. “Sustainable choices don’t just benefit polar bears and glaciers,” Mercer says. “What’s good for the planet is also good for your family.” And for your soul.

Will Allen, Founder and CEO of Growing Power and one of TIME Magazine’s top 100 people who affect our world, will be joining us as the keynote speaker for this year’s NWEI North American Gathering in September!

This year’s gathering will focus on issues of food and community, with Will Allen’s keynote address focusing on the power of community and urban agriculture, with stories of inspiration and success from his Milwaukee, Wisconsin efforts.  For those of you not yet familiar with Will or with his organization, Growing Power  is a national nonprofit organization and land trust that inspires communities to build sustainable food systems that are equitable and ecologically sound, creating a just world, one food-secure community at a time.

“A new movement is sprouting up in America’s low-income neighborhoods. Some urban residents, sick of fast food and the scarcity of grocery stores, have decided to grow good food for themselves. One of the movement’s (literally) towering icons is Will Allen, 62, of Milwaukee’s Growing Power Inc. His main 2-acre Community Food Center is no larger than a small supermarket. But it houses 20,000 plants and vegetables, thousands of fish, plus chickens, goats, ducks, rabbits and bees. People come from around the world to marvel — and to learn. Says Allen: “Everybody, regardless of their economic means, should have access to the same healthy, safe, affordable food that is grown naturally.” (From Time Magazine, 2010).

We are thrilled to have such an inspiring force of change join us in Port Townsend this September. For more information on the upcoming NWEI conference and Will’s keynote address, click here.  Live in the area and know you’d like to come to the keynote?  Order tickets online here.  We hope you will join us for the whole weekend, where we will dig deep together in exploring the continued creation of a more sustainable future!

Today’s post is a guest post by Gregory Zimmerman, a Biology professor at Lake Superior State University. 

According to us boomers, we invented everything. If we didn’t invent it, we popularized it. Following the natural progression of the generations, now the millennials think that they invented everything. Only, here’s the thing– some of what we (boomers and millennials alike) invented may not be real. There’s a long list of physical, mental and social maladies unverified by social or natural science. In the words of 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, “is that really a thing?” Which brings me to today’s question: is sense of place “really a thing”?

Sense of place has been getting a lot of attention lately—from conservation types, artists, authors, architects, city planners, public health professionals and others. This has led me to wonder what elevated the construct of Place, and what societal influences are triggering the conversations about a “sense of place”.

Does a desire for a sense of place come from a resistance to the inexorable growth of suburban development and its homogenizing influence? Is sense of place in the news now because planners want to capitalize on it? Is sense of place on our minds now because we are able think of the land differently, as something to appreciate, not something to master?

It’s easier to appreciate woodlands if your livelihood doesn’t depend directly on the board feet of lumber they can produce. As we move farther away from land-based economies, the land is increasingly seen as resource for more than just extracting commodities. The history of organized place-based conservation movements shows us that the debates between appreciations of place versus economic exploitation are not new. Conservationists in the late 1800s and early 1900s were seen as outsiders who could afford their romantic notions but didn’t understand economic reality. The sagebrush rebellion echoed the same sentiments in the 1970s. In my region, a new mine and a wood technology plant are currently reinvigorating the age old debate of money now or greater, but less tangible, value later?

Perhaps a sense of place represents a desire to return to something we used to have, when more of us were tied closer to the land? After extensive conversations with my grandparents and grandparents-in-law, who were born in the late 1800s, from what I could tell, they had a sense of place but it was not today’s sense of place.

They were connected to the land and seasons. Much of that connection was grounded in making a living off the place in which they were born. Years ago I was traveling with one of the grandmothers in my family, through what to me was absolutely gorgeous country — a wide sweeping river valley in the northern Great Plains. When I commented on the sheer beauty of the landscape, grandma replied, ‘I wouldn’t give anything for it, the land doesn’t look like you could grow anything on it at all.’

My grandparents had a strong “sense of place”, but would not have used those words to describe it. I heard them speak thoughtfully of the land, its natural history and their history on that land. As far as I know, my grandparents didn’t read Wallace Stegner, but they knew their place in the world. They knew of its beauty, and of its challenges. They were attuned to natural cycles. Sense of place runs deep if you’re living in the place where your forbearers lived and were buried.

I don’t think what we mean today when we say “sense of place” is quite the same as the connection that my grandparents held to their place.  I don’t think those currently interested in discovering their sense of place are necessarily trying to recapture something we, as a culture, used to have and lost. But, yes, sense of place “really is a thing.” It seems to me, what we mean now by sense of place is an evolution of our natural desire to be connected, to each other and our environment–whether a natural or built environment.

Gregory Zimmerman is a Biology professor at Lake Superior State University in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan.    He serves on the Binational Public Advisory Council for the St. Marys River Area of Concern, and other local boards related to environmental protection. This essay was adapted from a post on his blog,

As I mentioned last week, NWEI was featured twice this Spring in the Journal of Sustainability Education.  This week we’ll hear from Mike Shriberg, Ph.D., who is Education Director at the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute and Lecturer in the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan.  He wrote the following reflections on using NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living discussion guide in the classroom.  For the complete piece, click here.

“In the class, “Sustainability & the Campus,” my students focus on organizational change, environmental management and the substantial institutional changes that are required for a university to lead the way toward a more sustainable future…In teaching this class for more than a decade at three different institutions, I have experimented with many readings or texts but nothing seemed to align with the unique, hands-on, and intellectually challenging approach of the course.  Two years ago, I started utilizing the Northwest Earth Institute’s (NWEI) Choices for Sustainable Living discussion guide and the resulting conversations and analysis have been remarkable…

…I use the Choices for Sustainable Living course book to introduce the concept and application of sustainability. It provides the backbone for sustainable thinking through bite-sized readings from leading thinkers and practitioners. The content and format directly hits the key challenges we face in a world of rapidly declining environmental, social and economic capital.  More importantly, the text provides reasons for hope, optimism and action.

Students are not only tasked with completing the readings, but also coming to class prepared to enter into dialogue and discussion with one another since each discussion guide includes relevant questions for reflection.  The questions included are aimed not only at fostering an intellectual understanding of the author’s perspectives, but also at encouraging inquiry and reflection on the part of each student, particularly around how the issues of sustainability interface with daily campus life and personal decision-making processes.  If the aim of sustainability education is only for students to grasp concepts, perhaps we as higher education institutions are succeeding.  If our aim is to engender a deeper, systemic understanding of sustainability where concepts are not only grasped intellectually, but also translated into action and a more responsible type of citizenship, we must find resources that match up to this challenge…”

To read the rest of Mike’s piece, click here.

This Spring NWEI was featured twice (stay tuned for the second piece next week!) in the Journal of Sustainability Education.  Below is an excerpt from a review of NWEI’s discussion guide A World of Health:  Connecting People, Place and Planet, written by brothers Larry Frolich and Alan Frolich (Larry is faculty in Biology at Yavapai College in Prescott Arizona and Editor of the Journal of Sustainability Education and Alan practices medicine at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System in Tucson).  For the complete article, click here.

“Everyone in the U.S. knows the ritual:  the primary care health visit. First, the phone call for an appointment several weeks in advance. On the anointed day, several pages of forms to be filled out across a high plastic counter-top.  Then the wait in a vinyl chair, a wall-mounted TV showing kids programs or cable news, the provider running at least 30 minutes late. Finally, the appointment begins with a call from a door beside the check-in counter:  “Mr. F______.”

A medical assistant documents weight, height, temperature, and blood pressure. A now-growing card-board folder is deposited into a plastic door-cubby, and after another 10 or more minutes a nurse enters and asks “the list,” in a fully non-committal fashion:  family health history, smoking, drinking, sexual habits and a number of mental-health indicators.  A recent addition to the ritual in the last five years has been the intense concentration on the computer screen as the answers are filled in.

Then, just as the questions end, as if choreographed, the provider waltzes in for the 20 minute annual allotment of “primary care” covered by your insurance company. The folder is reviewed, favorites from the list of questions are repeated, this time with empathy, a perfunctory exam is performed, and medications and test are ordered as indicated.   Finally, reflecting the more preventive philosophy that has permeated primary care medicine in recent years, the visit is closed with a number of relatively holistic concerns (which sometimes seem to change with the latest news):   “Everyone in the family wears a seat-belt all the time, right?”  “We’re cooking from scratch at home at least three times a week, is that true?”  “Get yourself a good bike helmet and wear it all the time.”  “Do you buy organic produce?  It’s a good idea.”  “And be sure to include a good source of Omega-3’s.”

This, only mildly caricaturized, is the state of the primary care ritual in America today…But if “primary care” is to live up to all that those beautiful two words promise, then it must change, and it must come to include a full picture of an individual, embedded within a family, a home, a community, an eco-system, and even a world-wide web of virtual and digital connections.

This is the premise for “A World of Health:  Connecting People, Place and Planet.” The book is, at its core, a highly informative collection of articles about people, the environment, and health.  The publisher, the Northwest Earth Institute, provides an enticing discussion-group-based framework for the articles, which are thematically organized into chapters, each of which addresses one of the key environmental factors that should be part of our ‘primary care’…”

To read the complete review, click here.

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